‘You Called… and We Came’
Windrush as the new national origin story
Seventy-five years ago today perhaps the most famous ship in British history arrived at this island. A new nation was born, and with it, a new founding myth.
The story begins in the last few weeks of the Second World War, when British troops advancing on Kiel in the very north of Germany captured a ship called the Monte Rosa.
Built in Hamburg in 1930, after the Nazi takeover in 1933 the Monte Rosa had been used in the ‘Strength Through Joy’ workers’ holiday programme; later it became a troopship for the invasion of Norway, where it remained until 1945, when the vessel was transferred to help with the tragic rescue of Germans escaping from East Prussia.
Now in British hands, it had in January 1947 been rechristened, like other captured German ships, with names taken from tributaries of the Thames – and so the Monte Rosa became the Empire Windrush. Barely noted in its lifetime – it sank off the coast of Algeria in 1954 – this ship is in the 21st century more commemorated than HMS Victory, Brunel’s SS Great Britain or the Mary Rose.
Today its voyage is marked on coins issued by the Royal Mint, while the Imperial War Museum has even called it ‘one of the most foundational moments in British history’. Schools up and down the country will spend the day celebrating the Windrush’s journey from Jamaica to England.