Everyone has now heard about the Windrush Generation but few know the history of the ship and its link to soldiers in West Yorkshire and role in the Second World War.

Empire Windrush, formerly MV Monte Rosa, was a German Cruise liner in the 1930s reveals Richard Harvey, archives volunteer in the Duke of Wellington’s Museum in Halifax and the Association website editor and webmaster.

At the start of World War Two, Monte Rosa was allocated to the German Navy for military use. She was used as a barracks ship at Stettin, then as a troopship for the invasion of Norway in April 1940.

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She was later used as an accommodation and recreational ship attached to the battleship Tirpitz, stationed in the north of Norway from where Tirpitz and her flotilla attacked the Allied convoys en route to Russia. In November 1942 she assisted in the deportation of Norwegian Jewish people, carrying 46 people from Norway to Denmark and all but two later died in Auschwitz concentration camp.

At the end of March 1944 Monte Rosa was attacked by Royal Air Force Bristol Beaufighters from 144 Squadron and 404 Squadron. The attack was mounted for the explicit purpose of sinking it, but despite several torpedo and rocket strikes the ship survived. In June 1944 members of the Norwegian resistance movement attempted but failed to sink her by attaching Limpet mines to her hull. In 1944 Monte Rosa served in the Baltic Sea, rescuing Germans trapped by the advance of the Russian Army. In May 1945 she was captured by advancing British forces at Kiel and taken as a prize of war.

The Empire Windrush arrives in Britain in 1948
The Empire Windrush arrives in Britain in 1948

Monte Rosa was renamed HMT Empire Windrush on January 21, 1947, for use on the Southampton-Gibraltar-Suez-Aden-Colombo-Singapore-Hong Kong route, with voyages extended to Kure in Japan after the start of the Korean War. The vessel was operated for the British Government by the New Zealand Shipping Company and made one voyage only to the Caribbean which led to the term Windrush Generation before resuming normal trooping voyages.

She is best remembered today for bringing one of the first large groups of post-war immigrants to the United Kingdom, carrying 1,027 passengers and two stowaways on a voyage from Jamaica to London in 1948.

In March 1954 while the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment was posted to Gibraltar following their service in the Korean War, there was a massive explosion and fire on board the HMT Empire Windrush while sailing past Algiers en route to Gibraltar with British troops and families on board.

Although the ship sunk there was no loss of life, thanks to the quick actions of the ship’s crew. The survivors were landed at Gibraltar to the sound of music played by the Band of The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.

Two months later Franco closed the Spanish border with Gibraltar after Queen Elizabeth visited on the Royal Yacht Britannia for two days at the end of the Royal Tour. During the visit the Queen presented awards to members of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment for actions during the Korean War.

When the Spanish Border was reopened in 1984 The Dukes were once again the resident battalion serving on the Rock.