Captured in a historic black and white press photograph that has come to symbolise the quiet determination of MV Empire Windrush arrivals, Nick Collins’ dreams for a better life in England came true
The former air raid shelter in south London had been turned into accommodation for more than 200 passengers on the MV Empire Windrush who had arrived at Tilbury Docks earlier that day and, with no prospect of finding a room there and then, the fresh-faced teenager was lucky enough to be one of the boarders.
He was 16 when his brother’s best friend had told him about the opportunities that lay await in England and Nick immediately decided to emigrate. His parents agreed he could go with his brother and helped them raise the fare for the journey.
Described as a machinist on the passenger list housed at the National Archives in the UK, he celebrated turning 17 on board and, although he didn’t have a clue what lay in store for him, he was full of hope and optimism.
This did not appear to be misplaced. He spent five days at the shelter before finding a room to rent in Earl’s Court, west London. He then found work at a factory that made confectionery, where the pay was £3 a week. He tried to get a job as an apprentice draughtsman with several engineering companies but was rejected by all of them. After taking a course at a technical college he obtained work as a welder.
Although life was often hard, London’s thriving black music scene meant there were many places West Indian migrants could go to enjoy themselves. One of these was The Paramount dance hall in Tottenham Court Road, which was run by a fellow Jamaican.
It was one of Nick’s regular haunts and it was there he met a young English woman, Joan Fiddler, whom he married in Paddington in March 1953. They went on to have three daughters, Christine, Kathryn and Marilyn.
One of the things that always kept him going during those early years in England was his love of cricket. He played in a team all over London and the Home Counties. Illness eventually forced him to give up the game but he remained an avid supporter.