From survival to participation

Enid Saunders' poem describes how people came from the Caribbean in response to the 'Motherland's call for workers'.

The poem comes from a book called ‘Our Legacy in our own Words’, which was created and published by the Women of Watford Caribbean Elders project.


In the fifties and sixties

they came in droves,

to the job stations

In response to the Motherland’s call for workers

to do the jobs the host refused

menial jobs

no one declared.

From the Caribbean isles they came leaving teaching,

policing and many trades they could not carry on

to come to England “where the streets are paved with gold”.

On the Windrush and Ascania they came

to land at Southampton, Plymouth and Leicester.

Distances they could not imagine

until one brother asked for a taxi from Plymouth

to Leeds.

Behind them they left husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends,

children and families they only came for five years.

to gain wealth from the Motherland

They worked with London Transport as

bus drivers, conductors, guards and mechanics.

British Rail as clerks, ticket collectors and cleaners

but many as labourers in factories and mills.

Others worked in the National Health Service as

porters, nursing auxiliaries, students and pupil nurses they did

not know the difference and no one told them.

As pupil nurses they worked hard

on wards of fifty and sixty elders,

no encouragement to change to general nursing,

A vocation which they could use on return to their


Never of Mary Seacole did they hear

Yet to nursing she gave so much.

What a surprise!

Accommodation – notices stated

no dogs

no children

no coloureds

even your own said no to Africans

One room to cook

eat and sleep.

The wet clothes dry in front of the paraffin lamp

as it heated the room

rent break your back.

Some food was cheap

pig tail, trotters, tripe the lot

yam potatoes and green bananas were non existent.

It was hard in the workplace and home.

A better life

what’s that?

Some would not be beaten,

bought houses,

went to evening classes,

obtained qualifications and better jobs.

Many letters and pounds winged their way across the ocean

husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends came,

then the children and grandparents.

Distances and separation

strained some relationships, between husbands and wives,

boyfriends and girlfriends,

parents and children,

sibling rivalry

you don’t need to tell me any more,

record your reminiscences

make your local black history.



no good,


are all terms used to describe us.

Let it be a thing of the past

Youths and adults


stretch out the hands,

embrace each other and participate,

don’t say

I’ll benefit

from those who fight

Young and old

respect each other.

Unity is strength

take the opportunities

to learn from each other.

Value what we have

encourage each other

it concerns you.

Participating in your community is rewarding

in the Queen’s Birthday and New Year’s Honours list

Some community leaders are publicly rewarded.

We won’t all be


Members of Parliament


Business men and women

have PhD’s

but after surviving


Leave the negative mode behind

in strange surroundings

many ended up in Educationally Subnormal Schools,

children’s homes,

or returned to aging grandparents.

Along the way some lost their identity

bleached their skin,

light skin is best,

straightened hair,

with hot comb,

and curling tongs

Children returning from school

wanted good hair

You’re prettier with straight hair

Prettier? like whom?

Be proud of who and what we are.

Be positive

Create positive images.

Don’t say ‘cornmeal, saltfish and dumpling

is poor people’s food’

Learn how to cook it

and many of the other dishes Mama made.

Encourage the children to eat it.

Keep it alive.

Be proud of your heritage.

Some are here to stay

Get involved with

Supplementary School,

The many clubs and associations,

locality planning,

community care,


get engaged,

don’t fight each other.

Many say ‘Black History’

I know all about it

move forward

be positive.

N o to drugs

E nthusiasm to work together

G reet others

A ttitude

T emperament

I nsularity- broaden your outlook

E xpression of self


P atience

O penness with others

S elf Respect –

I nterest yourself in what is happening

T rust in others and yourself

V ariety

E ncouragement to carry on


This page was added on 21/08/2006.

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