A conversation with my Grandma on her experience from Trinidad to England #WindrushDay2019

21 June 2019

With Windrush day approaching I wanted to speak with my grandma, Ruby Burgess, about her experience of coming to England during that period. From time to time she does reminisce about those days, especially as she has gotten older, but I have never had a chance to sit down with her and get to know her full story. When I asked her about her experience she smiled and said “o you’re bringing back memories now”.

Ruby came to England in 1955 when she was just 19 years of age. She remembers that Britain wanted nurses from the West Indies which was advertised in the local newspapers. She had always wanted to come to England to see the Queen, which was quite common amongst other Trinidadians; they really did admire the queen. She spoke with her mother about wanting to come to Britain who kindly paid for the boat fees.

The boat trip took 7 whole days. She spoke about how long the journey was, but she enjoyed it, because she made lots of new friends who were also very excited to be coming to England. When the boat docked in Southampton, she thinks it was, Ruby was surprised about how cold it was. Up until this point, all she knew was hot weather. The British Council was there to greet everyone and she was taken to a hostel nearby for the night. Thereafter, she was taken to St Alfeges Hospital in Greenwich where she went to Preliminary Training School (PTS) to pursue a career in nursing.

The workers who were managing the nurses were Irish, Ms Kinkaid and Ms Kelly, who treated her and the rest of the nurses very well. The rest of the nurses were mainly from Jamaica and Africa; all of them stayed in a hostel which was walking distance from the hospital. They each had their own room. Her shift would start at 7am which is when she would release the night nurses.

On the weekends she would go to Hammersmith Palais with the other nurses where they would dance all night. Ruby remembers coming back to the hostel so late that they would have to jump over the fence to get back in.

O Ruby had a great night life.

Despite how excited she was to come to England, the good treatment she got from the workers, and the fun she was having in Hammersmith Palais, she got treated really badly by a number of patients who would make comments like “take your black hands off me”. Some would even go as far as spit on her. Ruby described being shocked as she didn’t understand why patients would be so horrible to her, as all she was trying to do was make them feel better. She remembers being really upset with the treatment.

Ruby did nursing for a total for 3 years; she then moved on to do short hand typing because she wanted to try something different as well as get away from the bad treatment from patients. After doing this for 2 years she got married to my granddad who she met at Hammersmith Palais. She then went on to work in a Solicitors Office and after that had 2 children, one of them of course, being my mother who was born in 1965.

 It was great to hear about my grandma’s experience and I was surprised at how much she remembered, given that this over 60 years ago. I learnt a lot about her work ethic and admired how open minded she was to try different things in life.

This blog was written by Jenelle Shand, HR Officer in our Human Resources team.

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