‘Ship’s cook met wife-to-be in Cardiff docks’

1934 - 2020

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Eric Ignatius Paule Drysdale was brought up in Rae Town in Kingston, Jamaica, a neighbourhood close to the sea and not far from Sabina Park Cricket Ground.

One day, the 22-year-old heard that the Empire Windrush was due to dock in Kingston and borrowed the £28 10 shilling fare from his sister for the fare. His old friend Harold Wilmot was already in England and had encouraged Eric to join him.

When he arrived at Tilbury Docks, he had nowhere to live but found temporary accommodation at a former war bunker in London, the Clapham South Deep Shelter, along with another 235 passengers. The Windrush’s manifest had him down ‘welder’ but he soon found work as a ship’s cook.

He worked on board tankers and met his wife-to-be, Sylvia Williams, in Cardiff at the end of one of his voyages. Sylvia was born in Cardiff in 1934 but her father was originally from Sierra Leone. Her mother worked in a canteen in the docks.

Sylvia and Eric’s first two children, Eric and Derek, were born in Cardiff, in 1953 and 1954 respectively. The couple moved to London and got married in Kensington in 1954. Their daughter Yvonne, a former police officer, was born in 1956. In 1966, a fourth Drysdale child, Stephen, joined the family after being adopted. Stephen now lives in Suffolk with his wife.

With his sea-faring days now behind him, Eric found work in the Post Office until he retired after 32 years. He was distantly related to two famous Jamaican cricketers, George Headley, who played in 22 tests for the West Indies, and George Knibbs.

Eric junior trained as a chef and worked on ferries crossing to Ostend. Initially, he lived with his grandmother in Cardiff but when she died he joined the rest of the family in London, going on to work for the Hong Kong & Shanghai banking corporation, again as a chef. Later he got a job with Lewisham Council but passed away prematurely in 2010.

Derek started work with the Post Office straight from school and retired in 2022 after a remarkable 52 years’ service. Yvonne joined the Metropolitan Police in 1983 at a time when women were few and far between and black officers almost unheard of. She worked in many police stations across London as well as at New Scotland Yard. Her last seven years before retiring in 2013 after three decades’ service, were spent working in the Command and Control Centre at Lambeth, London.

Eric senior passed away on March 6, 2020.

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