Windrush: Portraits of a Pioneering Generation honours the accomplishments of the Windrush Generation, the name given to the men and women who arrived in Britain on HMT Empire Windrush 75 years ago in June 1948, and the generations who followed.
Against a backdrop of political change while the country emerged from the ravages of the Second World War, these men and women took up jobs in construction, with the NHS, and on the railways, often facing discrimination as they navigated life in a new country and pursued their dream of a better life for their families. The portraits, which have become part of the Royal Collection, are a powerful reminder of not just personal resilience and determination, but also of the legacy of these individuals, representing the positive impact of diversity across Britain.
In the foreword to the accompanying book, The King wrote: ‘It is, I believe, crucially important that we should truly see and hear these pioneers.’
His Majesty added: 'I dearly hope, that though we might all be different, every individual, no matter their background, has something unique to contribute to our society in a way that strengthens us all.'
The ten sitters, who are now into their 80s and 90s, are:
- Delisser Bernard painted by Honor Titus. RAF veteran Delisser was optimistic about his future when he boarded HMT Empire Windrush. He stayed at a military hostel before settling in Wolverhampton where he met his future wife Marjorie Wildey at a dancehall. A good work ethic was important to Delisser, and he instilled that in their four children, including Olympic sprint champion Verona Elder.
- Alford Gardner painted by Chloe Cox. Alford's portrait shows a sense of reflection and contentment as he looks back on his life. He arrived in the UK on HMT Empire Windrush a determined RAF veteran and overcame obstacles to find work as an engineer and helped establish the first Caribbean Cricket Club, which still exists today and promotes equality and anti-racism.
- John (Big John) Richards painted by Deanio X. John, known affectionately to his family and friends as Big John, arrived in London on HMT Empire Windrush knowing no one. But after a short time, he found his first and only job – working for British Railways (later, British Rail), where he stayed for over 40 years. Big John was one of the founding members of the Learie Constantine West Indian Association in north-west London, which aims to continue the work of his friend, the late cricketer and human rights campaigner Learie Constantine, to advance integration and eradicate discrimination.
- Carmen Munroe OBE portrayed by Sonia Boyce OBE. Carmen began drama classes after she came to England in 1951 with her sister. She made her West End stage debut in 1962, before taking on roles in film and TV and co-founding the Black theatre company Talawa. It has gone on to become the country’s leading group for nurturing talent of African and Caribbean heritage and in 2007, Carmen was given an OBE for her services to drama.
- Gilda Oliver painted by Clifton Powell. Gilda, a former NHS support worker, travelled to Birmingham in 1955. She provided care to both patients and people in her community – whether by cooking meals for those in need, being a motherly figure or through establishing Grace in Age, a group encouraging seniors to be active. Throughout her life, Gilda has found strength in her Christian faith.
- Professor Sir Godfrey (Geoff) Palmer OBE painted by Derek Fordjour. Sir Geoff’s love of science and botany developed after he arrived in the UK in 1955. His degrees in botany and grain science led to major innovations in the brewing industry, and in 1977 Sir Geoff became Scotland’s first Black university professor.
- Jessie Stephens MBE painted by Sahara Longe. Jessie left St Lucia aged 28. Arriving in London in 1955, she became a strong and dedicated member of her community, playing important roles in creating a cultural hub and campaigning for better relationships with the police. In 1982, she was made an MBE for her services to the St Lucian community in the UK.
- Laceta Reid painted by Serge Attukwei Clottey. Laceta's large, mostly monochromatic mixed-media portrait was inspired by African lifestyle photography. After arriving in Britain in 1957, Laceta settled in Newport, Wales where he was employed at Crompton Batteries for most of his working life. In his free time, he enjoyed tending to his allotment when he was not travelling around the country for dominoes competitions.
- Linda Haye OBE painted by Shannon Bono. Linda worked for the Civil Service in Jamaica before her mother persuaded her that she would have more opportunities in the UK. She arrived in October 1958, setting her sights on her lifelong dream of studying sociology and graduated in 1972. Linda dedicated her life to youth and community services and was the first woman of colour to be a full-time member of the Police Complaints Authority.
- Edna Henry painted by Amy Sherald. Edna arrived by plane in 1962, following her brother to Cardiff. Edna found life in the UK hard at first – the food was very different, she was not used to the smoke and cold and she experienced discrimination. But through her Pentecostal Church community, Edna developed an inner strength. Edna’s portrait is vibrant, showing her as a woman with dignity who persevered to give her family the best opportunities.
The portraits were undertaken by Black artists personally selected by His Majesty. The sitters were invited to take part by the Windrush Portraits Committee, appointed by His Majesty and chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin OM DBE, which included Paulette Simpson CBE, the Right Reverend Bishop Rose Hudson-Wilkin MBE, and Rudolph Walker CBE.
Image : Professor Sir Godfrey (Geoff) Palmer OBE painted by Derek Fordjour