Peter Dielhenn


William Robinson Clarke

‘From Youngest Crew Member To Elder Statesman’

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If you watch the Pathé newsreel of Lord Kitchener singing ‘London Is The Place For Me’ on the deck of the Empire Windrush you might spot a young man to his left. This is Peter Michael Dielhenn who, at 17, was the youngest crew member on board.

Peter was born in Ilford, Essex on April 26, 1931. He started school in Ilford in 1936 but the onset of the Second World War saw him evacuated. This lasted only three months before he returned to Essex and lived there through the Blitz.

Peter’s education was disrupted by the war but he started his real education on the Windrush where he spent almost two years travelling around the world. Places the Windrush visited as a troop carrier included Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Sudan, Aden, Bombay (now Mumbai), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and Singapore. The Windrush never spent time in Australia despite widespread misinformation that the iconic journey to the West Indies began down under.

Peter joined the Windrush in March 1947 just before his 16th birthday following three months spent at the Merchant Navy Sea School in Gravesend.

The Windrush left Tilbury, its home port, on May 6, 1948. The first stop was Southampton to pick up troops destined for service in the West Indies. Peter remembers the Windrush docking behind the Queen Mary which, six times its size, dwarfed the Windrush.

Fourteen days after leaving Tilbury the Windrush arrived in Port of Spain, Trinidad where 194 passengers boarded, thus the famous journey back to England began.

After leaving Trinidad, the next port of call was Kingston, Jamaica. The ship stopped at Cuba, then Tampico, Mexico, to pick up Polish refugees. Peter recalls the ship also docking at Curacao. The ship’s log does not record the stop and Peter has no idea why the ship called there. Another mystery is whether the Windrush was shadowed from Bermuda to the mouth of the Thames by HMS Sheffield. The late Sam King was the one who recalled that the British Government instructed the ship’s captain to do so. Had West Indians caused trouble on Empire Windrush, the ship would have been ordered to return to the colonies.

After spending 18 months on the Windrush, Peter left the Merchant Navy and did two years of national service – mainly at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.
Peter married May Berry in Essex four days before his 19th birthday in 1950. They went on to have a son and two daughters.

Peter initially returned to being a pastry cook, this time on dry ground, but the pay was too low. After three years he went into the building trade and by the time he was 31, he had become one of the biggest house builders in east London and contributed to building more than 100 houses a year.

Peter, who still lives in Essex, has long been a distinguished and valued supporter of the Windrush Foundation.

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