Herdle White: a Windrush migrant in a whirlwind time

By Luke Smith and Ruairi O’Connor

Herdle White
Herdle White was invited to move to the UK from Jamaica in 1959 (Photo: Ruairi O’Connor)

Changing your country and lifestyle is always a difficult upheaval, even if it is for a better life. However, how does it feel when, fifty years after coming over to the UK, you’re told you’re not really a citizen at all? Worse still, you never have been…

In the wake of the recent Windrush scandal, in which the government has threatened to deport hundreds of West Indians, we spoke to Herdle White, the longest serving Afro-Caribbean DJ in the BBC, about his experiences and reaction.

The Empire Windrush ship carried thousands of people from the Caribbean islands in 1948 to England, invited to settle here to help Britain tackle huge post-war labour shortages.

But it has now emerged documents such as landing cards proving their British citizenship were destroyed by the Government, making it harder for many to battle against moves being made for their deportation.

Herdle White has lived in Leicester since 1959 when he came over to the UK from Jamaica, working at the BBC for fifty years. He began work for BBC Radio Leicester doing a five minute Caribbean roundup, which has evolved into The Sound Of The Caribbean.

“I came over here in 1959 at a time when Britain was asking people from the Commonwealth, and especially the Caribbean islands, to come over. After World War Two there was a huge shortage of labour in this country, so people came over to plug the gaps.

“There were actually adverts in the Caribbean papers begging people to come over here to work, so lots of people came over, and lots of people came over during the World War, then went back to the Caribbean when it ended, and they ended up coming back over here too!

“In those days, everybody arrived with a British passport, you were a British citizen, and you were coming to the motherland to come and help the mother getting out of their difficulties, so you came with the British passport with no idea that in modern day you would be faced with deportation and all of the hassle that our people going through.

Herdle White at work.jpg
Herdle White is the longest serving Afro-Caribbean DJ in the BBC, presenting with BBC Radio Leicester for over 50 years (Photo: Luke Smith)

“When Jamaica became independent in 1962, I decided that I’d lived here long enough to take on British citizenship, which lots of people did do. It didn’t enter anybody’s mind that fifty years on you would be told that you’re not British. It is very, very distressing for lots of people.

“Not in your wildest dream would you have thought you’d be in this situation and I cannot understand why people should be going through all of this, they’ve lived in the country for fifty or sixty years, what’s the point in putting people through all of this now!

“People now can’t get NHS treatment, can’t get any benefits, you pay your tax and you can’t collect your pension, all because of some missing paperwork, and I think this is absolutely outrageous and most of the Caribbean people I’ve spoken to are really angry.

“I spoke to some people on my radio show on Saturday night, and it was an Afro-Caribbean woman who used to live in Leicester who now lives in Jamaica, so I asked her what people were feeling over there and she said that people were mad as hell. It’s a racist attitude and totally wrong.

“They’re telling us that you’ve got to go back to a country where you now don’t know anybody and you’ve got all your family over here, children, wives, grandchildren, great grandchildren even!

“I believe that the ten thousand or so missing bits of paperwork that have brought about this issue were destroyed deliberately. I also believe that because of the Eastern European migrants coming in, the government now realise that there are maybe too many people in the country and that they think the Caribbean people will be a soft touch so they thought “ah well we’ll get rid of those 50,000 people that came over here” and then they can say that they’ve brought down immigration.”

The integrity of the decisions made has also been questioned because many of the members of the Windrush generation are of retirement age and are collecting their pension, so it has been suggested it could be an attempt to bring in younger immigrants with an ability to work a trade and pay taxes, rather than collect pensions and retire.

“With all these things happening and still most of the MPs don’t understand what is going on, and it’s totally wrong,” Herdle added.

“It’s not like we came over here illegally, we were actually asked to come over and work, and now they want to send us back! We have a British passport to prove we’re citizens and now we’re being told that we’re not and it’s wrong. For me as a black person, I automatically think that the reason they’re doing this is because I’m black, and that’s the way people think.”

Whilst Herdle is part of the Windrush generation, and whilst his generation of people are currently having their citizenship questioned, he insisted that Britain is still his country and will always feel like home.

“Although people are obviously very angry about this situation, we still feel like this is our country. They wouldn’t want to go back to the Caribbean. You live sixty years of your life here and it’s wrong to send people back.

“The Prime Minister has stated that all of the people affected by Windrush will be compensated, so it is now the responsibility of the Caribbean governments to make sure that the message that is given is passed on and implemented.”

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