Over 800 of the men and women who arrived in Tilbury on 22 June 1948 were among thousands of others that journeyed to the UK from the Caribbean in the post-war period. For many of them, it was not an arrival but a return. England Calling  is inspired by a Second World War radio show Calling the West Indies; the Windrush generation, and the contribution of Black British people to the Second World War. 

Created by spoken word artist and poet Kat Francois, these poems and digital films have been specially commissioned by IWM to mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush

Una Marson and West Indies Calling

This performance is an artist's response to the extraordinary lives of real people. Inspired by the BBC radio show Calling the West Indies, which was produced by Una Marson and can be heard in our Second World War Galleries, and the Ministry of Information film in IWM's collection West Indies Calling. 

Welcome to my brand-new weekly radio show England Calling.

You might not know me,

but you should

so let me introduce myself

Una is the name, Una Marson

Jamaican born

Jamaican bred

Jamaican raised

and Jamaican fed

some describe me as a scholar, poet, a playwright, a journalist, 

activist, and a broadcaster.

I describe myself as a woman, a black woman, a proud Jamaican 

woman. A proud black Jamaican woman.


London Town, London Town

is the place to be

London town, London town

is the place for me.


During the Blitz, I became quite the broadcaster, an assistant on the 

BBC radio programme, Calling the West Indies, and was also involved 

in another BBC radio programme called Caribbean voices.

The radio was a very important way for us West Indians to keep up 

with news at home and for home to keep up with the news abroad.

Today I present to you a new radio show called England Calling.


England’s calling

England’s Calling

Calling West Indians to their English home

Blue passport in hand

Proud to be heading to the motherland.

England’s calling, England’s calling

but when we arrived

things did not always go as smoothly

Sometimes her little white urchins

called us names

oh, how they laughed and shouted

as we passed along the street

but England called and so we came

and once the West Indians arrived

 life in England would never be the same.


Each week I will take the opportunity to introduce a noteworthy West 


Today’s person of note is Mona Baptise from Trinidad, Port of Spain

emigrated on the Windrush Empire at 21 years of age, travelled in a 

First-Class cabin. 

Arrived at Tilbury docks 22nd June 1948, turning 22 the day before the 

ship docked.

Marvellously talented woman who toured the country's music halls, 

with well-known jazz singer Cab Kaye. Singing in French, Spanish and 

German, building a name for herself across Europe.

She also made a career in television, film, and radio. 

A wonderful contributor to the spirit and morale of West Indians who 

found themselves far from home. 

Here is a snippet of one of her most famous songs, a cover of Nat King Coles, Calypso Blues.

[music - Mona Baptiste, Calypso Blues]

Such a wonderful singer, feel free to research her catalogue of 

marvelous work. People Like Mona Baptist should never be forgotten, 

their contributions are what helped to put the Great back into Great 


We West Indians were not afraid of hard work, we rolled up our 

Sleeves and got stuck right in, in hospitals as nurses, cleaners, and 

porters. On the railways and on the London Underground, in the post 

offices, in factories, as road sweepers, childminders we did whatever 

we had to do to survive.  Eager to work eager to serve, even if the 

eagerness was not always reciprocated.


Renting rooms to each other when no one else would. Pooling our 

money together in pardner schemes to raise the fare to send for 

loved ones, or to buy own properties.

Many of us expected to return home at some point, but Britain is now 

our home, filled with the children, grandchildren, and great 

grandchildren of the Windrush generation.   

British Born, British, bred, British raised, British fed.


Britain is the place to be

Britain is the place for me

Let us never forget the sacrifices made by those who toiled on British 

soil, dark skinned but considered themselves British, to the bone.


That wraps up today’s broadcast, same time, same place next week 

for more of England Calling.

It’s goodbye from me, Una, Una Marson.

Lilian Bader by Kat Francois

Inspired by Lilian Bader's oral history record and the WAAF uniform on display in the Second World War Galleries at IWM London. This performance is an artist's response to the extraordinary lives of real people.

I was kitted out with a

white canvas bag,

1 overcoat

1 skirt

1 tunic


I was born in Liverpool 17th February 1917

youngest of three

two brothers

then me.

My mother Lillain GcGowan was an Irish woman 

who married my father Marcus Bailey, a man from Barbados. 

Orphaned at 9 when mother died. 

Separated from Frank and James  

placed in an orphanage and remained in said orphanage until I was 20.


1 cardigan

1 cap

1 pair of gloves

all in air force blue


Raised on a diet of strong faith 

order and discipline, 

perfect preparation for a life in the armed forces.


 kitted out in 

two shirts pale blue

2 white wool vests

2 pairs of navy wool knickers

1 suspender belt

1 brassiere


First I joined the NAAFI

but was kicked out when they discovered my father was a foreigner.

Imagine that just because I was coloured. 

I was devastated. 

All I wanted to do was serve my country.


2 pairs of greyish stockings

1 pair lace up black shoes

1 ground sheet

1 large white pint sized mug with RAF on the side 

1 knife, spoon, and fork

the helmet and service gas mask came later.


One day whilst listening to the radio

West Indian voices

jumped out and snatched my ears whilst being interviewed,

they stated they had answered the call of the Motherland

and joined the RAF.


If the RAF accepted them, maybe the RAF would accept me, brown but British born.


So I gave it a try and on the 28th March 1941 I was accepted into the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), given a unform and kit and my training began.


A black tie and two loose collars for the shirt blouse. Someone told me I looked smart in my uniform, which cheered me up no end.


The only coloured person in this sea of white faces.

I was only 5ft 2

but I was proud, outspoken and stoic

determined to do well for myself

more than others expected, being an orphanage kid not much was expected of me bar domestic servitude!


I remember sneaking looks at myself, in went the tummy, back went the shoulders, up went the head and they were to stay that way for the next three years.


I passed all my exams as an Instrument repairer

becoming one of the first women, first black woman

in the Air Force to qualify in that trade.


I became a First Class Airwoman, 

a Leading Aircraftwoman

then was promoted to Acting Corporal.

It was long hours, important work and I was good at it. 


My brother James was killed in action whilst serving in the Merchant Navy 12th March 1941. I was devastated, all my brothers and I had was each other.


An Ex- Landlady in Yorkshire put me in contact with Ramsey

a coloured tank driver

we exchanged letters and photos 

he looked like an officer even in his ugly khaki battledress

tall, dark and handsome,


On 11th March 1943 we married in Hull

Quiet wedding 

no flowers

no wedding dress

he wore his uniform 

I wore an afternoon frock

purchased with coupons.


I944 I become pregnant and left the WAAF

but Ramsey was part of the D-Day landings, it was an anxious time

but luckily he survived. 


After the war  

I volunteered with St John’s Brigade 

studied for a degree at London University 

became a teacher

but my family will always be a family of the military personal

we must have a thing about uniforms.


My father served in the Navy during the First World war

his three children served in the Second World War

I married a man who also served in the Second World War

I think we've given back more to this country than we’ve received.

Billy Strachan by Kat Francois

Inspired by Billy Strachan's oral history record and his personal items on display in the Second World War Galleries at IWM London. This performance is an artist's response to the extraordinary lives of real people.

Back then us West Indians thought ourselves as British.

British to the bone

from the last hair on our heads

to the tips of our West Indian toes

fed British History

raised on British tales

of British Kings and British Queens.


March 1940

18, strong, athletic,

full of confidence and daring.


England's calling

England’s calling.

Come and fight for King and country.

England’s calling

England's calling

Come and fight for King and country.

England’s calling.


I travelled to England on a luxury liner belonging to The Jamaican Fruits company.

A luxury liner which transported the British middle class whites fleeing the war to Jamaica. I sold 

my bike and saxophone to pay for the £15 fee. No passengers, just the ship's crew and I, who 

spent a month zig zagging access the ocean to avoid the U-boats.


1941 War time Britain, dark, blackout rain, dreary, grey, shops and  homes boarded up.

Passed my medical and after 12 weeks of basic military training I became a wireless operator and a 


Joined a squadron of Wellington bombers.

All young and full of bravado.

I did have a few hair-raising moments.

I went up, woke up 8 days later, my whole body in a plaster cast.

Sustained a limp, but I survived.


The average is seven raids but my crew and I completed 33 nighttime raids 

over wartime Germany and were the only crew to all come out alive. 


After that I retrained as a pilot.

Rising to the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Back then that was quite an achievement for a Black person.


After the war,

I became a liaison officer for the RAF.

Sorting out racial disturbances, I even stopped a riot once, in Henlow in the the cookhouse, plates and windows had been smashed. The station commander ordered I stop it. “Your the man from the West Indies, go and stop that riot.”  There was a sea of white faces and a sea of black faces, facing off, throwing plates, pots and pans at each other, this is true I ran in the middle and just said stop and they did. Don’t ask why they listened to me but they did. I couldn't believe it but they stopped.

I’d been recommended for the role by Una Marsden, a wonderful, intelligent and influential woman.

It was her who helped awaken my racial awareness and political consciousness.

I defended my fellow blacks across the country at court marshals.

Lots of responsibility for a 24-year-old.

That’s where I had my first taste of being a lawyer.



Return to Jamaica

But nothing for me there

Returned to England.

Proud to say I helped set up Caribbean News, the first Black British monthly newspaper, dedicated to the ideals of Caribbean independence, also proud to say that in the late 40s I became the secretary of the London Branch of the Caribbean Labour Congress.

I remember welcoming Windrush passengers soon after they arrived at a meeting, Then speaking all over London and beyond, opposing racism and supporting Black people.

Taught myself law from books borrowed from the public library. I achieved my bachelor’s degree in 1967 and can proudly say I became the first clerk of courts, then chief clerk of the court at Clarkenwell.

The things I’ve seen.

The places I’ve been.

England called.

England called.

So, we fought for King and country.

England called.

England called.

so, we all fought for King and country.

Allan Wilmot by Kat Francois

Inspired by Allan's oral history record and his suitcase on display in the Second World War Galleries at IWM London. This performance is an artist's response to the extraordinary lives of real people.

This suitcase has travelled thousands of miles from Jamaica to England

my whole life has been squeezed into this tiny square

It has carried my dreams and my hopes

my passions and my ambitions.

and even the tears of my parents as I sailed away.


I was destined to travel

my father was the captain of a navy merchant ship

quite an honour for a black man.

Lied about my age and joined the Royal Navy at 16 years of age

they wanted you; no questions were asked.


The Minesweeper HMS Hauken was my ship

Escorting convoys to the Panama Canal

picking up survivors in waters around the West indies

plucking them from the freezing cold before they succumbed.


1944 my suitcase and I left the Royal Navy and joined Royal Air Force Rescue Service

Refuelling, reloading, rescuing shot and stranded soldiers at sea.


1946 my suitcase and I were demobbed and returned to Jamaica

unable to secure work

My suitcase and I return to England,

England was the place to be

For first me and then my family

England was the place to be

with her grey skies

and concrete buildings

and the Thames,

an azure snake

winding around her belly.


 On my return I found a different England

The mood had changed.

“You helped us in the war, the wars over, what you come back for?”

Post-war Britain a stark reality 

No dogs, no Irish, no coloured.

Finding jobs was challenging.

Finding somewhere to stay was challenging

Many of us stayed underground, in dormitories they created out of Clapham station.


This suitcase knows my sorrows.

this suitcase knows my joys

this suitcase has been through it all

traveling from the scorching heat of Jamaica to the biting cold of Blighty

this suitcase has sweated and shivered.

this suitcase has sung, oh how it has sung.


I come from a singing family

and with my fellow Jamaicans Vernon Nesbeth and Frank Mannah

and my brother Henry who came over on the Empire Windrush 

we formed a vocal group called the Southlanders. 

That group gave me something other than a suitcase to hold onto.


It was a challenge at first but we had some hits and we became the first successful 

non-American black group in this country working alongside all the greats of the time, 

Shirley Bassey, Tommy Steele, Vera Lynn, Cliff Richard, Morecambe and Wise. 

We had a good run and made a 20 year career out of it.


Oh the things this suitcase has seen.

My suitcase and I eventually retired from show business

took up a job with the post office, communication department.

I assisted in the establishment of the West Indian Ex Services Association

wrote a memoir and worked in the community for years.


This suitcase knows my sorrows.

this suitcase knows my joys

this suitcase has been through it all 

traveling from the scorching heat of Jamaica to the biting cold of Blighty

this suitcase has sweated and shivered.

this suitcase has sung, oh how it has sung.


[music - Mole in the Hole by The Southlanders]

Creating England Calling

Kat François is a performance artist, educator, director, writer and creative arts coach. She was the first person to win a televised poetry slam in the UK and is a World Slam Poetry Champion. Kat continues to teach and perform globally, currently pushing her art form through movement and hula hoop. Her short story, Indigo Waters, is featured in Hidden Realms Short Stories, published by Flame Tree Publishing.   

As a playwright, Kat has written and performed two internationally staged solo plays, and two comedy shows. Raising Lazarus, Kat’s play dealing with the experiences of Caribbean soldiers in the First World War, continues to tour globally to critical acclaim, and formed part of the First World War centenary, featured at Imperial War Museum. 

Kat has reunited with IWM to investigate the lives of these extraordinary people to mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush

The opportunity to look at the contribution Caribbeans and black Britons made during and after the Second World War was an exciting prospect. 

It was very special to be given a personal tour of the Second World War Galleries and listen to amazing audio interviews of Lilian Bader, Alan Wilmot, and Billy Strachan in IWM’s research room. 

Having access to the oral histories, props and costume helped to bring the characters and my performance to life. The whole project was a great experience.”  Kat Francois

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