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Windrush link with Bermuda

Historic voyage: many Bermudians travelled on the Windrush to Britain in 1948 (File photograph)

A Bermuda link to a Caribbean influx to Britain 70 years ago has surfaced after a scandal erupted in the UK about the treatment of the emigrants.

The BBC said the liner HMT Empire Windrush, which took hundreds from the Caribbean to Britain in 1948, took aboard 139 passengers who gave Bermuda as their last place of residence.

The broadcaster reported a total of 1,027 passengers on the vessel, including two stowaways, which brought a wave of West Indian people to help rebuild the country after the Second World War.

The ship gave its name to the Windrush generation and also the recent controversy over migrants and their families being denied benefits or threatened with deportation because of a lack of official documentation.

The late journalist Ira Philip documented eight Bermudians who threw in their lot with the emigrants in 1948 and made their way on board as stowaways.

Mr Philip, writing on the 60th anniversary of the Windrush voyage, recorded one Bermudian stowaway who said that “it was only by the grace of God that he is alive today to tell his story”.

Mr Philip, who named the man only as “Roger”, wrote: “He is a respectable, low-profile Christian gentleman, a married man who operates the business that he owns.”

He added that “there were so many black faces the authorities could not tell one from the other”.

Mr Philip wrote: “But one of the stowaways was caught before the ship got out of the channel and was put aboard the pilot boat and returned to shore.”

Another was named as Arthur “Sweetie” Rochester, a drummer and accomplished Gombey dancer who came from Somerset and remained in the UK until his death in 1999.

The Windrush dropped anchor at Grassy Bay on June 8 and spent a few days in Bermuda before it headed to Tilbury Docks in London.

EF Gordon, a Bermuda union leader and politician, who was born in Trinidad, helped organise assistance for the passengers while the ship was anchored off the island.

Roxanne Christopher, president of the Jamaican Association of Bermuda, said her parents met aboard a similar voyage in 1955.

The majority of Caribbean people on the island are new residents and “their relationship is very different with that time period”, Ms Christopher said.

Her Jamaican mother, Hazel, met her Bermudian father, Boyson Christopher, on a different liner that followed the Windrush route a few years later.

Ms Christopher said: “My mother and a girlfriend were on their way to the UK and she had never really heard of Bermuda.

“My father and some ace boys got on board, and my parents met and fell in love.”

The couple married and lived in London, where they rented out rooms to Bermudians who had come to Britain.

Ms Christopher said: “It was 14 or 15 years before they came back to Bermuda with my siblings in tow — I was the only one born on the island.”

She added that prejudice against West Indians was common in Ms Christopher’s childhood and that she suffered anti-Jamaican insults in the school playground.

Ms Christopher said her own family had faced similar problems to those faced by West Indian emigrants to Britain from years ago, who fell foul of bureaucracy because of a lack of paperwork — some of which had been destroyed by the British government.

She explained her British older brother “still has a very difficult time getting his passport renewed”.

Ms Christopher added: “It’s always a hard time and a difficult conversation. He has to prove himself.”

Ms Christopher’s mother went on to found the island’s Jamaican Association with Shurnett Caines.