'A moving and fantastic celebration of women.'
Robert Elms BBC Radio London
Sheila left her convent school and at nineteen and travelled from Grenada just five years after the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. Rising levels of racial bigotry and violence couldn’t stop her going out dancing. She often missed the Matron’s 10pm curfew and had to climb over a fence in order to sneak back into the nurses home, undetected.
Nothing in rural Sri-Lanka prepared Nages for Scunthorpe where she moved with her GP husband and young children. She couldn’t understand why some people called her a Paki; after all, she was from Sri Lanka not Pakistan. But she made friends easily and was one of the few people who thought 1970s Scunthorpe was beautiful.
Anne left school at fourteen in County Wicklow Ireland. Unemployment rates had forced her parents to move to London, leaving her behind with grannie. The day she finished school, she travelled to join them in their Streatham ‘digs’. It was one of the few places that didn’t have a sign in the window saying, No Irish. No Blacks. No dogs. She was homesick for Ireland but the cinema and dancing helped her acclimatise.
Aileen remembers thinking, oh dear, when she saw an aeroplane for the first time. Especially as she had to get on it and fly to Trinidad where she’d board a boat to Britain. Her elder brother had sent her a ticket so there was no way she could back out. She arrived in Britain, ready to start her training as a nurse, at a time of growing racial unrest and police brutality. She wondered if the sun ever managed to shine through London’s dark grey sky.
Nashattar’s earliest memory is the violent rioting in her village that followed the 1947 partition of India. She talks of the drums that warned the rioters were coming and laughs at how her four year-old self, decided to go out and play anyway. She also recalls her father hiding two Muslim girls in a barrel of grain to save them from the mob.
Maggie travelled from Jamaica to Salisbury at twenty-one to train as a nurse. As the only black woman, the Irish nurses became her best friends, although she never quite got the hang of their traditional dancing. Maggie intended to return to Jamaica once qualified but she married, had two children and Britain became home.