MV Empire Windrush
||The lead section of this article may need to be rewritten. (January 2014)|
|Name:||Monte Rosa (1930–47)
Empire Windrush (1947–54)
Ministry of War Transport (1945)
Ministry of Transport (1945–54)
New Zealand Shipping Company (1945–54)
|Port of registry:|| Hamburg (1930–33)
|Builder:||Blohm & Voss, Hamburg|
|Launched:||4 December 1930|
|Out of service:||30 March 1954|
|Identification:||German Official Number 1640 (1930–45)
Code Letters RHWF (1930–33)
Code Letters DIDU (1933–45)
|Fate:||Sank on 30 March 1954|
7,788 Net tonnage
8,530 long tons deadweight (DWT)
|Length:||500 ft 3 in (152.48 m)|
|Beam:||65 ft 7 in (19.99 m)|
|Propulsion:||4 SCSA diesel engines (Blohm & Voss, Hamburg), double reduction geared driving two propellers.|
|Speed:||14.5 knots (26.9 km/h)|
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The Empire Windrush arrived at the port of Tilbury on 22 June 1948, carrying 492 passengers from Jamaica wishing to start a new life in the United Kingdom. The passengers (including one stowaway) were the first large group of West Indian immigrants to the UK after the Second World War.
Before 1948, the ship, under the name of Monte Rosa, had been used for cruises in pre-war Germany, and then as an Wehrmacht troopship and prisoner transport ship, before being captured by the British and taken as a war prize. She continued to be used as a British troopship after 1948, but sank in the Mediterranean Sea in March 1954 after a sudden and catastrophic fire in her engine room, just off the coast of Algeria.
Early history of the ship
The diesel-powered motor ship was built by Blohm & Voss in Hamburg, Germany, and launched on 4 December 1930. She was delivered to Hamburg-Südamerikanische-Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft (Hamburg South American Steam Shipping Company) in 1931, which named her Monte Rosa and used her for cruises. Many passengers on these cruises were aboard as privileged Nazi Party members, as part of the Nazi Strength Through Joy programme, intended to reward and encourage party members and as a reward for services to the Party.
During the Second World War, the ship was used as a barracks ship at Stettin, then as a troopship for the invasion of Norway in April 1940. She was later used as an accommodation and recreational ship attached to the battleship Tirpitz, stationed in the north of Norway, from where the Tirpitz and her flotilla preyed on Allied convoys en route to Russia.
In May 1945, the Monte Rosa was captured by advancing British forces at Kiel and taken as a prize of war. The following year the ship was assigned to the British Ministry of Transport and converted into a troopship. She was renamed HMT Empire Windrush on 21 January 1947, for use on the Southampton-Gibraltar-Suez-Aden-Colombo-Singapore-Hong Kong route, with voyages extended to Kure in Japan after the start of the Korean War. The vessel was operated for the British Government by the New Zealand Shipping Company, and made one voyage only to the Caribbean before resuming normal trooping voyages.
The name derives from a series of ship names used by the British government for the ships they owned or chartered for the carriage of troops. Many of these ships were secondhand (like the Empire Windrush), and were renamed when bought. The names begin "Empire", and then added the name of a river in Britain. Among others well known at the time was the Empire Wansbeck, which from 1946 to 1961 took British soldiers based in Germany from Harwich. The River Windrush is a minor tributary of the Thames, flowing from the Cotswold hills down towards Oxford.
West Indian immigrants
In 1948, the Empire Windrush was en route from Australia to England via the Atlantic, docking in Kingston, Jamaica. An advert had appeared in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport on the ship for anybody who wanted to come and work in the UK. At that time, there were no immigration restrictions for citizens of one part of the British Empire moving to another part. The arrival of the boat immediately prompted complaints from some members of parliament, but legislation controlling immigration was not passed until 1962. Among the passengers were calypso musicians Lord Kitchener, Lord Beginner, Lord Woodbine and Mona Baptiste, alongside 60 Polish women displaced during the Second World War. The stowaway, Averill Wanchove was a "25-year-old seamstress" who was discovered seven days out of Kingston. A whipround was organised on board ship, raising £50 – enough for the fare and £4 pocket money for her. Nancy Cunard, heiress to the Cunard shipping fortune, who was on her way back from Trinidad, "took a fancy to her" and "intended looking after her". In 1998, an area of public open space in Brixton, London, was renamed Windrush Square to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the West Indians.
The arrivals were temporarily housed in the Clapham South deep shelter in south-west London, less than a mile away from the Coldharbour Lane Employment Exchange in Brixton, where some of the arrivals sought work. Many only intended to stay for a few years, and although a number returned to rejoin the RAF the majority remained to settle permanently. To commemorate the "Windrush Generation", in 2008, a Thurrock Heritage plaque was unveiled at the London Cruise Terminal at Tilbury.
This chapter in the boat's history was commemorated, although fleetingly only, in the Pandemonium sequence of the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London, 27 July 2012. A boat plastered with newsprint was the facsimile representation in the ceremony.
Later history of the ship
She set off in February 1954 on what proved to be her final voyage, sailing from Yokohama and Kure to the United Kingdom with passengers including recovering wounded United Nations veterans of the Korean War, some soldiers from the Duke of Wellington's Regiment wounded at the Third Battle of the Hook in May 1953, and also military families. The voyage was plagued with engine breakdowns and other defects, taking ten weeks to reach Port Said, from where the ship sailed for the last time.
An inquiry later found that an engine room fire began after a fall of soot from the funnel fractured oil-fuel supply pipes. The subsequent explosion and fierce oil-fed fire killed four members of the engine room crew. The fire could not be fought because of a lack of electrical power for the pumps because the back-up generators were also not in working order, and the ship did not have a sprinkler system. The lack of electrical power also prevented many lifeboats from being launched and the remainder were unable to accommodate all the survivors, who were mostly clad in their nightclothes. The rescue vessels took them to Algiers, where they were cared for by the French Red Cross and the French Army. All 1276 passengers were saved. Assistance was given by MV Mentor, MV Socotra, SS Hemsefjell and SS Taigete. A Shackleton from 224 Squadron, Royal Air Force assisted in the rescue.
The burned-out hulk of Empire Windrush was taken in tow by the destroyer HMS Saintes of the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet, 32 miles northwest of Cape Caxine. HMS Saintes attempted to tow the ship to Gibraltar in worsening weather, but Empire Windrush sank before first light the following morning, Monday, 30 March 1954.
- Motor vessel: twin screws; oilfuel; 2 × 2 MAN diesels, single reduction geared: 4-stroke single-acting. 6,880 hp each (27,520 hp in total).
- Maximum speed: 14.5 knots.
Official number and code letters
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (May 2009)|
- David Kynaston, Austerity Britain 1945–1951, London: Bloomsbury, 2007, p. 275; ISBN 978-0-7475-9923-4.
- Kynaston (2007), p. 276.
- Heritage Plaque – Thurrock Local History Society
- Dockerill, Geoffrey, "On Fire at Sea" essay in compilation The Unquiet Peace: Stories from the Post War Army, London, 1957.
- Mitchell, W. H., and Sawyer, L. A. (1995). The Empire Ships. London, New York, Hamburg, Hong Kong: Lloyd's of London Press Ltd. p. 477. ISBN 1-85044-275-4.
- "Constant Endeavour". Aeroplane (February 2010): p. 60.
- "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VAPEUR ET A MOTEURS (RHWF)". Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 2 May 2009.
- "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VAPEUR ET A MOTEURS (DIDU)". Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 2 May 2009.
- Sea Breeze, various contemporary issues.
- The Daily Express, 20 June 1954, for a report of the Strength Through Joy programme, archived in WO 32/15643 at the Public Record Office and the British Library Newspaper Library, London.
- Board of Trade Inquiry Report, archived as BT 239/56 at the Public Record Office.
- War Office files on the loss, archived as WO 32/15643 at the Public Record Office, including contemporary press clippings.
- Report of the British Consul in Algiers for the Foreign Office, archived at the Public Record Office as FO 859/26, including recommendation to invite the Mayor of Algiers to London, an invoice for services rendered by the French Army in Algeria, a full passenger list, and letters from passengers.
- Photograph of Empire Windrush on fire
- Oral history of passengers on the Windrush from BBC history
- Empire Windrush from BBC Arts
- Passenger List from the Public Record Office
- Board of Trade 'Inwards passenger lists, 1948' Subseries within BT 26 Record Summary – held at The National Archives (UK), Kew, Richmond, Surrey.
- Windrush settlers arrive in Britain, 1948 – treasures of The National Archives (UK).
- Windrush settlers arrive in Britain, 1948 – Transcript
- Through My Eyes website – Imperial War Museum Online Exhibition – Videos, pictures and interviews from the museum's archives showing the West Indian contribution to the World War II effort