• British Army Generals on a visit to West African troops in Burma [Image by Imperial War Museums]

    No Windrush For West Africa

    Until recently the word Windrush did not ring a bell in my ears. Though I am aware there is a sizeable population of African-Caribbean in the UK, I had not occupied myself with the details in regard to how they moved from the Caribbean to settle in the UK.

    Mainly as a result of the recent public outcry in the UK concerning the destruction of the landing cards of that population group in the UK, I decided to briefly research on the matter.

    In the process, I learnt that ‘Empire Windrush’, a former German cruise boat, first docked at Tilbury, London on June 22, 1948, after almost 30 days on sea, travelling from Kingston, Jamaica.

    Many of the new arrivals were ex-servicemen, who had served in England during World War Two. Several others would subsequently follow in their wake.

    The fact that a sizeable proportion of the new arrivals were veterans of WWII, led me to ask myself the question: Didn’t the message get to the thousands of Gold Coast ex-servicemen from the Burma campaign? Those who, at just about the same time that their colleagues were setting out on their 8,000 mile sea voyage to the “headquarters” of the Empire, were facing untold economic hardships brought about in part as a result of unfulfilled promises made to them by the colonial administration and the inability of a poorly-developed labour market to absorb the new influx from the battlefields of Burma.

    Or did they hear about the new opportunities offered by the “motherland” of the Commonwealth but decided not to try their luck due to lack of resources for the voyage?

    Whatever the reasons that held them back in the Gold Coast, the fact remains that around the same time as the African-Caribbean former soldiers of the Commonwealth Army were making preparations towards their journey to England, on February 28, 1948, a group of Gold Coast ex-servicemen set out on a peaceful march to the residence of the British Governor in Accra. Their aim was to protest against unfulfilled promises by the Empire couple with economic hardships that worsened with the passing of each day.

    What was meant to be a peaceful protest would soon turn bloody – not through the doings of the protestors, but rather as a result of the heavy-handedness of the colonial law enforcers.

    In the process, three ex-servicemen – Sergeant Adjetey, Cpl Attipoe and Private Odartey – gallant soldiers who had risked their lives for Empire and King and who had survived the ferocious battlefields and the challenging conditions of the Burma jungle, were killed in cold blood.

    The incident fuelled the fury of a populace already wallowing in discontent, not only against the colonial administration but also as a result of a general worsening of their living conditions, and led to widespread unrest throughout the colony.

    The incident of February 28. 1948, no doubt added great impetus to the independence movement in the Gold Coast. Barely seven years after the bloody incident, on March 6, 1957, the Gold Coast (now renamed “Ghana”), became independent – the first African country south of the Sahara to do so. What happened to other British and other European colonies after that pivotal moment in the African independence struggle is part of history?

    Was it perhaps a blessing in disguise that the ex-service men of the Gold Coast did not hear about the opportunities offered by England – or if they did hear, did they perhaps not have the financial means to make the journey?

    70 years on, they and their offspring, just like in the case of the African-Caribbeans, might have been stripped of their British nationality and probably made stateless – for the Gold Coast they left behind no longer exists today!