By Bernie Bell
I saw an item on ‘The One Show’ about a man who had come to England, with his parents, when he was aged 4/5, as part of what is referred to as the ’Windrush Generation’. These people, from countries in the British Commonwealth had been asked – note, they had been asked – to come to Britain to work, as manpower was needed, after the depredations of the Second World War. So, they were asked to come to Britain, and they did, and worked hard in many areas of life – Industry, the NHS – I have strong memories of West Indian nurses at Bradford Royal Infirmary – they contributed. This man, contributed. He grew up, worked, paid his taxes. He was a boxer. Eleven years ago, his boxing career had ended, though he still spent much time at local boxing clubs, which often gave young people somewhere to go and something to do. I admit to not understanding the appeal of boxing, but – each their own, and they harm no-one but each other. So, he thought he’d go back to Jamaica for a holiday, and look up some of his family that he’d never met, or had no memory of, who were still there. He did so, but when he wanted to return to England, he was told that he’d stayed too long in Jamaica, his visa had run out, and he couldn’t have another one. So, there he was, in Jamaica, someone who had left there as a small child, now not exactly a young man who might have had the possibility of starting a new life there. What was he to do? Fortunately, he had family there. Someone lent him a shack to live in – no electricity, no running water – a bit of a wreck, not what he was used to, in London, but somewhere to live. He gave lessons in boxing to make a living, and got himself a better place to live. He was, and is, a worker, and didn’t sit about bemoaning his lot. He got on with making some kind of life for himself, there. But – his close family were in England . In the last 11 years, he’d had grandchildren who he had never seen. Then, the Windrush scandal blew up – suddenly the government were made to ‘remember’ all the work that these people had done for Britain, all that they had contributed as citizens – made to ‘remember’ having asked them to come here in the first place, as citizens of the British Commonwealth. And so….he got his visa, and has returned ‘home’, as London was/is his home, from when he was a child – came home to a way of life he knew. And what is he doing now? He helps out at a local boxing club again, as he says, hoping to help to keep young people out of trouble. His MP has been a great help to him in trying to get his life back together, but this MP pointed out that, there could be many more people in a similar situation, who it will now be difficult, if not impossible to trace. When something like that happens, a person can just fade into the background life of the county they have returned to and been forced to remain in. This man has at least been able to come home and see his close family again – many may have faded into the background, and been forgotten by the authorities, on both sides.
So, what is my point? My point is to do with remembering, and forgetting. When it was convenient for the English government to forget these people, and what they owed to them, they forgot about their commitment to them. The sudden ‘remembering’ wasn’t through any real commitment to doing the right thing, it was because they were embarrassed into it. It’s all too easy to forget – to forget individuals and what they contributed, to forget whole groups of people and what they contributed.
That was one thing about growing up in Bradford – a lot of the people I knew were the children of folk who had fled Europe to escape the Nazis or fled India/Pakistan to get away from the troubled times there, following the partition and independence, and so, I was made aware of what had happened, why they had left their homeland, and their awareness of what had happened to some of those who had not managed to leave. I knew how hard it was on those people to have had to leave their homelands, but goodness me, what they added to the collective culture of Bradford and so many other towns in Britain.
I am wondering how many young folk even have much idea of what happened then. The television programmes which are on now, tell something of it, but that’s only relevant for those who choose to watch them. I’m not sure if a lot of young people are even aware of what happened then – the effects of The War In Europe, and the partition of India. And people from other nations being asked and encouraged to come to work in Britain, and why.
Many people came from India/Pakistan/West Indies/Ireland/ Eastern Europe and other countries simply to make a ‘better’ life for themselves – plenty of them had to come away from places they didn’t want to leave – or face death.
Much as the refugees are doing now. Fortunately Britain was more welcoming then – officially anyway.
It’s also all too easy to forget major events which have happened, and which had a huge effect on life in an area or even a whole nation, or the world. As time passes, memories fade, which can leave the ‘door open’ for similar things to happen again. That’s why it is important to remember, to remember past events and try, hard, to notice if society is tending that way again, and, if you can, try hard, to prevent the society you live in from going down those roads again, and from being taken in by empty promises from governments, leaders, those in positions of influence – political or otherwise. We need to try to be aware, to think for ourselves and not be carried along on the tide of empty words.
On a slightly different tack, but on a similar theme of how folk forget…….. we watched ‘Billy Elliot’ recently, and I was wondering how many young people will be aware of what happened during the time of the Miner’s strike? Communities and families were torn apart, people were desperate for work and for an income. Some believed the Tory lies that coal extraction was un-economic in Britain, and didn’t support the miners. A terrible time, which the films ’Billy Elliot’ and ‘Brassed Off’ do a good job of reminding us about. But……people have short memories – things fade from awareness.
And, on holiday last spring, visiting the Strathnaver Museum brought home to me how easy it would be for folk to forget about the Highland Clearances. It could become just another part of ‘history’ – stories – but these aren’t just history stories, they are things which happened to real people.
The phrase “Lest we Forget”, is mainly used to remind us of the horror, and non-sense, and also heroism of war, as so poignantly expressed by the ‘Weeping Window’ at St. Magnus Cathedral, in April 2016.
That saying can apply to many, many other things, too.
On the 30th of October, a group of folk here on Orkney, will ask us to join in remembering the poor souls who were killed in the terrible witch hunts of the, quite recent, past, who were, as the memorial stone will say ‘Cheust folk.’
Each year, on the 11th September, how many of us remember to give a thought to what happened, seventeen years ago, in New York city? And the very far-reaching effects and consequences of that one incident? Including some racial and ideological ‘witch hunts’ with regard to people of the Muslim faith, who are, just people.
One year, to the day, after the events of what is now known as ’9/11’, we came across this memorial on the sand at Skaill Bay – the centre stone has scratched on it, simply……….. Sept. 11th 2001
Lest we forget.
I really enjoyed this piece, Bernie.
Poignant and thought-provoking.
Thank you Eamonn.
Sometimes I wonder is there a lot of point in my writing these things and sending them out there. I wonder am I just blathering on, and do people get fed up with me. I then tell myself that they don’t have to read them if they don’t want to, and I …keep on keeping on – casting my bread upon the waters.
Then – someone like you, writes something like that – the sun shines again, and, the bread comes back, buttered!