An image to Inspire by a beloved Son

‘A picture tells a thousand words’.

A much hackneyed phrase for sure, but there should never be a dearth of Windrush-era images and accounts of our Caribbean family members, friends and acquaintances.

We need them for posterity’s sake.

The sepia-tinted tones of this photograph, featuring my late mother, Marva Stevenson (at left), and her life-long best friend and work colleague, Marjorie Johnson, tells its own captivating story. It was taken during a rain-soaked visit to Edinburgh Castle in 1959 when both ladies were 23-year-olds.

You can just about make out the haunting hues of the Castle in the shadows, as these two elegantly dressed ladies step forth into the light.

I have seen this photo dozens of times over the five decades of my life; it never ceases to tug at my emotions.
My mother arrived in London in 1958 from Saint Vincent to train as a midwife.

She completed her qualifications a year later at Finchley Memorial Hospital in North London. It was there that she met her friend Marjorie from Barbados, also a nurse in training.

They became fast friends, subsequently working together in midwifery and general nursing in England and much further afield: Mill Road Maternity Hospital in Liverpool from 1960 to 1963; Queen Elizabeth Maternity Unit in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1963 to 1965; and, Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey (USA) from 1965 to 1966.

I look at their Edinburgh Castle photograph and can’t help thinking that they represented a proud generation of young women who bravely emigrated to make the best possible fist of professional opportunities in the ‘mother country’- an Imperial nation then at its knees, which severely neglected the West Indian colonial communities from which the ladies were sprung.

Publishing this photo in Black History Month magazine and website gives me another reason to salute the women of my mother’s generation and recognize their ambition and resilience in the face of a racially challenging environment. My mother often told me stories about some patients on the wards asking the ‘darkie’ nurses not to touch them. And more tales too, of other patients curious about ‘monkey tails’ concealed under their starched and pressed nurse uniforms.
It’s an image which still inspires me, my wife and my children.