A campaign to recover the anchor of the Windrush ship has been launched by activists hoping to get it displayed as a national monument to black British history.
This comes as the prime minister announced on Saturday that a memorial to the Windrush generation will be created at London’s Waterloo Station.
The HMT Empire Windrush brought the first wave of Caribbean migrants to Britain to help rebuild the country after the devastation of the second world war.
On 22 June 1948 the ship arrived in Tilbury Docks, Essex, with around 500 Caribbean, Polish and Maltese passengers aboard.
It made its final voyage in 1954 after catching fire and sinking off the coast of Algeria, where the wreck now lies 2,600 metres below the surface.
Patrick Vernon OBE, the man behind the petition, has timed his campaign to coincide with the first-ever Windrush Day, which was set up in 2018 in the aftermath of a scandal involving the government’s so-called ‘hostile environment’ policy.
He believes the anchor should be transformed into a national monument to multicultural Britain. Speaking to HuffPost UK, he said: “The ship’s anchor is really important here because it’s about symbolising migration, racial equality, a shared history of belonging and citizenship.
“The ship has become almost like out of sight, out of mind – like a Greek myth that people have read about or imagined,” he said.
Vernon is calling on the government to use its resources – including the Royal Navy – to undertake this historic excavation alongside private backers who are “committed to diversity and equality”.
The monumental ship has a colourful history which precedes the Windrush migration.
Before it became Crown property, the German-built vessel was known as MS Monte Rosa – a cruise ship and prized possession of the Nazi third Reich. During the Holocaust, it transported some 46 Jews from Norway to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“I think the history of the Windrush ship offers a useful insight that we must never forget,” Vernon added.
“I believe that we need to look at the ship as a source of soul searching and inspiration for current and future generations of people of colour in – if we are to really understand the true issues of racism, white privilege, and if we really want to have a society where citizenship and belonging is for all, and not just the few.”
Vernon says there’s an estimated cost of £2million to undertake the salvage operation, which is “actually quite a small investment when you’re talking about the history of migration and the Windrush generation of Britain.”
Meanwhile, up to £1 million in funding has been earmarked by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for the planned Windrush memorial at Waterloo Station.
Situated at the country’s busiest railway station, Theresa May said the permanent monument will be seen by “millions of people from all around the world” every year.
The Windrush Commemoration Committee was established by May after the Windrush scandal to consider how best to create a permanent, fitting tribute to the Windrush generation and their descendants.
The committee’s chairwoman, Baroness Floella Benjamin, said: “Having a Windrush monument located at Waterloo Station where thousands of Windrush pioneers – including children like myself – first arrived in London, will be a symbolic link to our past as we celebrate our future.”
The committee will work with designers over the coming months on a scheme for the memorial.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced funding to help Londoners access legal support to secure their immigration status on Saturday.
Khan said the way the Windrush generation and their families have been treated by government is a ‘national scandal’ as he pledged to invest up to £370,000 to support the immigration advice sector in London.
The term “Windrush” burst into the public consciousness in April 2018, as it emerged that many people who arrived in the UK from the Commonwealth in the 1950s and 60s to answer the post-war call for workers were being targeted by government’s ‘hostile environment’ policies – with some being deported, denied healthcare, and facing imprisonment.
The scandal prompted a national debate about British immigration policy, Home Office practice and race relations in Britain.
The scandal led to resignation of the home secretary, Amber Rudd, and the rebranding of the ‘hostile environment’ to ’compliant environment’.
On 3 April, the Home Office officially launched the Windrush Compensation scheme which has been heavily criticised for limits imposed on payments and evidential barriers to securing payment.
In the aftermath of the scandal, the government announced an official Windrush Day – something Vernon had long lobbied for – as well as a £500,000 Windrush activity grant and a forthcoming statue.
Vernon says the recovery of the anchor would help further “a serious transformational change of how we recognise the public history of the Windrush.
“That’s why I believe we need to make all the effort to salvage the ship.”