WINDRUSH DAY on Tuesday marked June 22, 1948, when a former German cruise boat, the Empire Windrush, steamed up the Thames to Tilbury Dock in London. The London Evening Standard marked its arrival with the headline “Welcome Home!” and sent a plane to greet the “400 sons of Empire”, with a third of the 492 Windrush passengers being RAF servicemen from the Caribbean.

The contribution of those from the Commonwealth to the service of this country is well attested. In the First World War alone, more than three million soldiers and labourers from across the Empire and Commonwealth served alongside the British Army. That number included those from the Indian Army fighting alongside the ANZACs in Gallipoli, the Canadian Expeditionary Force who fought at Ypres, the Somme and at Passchendaele and the West India Regiment serving in France, Italy, Africa and the Middle East.

Many of these who fought for Britain gave their lives for her. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, more than 22,500 service personnel are remembered at nearly 1,360 locations across the North-East.

That service to this land by those from abroad continues today in time of peace where our common struggle is no longer against other countries but against a deadly virus.

In April last year in this column, I wrote about the first three doctors to die in this country as a result of Covid-19. Habib Zaidi, born in Pakistan, was an Essex GP who had served the local community there for decades. Adil El Tayar, originally from Southern Sudan, was an organ transplant specialist who had worked around the world, spent his final days volunteering on the frontline against a Covid outbreak in an A&E department in the Midlands. Amged El-Hawrani, also originally from Southern Sudan, was an associate clinical director and ENT specialist at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton.

The tragic deaths of each of these – and many others subsequently – highlighted the enormous contribution made by women and men from across the world to our National Health Service.

Just like those who served this country in the trenches, in the skies and on the battlefield, so these also ultimately gave all they had in our doctors’ surgeries, wards and hospitals.

What legacy might we give to those who have served us so well?

The rather shocking answer came last week in comments by Dido Harding, the Conservative peer who has applied to become the head of NHS England, who is vowing to reduce the NHS's “reliance” on foreign doctors and nurses. While such comments may appeal to the dog-whistle politics and crude nationalism which is becoming a defining motif of this Government, they are an insult to the memory and service of all of those who have given and continue to give of themselves in service to us all.

Many of the Windrush generation took up jobs in the nascent NHS and other sectors affected by Britain’s post-war labour shortage as part of the shared post-war battle to “win the peace”.

Surely the sacrifice and service of that generation and those who have followed deserves a more decent, humane and compassionate legacy that this.

  • The Reverend Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas' Church in Durham