The windrush poles
What is the Polish Windrush Generation?
Many people in the UK are familiar with the fact that in June 1948,
the ship Empire Windrush brought passengers from the Caribbean to live and work here. They became famous for being one of the first groups to arrive from the West Indies after WW2,
looking for work in response to Britain’s labour shortage.
They were followed by thousands more, who came to be known
collectively as the 'Windrush Generation'.
Few people are aware that on that same ship were 66 Polish refugees. The Windrush made a special trip to Mexico to pick them up, after it left Jamaica. They were principally women and children travelling to England to join their male relatives, who had been fighting with the Polish free forces alongside the Allies.
The men had been given the right to come the UK under
the terms of the Polish Resettlement Act of 1947, and to bring
their families to join them.
Reproduced with the kind permission of United States HolocaustMemorial Museum.
The reason that the women had been in Mexico and that they were reuniting with the men in England and not Poland, was the culmination of an apocalyptic story, stretching back a decade. It began when Germany and Russia carved up Poland between them in 1939, and Stalin deported around 1.5 million Poles to Siberian labour camps. These included tens of thousands of Jews. They were only released when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. They then had to make their way across 3,000 miles to Allied camps in Uzbekistan/Iran. Many died horribly of starvation and disease; fewer than 10% of those 1.5 million deportees survived the experience. Those who had the strength to fight then joined the Polish Free Forces, whilst the civilians were settled in other camps all over the world. When the War ended the families could not go back to their homes, as despite the Allied victory, the areas they had come from remained in the Soviet Union and were no longer part of Poland.
Apart from the camp in Mexico, others had been established in India, East Africa, Palestine and New Zealand. Similar arrangements were made to transport Polish civilian refugees from there to Britain.
Over 100,000 Poles came to England in this way.  They were the Polish Windrush generation, but so few people have heard of them.
Their arrival was the consequence of a genocide which has not been acknowledged or atoned for by Russia; nor has it made its way into Western collective memory.
© Jane Raca 2020
 Professor Norman Davies Trail of Hope page 539