The secret story of the Scots family linked to Windrush

Family photos from the trip Kathy Williams made on the Empire Windrush as a young child. This picture shows Kathy in her pram.
Family photos from the trip Kathy Williams made on the Empire Windrush as a young child. This picture shows Kathy in her pram.
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These historic pictures show the little-known story of the white families who entered Britain on the Empire Windrush.

Kathy Williams, 67, can been seen as a baby in a pram on board the ship, which is famous for transporting West Indians to the UK in 1948.

But in 1951 three years after the iconic voyage, Kathy was brought to Britain with her family from Malaya.

The Scottish family made the journey to England in 1951 on a trip that lasted six weeks. Mother Agnes Keating was originally from Edinburgh, while her husband James hailed from Glasgow.

Kathy was born in Kuala Lumpur in 1950 – two years after her father was sent with the British Army to support Commonwealth soldiers against the communist regime.

Snapshots show Kathy as a toddler smiling into the camera, while her parents relax on the deck of the famous boat.

Windrush continued to be used mainly as a troopship until March 1954 when the vessel caught fire and sank with the loss of four crew.

Kathy, then aged nine months, and her parents left Malaya to travel by the HMT Empire Windrush to Tilbury docks in Essex.

Kathy was originally given a Chinese birth certificate and issued another given to children of the armed forces, but opted to have British citizenship aged 21.

She said: “The Windrush went all the way around the world. She was originally a German cruise ship.

“After the war she was taken over by the British and transformed into a ship for immigrants, which was used to carry the families of troops. My father was a serving British soldier. There must have been many people who came in on their parents’ passports. I wondered if there were many white British people who came into the country that way.”

In 1953, James Keating was assigned to GCHQ in Gloucestershire, then based in Oakley, Cheltenham.

Now a Conservative councillor on Gloucestershire County Council, Kathy found the Windrush scandal awoke memories of stories from her childhood.

She dug out the photos to have another look at the boat, which played an integral role in forming multicultural Britain. Kathy said: “Mum and Dad told me about it. It was a six-week journey. They had to come through the Suez Canal.”

She added: “I felt very disgruntled that these people who had come over to help us hadn’t been treated properly.

“They should have had the paperwork given to them. Successive governments haven’t represented them.

“I was very upset to hear that some people hadn’t been able to go home because they hadn’t got the paperwork. I just hope that like all these things, we move forward ... it is appalling.”

In 1977 when applying for a job at Cheltenham General Hospital, Kathy was stunned to be asked to provide a photograph of herself to go with her passport.

“My message would be that other people came into the country on the Windrush, it wasn’t just people from the Caribbean,” she said.