UK: From British Guiana to Bristol – 90-year-old reflects on life after Windrush

Eileen (sitting at centre) now has four children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Credit: ITV West Country

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Eileen (sitting at centre) now has four children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Credit: ITV West Country
Eileen Polis arrived from then British Guiana with very little – but she became an influential and respected member of several Bristol communities as well as one of the first Caribbean nurses at Southmead Hospital.     

She was 26 when she came to the UK – not that she had the first idea where she was going.

“I didn’t know if it was cold or hot,” she said.

“When I got here I tried to fit myself in. It was very cold and dark, but it was just what you made of it. Sometimes you couldn’t send a pound for your relations home. You just had to try to live and survive.”
Eileen, her husband and their children lived in just one room in Montpellier. Credit: ITV West Country

One of the Windrush generation, Eileen set off from British Guiana on her three-week journey to Plymouth in 1957. With the promise of work and post-war prosperity, thousands more like her did the same.

The family lived in just one room in Montpelier and her husband worked nights maintaining trains.

Eileen says her welcome was generally warm, particularly from those who had also emigrated.

“The one thing I remember so well, they always had a phonograph, the women. They always took it out to show you, they must show you their photograph. That’s how it was in the old days.”

She was around in the early days of the St Paul’s Carnival and active in local causes, but it was when Eileen became an auxiliary nurse at Southmead Hospital in the 1970s that she made her mark. Although one senior colleague offered some blunt advice.

“She asked me if I had children. I said ‘yes’ and she told me: ‘You stay home and mind your children’. I had that rejection.”

Not that Eileen, who has four children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren was, or still is, dissuaded by others.

“England has given me a life and a future,” she said. “I think an open heart is important (to be a success). I think that’s what it’s all about.”

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Comments

  • Kman  On 07/31/2021 at 12:01 am

    Did she leave BG on the Windrush?

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