An adventure in Britain
Darnley Greene migrated to Britain in 1961 for “adventure” when he was 21. Now back home for the past six years, Greene said it was nostalgia that influenced his decision to return home.
“I came from Barbados, and I said to my relatives that’s where I am going back. It was time.”
Greene and an older sister went to live with an older brother who was already in Britain for over five years. Greene said he was excited, ready to see the world, and most of the people on the boat were first-time travellers. After three weeks at sea he got to see his brother, sister-in-law and nephew.
“There wasn’t much work to do in Barbados. I had just left school and was doing apprenticeship at the Public Works. My old man sent us. It was a nice journey. On the SS Surriento. We left April 16, 1961, and arrived May 6. The boat went from Barbados to Grenada, then to Jamaica, then Aruba. From there to South Hampton. We disembarked there and got a train to Manchester. Then we took a taxi to Kings Cross.”
He says he was disappointed when he saw England for the first time.
“Coming from a sunny country, I saw obnoxious-looking houses, awful looking. All the houses had chimneys (they looked like factories). They were [made of] red bricks and all in one line with one door in. Small rooms too. No place outside to play or run around. It looked strange to me.”
Greene said while he had no family to provide for back in Barbados, he was eager to find work. He was used to working on timber houses in Barbados but in England it was all concrete buildings so he went back to school for three years to learn house construction. He recollects that he was one of the few black boys in the school. He worked during the days and went to school at night. He found work three weeks after landing and stayed ten months in the job. On that job were 60 white men and he and a Guyanese were the only coloured.
“I got fired from that job because I was branded a troublemaker after hitting a white man who thought I should not recite Shakespeare,” he said solemnly.
His next job was in Old Trafford where they were renovating the college and putting on an extension. He worked for that firm for three-and-a-half years, which he enjoyed. His first pay packet was eleven pounds, thirteen shillings for a week’s work. He also got a bonus on that and every year he would get a cost-of-living raise and says that during 1961-1962 he could make a decent living.
Darnley was ambivalent about his racist run-ins which he said “were small” and “did not bother him”. He said he had good bosses who were pleasant to him. Shopkeepers allowed him to pay by instalments for necessities. He said he saw a bit though, and related how a white man who came looking for the foreman on his job site walked past him because he was black and the man did not expect a black man to be a foreman.
“West Indian immigrant men fared better than the women in the job market. My brother also worked in construction and got paid a decent wage. For West Indian immigrant women the jobs were in the nursing or caregiving field and the garment factories.”
The sister who had migrated with Greene was working as a nurse, having studied it in England, and got twelve pounds per month and lived in the nurses’ home, while the sister-in-law was a seamstress, making coats, and got paid two pounds, fifty shillings a week.
Greene was now married to a Bajan seamstress and still living with his brother and his brother’s family. He said London life was fast and expensive, so he chose to live in the north, in Manchester.
“It was a small space I was renting. Just two rooms, for 30 shillings a week, which included utilities in 1965 with a wife and a small kid. The place was 13×12. There was no larder or cupboards or nothing so. Toilets were outside. Tin baths were how you showered. There were no fridges. Things were kept fresh by putting them on the window sill.
“Leftover food was put in a Pyrex dish in foil on the window sills. Some landlords didn’t want to rent you with children. Some didn’t want to rent you because you were black. My friend had his white girlfriend go and rent because the white landlords didn’t want to rent to Blacks. Doors were closed in my face.”
He added that food and clothes were cheaper then. Greene remembered “giving my wife five pounds to do a full shopping and money left. You could get a whole chicken for five shillings. Fish [was] expensive, shrimp, prawn also”.
Central to the migration project for many Caribbean people was making sure their tenure was secure in Britain, and one way of doing that was property ownership. Green’s first house was near his brother, in an area with a lot of Jamaicans, a couple of Barbadians and some Indians.
By 1970s he was a foreman, with a car for his tools, earning forty pounds a week then, along with his Jamaican friend, at Manchester Direct Works, building houses. He worked there for 16 years through snow, sleet, smog and rain.
In 1994 he took early retirement which gave him a decent package.
Greene was committed to a future return to Barbados. To purchase land in Barbados, he paid down $6 000 cash and sent money every month through the banks to pay for the land from 1981 to 1987. In 1991, he started building and a year later he was finished with the house. The euro played a big part in helping him to finish his home.
“I had made up my mind not to let the age of 55 see me living in England,” and he returned home to Barbados finally in 2006.
What pushed Green to return was a Methodist preacher who was a Scotsman living in Barbados for 15 years who told him he enjoyed the sunshine of Barbados. Greene said his Jamaican friend went to Jamaica and never adjusted. He chalks it up to homesickness because “they haven’t made up their mind[s] to settle and want to go back up”.
Bajans say that people from England act as if they are mad, but Greene says they’re just having a nervous breakdown because they are pining for England.
“I?knew when I was going back home,” he said. He explained that he realized that he had not packed to return to Manchester on his last trip to Barbados.
“I said to myself there was nothing to go back up for. The kids are alright . . . they all got their own thing. I said I’m going home. Bit by bit I packed up. Got a container and load the container with car and everything. Container people come. I didn’t worry about anything more. I see people come down here and said ‘I have to go back up’. I am happy here. I made my home here. This is my home here.”
And home is a red and white three-bedroom, two-bathroom wall house complete with kitchen garden, a living room, a patio and a huge garage in Kingsland Terrace, Christ Church.
Greene now enjoys retirement by going for walks on the beach, nurturing a small kitchen garden (selling pumpkins from it), learning ballroom dancing with his girlfriend and periodically housesitting for a brother and sister who have homes here but still reside overseas.
Greene, twice divorced with four children says they will never live in Barbados because they were born in Britain and consider it their home.