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Prince William Addresses Caribbean Tour Controversy: 'We Learnt So Much'

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Prince William is reaching out to the Caribbean community in the U.K. in a heartfelt speech.

In a groundbreaking address on Wednesday morning, the Duke of Cambridge said that he and wife Kate Middleton are learning how the "past weighs heavily on the present" amid the controversy that followed their recent, often difficult, tour to the Caribbean.

Applauding the contribution of the British-Caribbean communities on Windrush Day, Prince William said, "My family have been proud to celebrate this for decades — whether that be through support from my father on Windrush Day, or more recently during my grandmother's Platinum Jubilee, as people from all communities and backgrounds came together to acknowledge all that has changed over the past seventy years and look to the future."

"This is something that resonated with Catherine and me after our visit to the Caribbean earlier this year," he continued. "Our trip was an opportunity to reflect, and we learnt so much. Not just about the different issues that matter most to the people of the region, but also how the past weighs heavily on the present."

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge accompanied by Baroness Floella Benjamin attend the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge accompanied by Baroness Floella Benjamin attend the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station

John Sibley - WPA Pool/Getty Images Kate Middleton and Prince William at the unveiling of the Windrush memorial

The couple's visit to the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station on Wednesday comes months after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's controversial royal tour of the Caribbean in March. For the first time, the royal couple faced significant backlash on an official tour, having encountered mounting tensions in the Caribbean nations where William's grandmother Queen Elizabeth remains head of state.

RELATED: Prince William Tells Caribbean Leaders: 'We Support Your Decisions About Your Future'

The protests are only the latest evidence of the historic shift underway: another Caribbean country, Barbados, broke ties with the Queen in November and voted in its first president, and Jamaica will soon follow suit.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

Chris Jackson/Getty Images Prince William and Kate Middleton

William reflected on the future governance of the Caribbean nations in a statement at the end of their March tour, saying, "I know that this tour has brought into even sharper focus questions about the past and the future. In Belize, Jamaica and The Bahamas, that future is for the people to decide upon."

He continued, "Catherine and I are committed to service. For us, that's not telling people what to do. It is about serving and supporting them in whatever way they think best, by using the platform we are lucky to have."

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge speaks during the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge speaks during the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station

John Sibley - WPA Pool/Getty Images Prince William making his speech at the Windrush Monument

Windrush Day was named for the Empire Windrush, a ship that brought hundreds of Caribbean immigrants to the U.K. in June 1948 to help fill a labor shortage following World War II. Until the early 1970s, thousands of men, women and children — dubbed the Windrush Generation — settled in the U.K., helping cities and industries rebuild after the war. Windrush Day was officially marked as a day of celebration by the U.K. government in 2018.

The inaugural celebration came amid the Windrush Scandal, which saw hundreds of Caribbean immigrants living and working in the U.K. wrongly targeted by immigration enforcement.

Prince William recognized that scandal when he made arguably his most political remark in speech. "Only a matter of years ago, tens of thousands of that generation were profoundly wronged by the Windrush Scandal. That rightly reverberates throughout the Caribbean community here in the U.K. as well as many in the Caribbean nations," he said.

The National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station was designed to symbolize the courage, commitment and resilience of the generation of British-Caribbean people.

William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge accompanied by Baroness Floella Benjamin (L) attend the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station
William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge accompanied by Baroness Floella Benjamin (L) attend the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station

John Sibley - WPA Pool/Getty Images

He praised the diversity that is "so important to our country" and paid tribute to the Caribbean workers, many of whom came to Britain to help staff the bus and subway and transport systems in London and in other cities or work in the burgeoning post-war car industry around the country. They "made our culture richer, our services stronger and our fellow countrymen safer," he said.

"Here in Waterloo Station, we are reminded of the role played by thousands of people from the Windrush Generation in our essential public transport system — from train drivers to conductors and technical staff," the prince said.

"Although it is not where the passengers of the Empire Windrush first arrived, subsequently many thousands of Caribbean people did pass through Waterloo and dispersed to cities across the U.K. So the placement of the monument here is an acknowledgement of the contribution of those people to one of the most important elements of our national infrastructure."

"Just down the road, in St. Thomas's Hospital, we can reflect on the Windrush Generation's huge contribution to the NHS, a service founded only two weeks after the Empire Windrush docked in 1948. Since then, over 40,000 Windrush and Commonwealth nurses and midwives have cared for those in need."

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge attend the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge attend the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station

John Sibley - WPA Pool/Getty Images

And he added that the contribution to Britain begun even earlier. "When the Windrush Generation sailed from the Caribbean to rebuild war torn Britain, they did so as British citizens, answering a plea to help our country thrive again," William said.

"These people didn't have to come. They volunteered to fight for King and country — in the full knowledge that many would never make it home again."

"Many of them were not strangers to these shores. In the decade before 1948, thousands served in the RAF, either flying, navigating or as ground crew keeping our squadrons airborne — including Allan Wilmot, the eldest Windrush pioneer whose family are with us today."

"As one of the inheritors of that great military tradition I understand how much we owe to these men and women. Today's ceremony would not be complete without remembering their sacrifice."

Britain's Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, holds a camera, druing a visit to ELEVATE, at Brixton House
Britain's Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, holds a camera, druing a visit to ELEVATE, at Brixton House

Eddie Mulholland/AP/Shutterstock Kate Middleton at ELEVATE in Brixton, London

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge started their day in Brixton in South London to immerse themselves in the culture and experience of young British-Caribbean people. They visited ELEVATE, which creates a thriving dynamic and diverse cultural environment for younger generations in the community. The couple met with young people taking part in a film and photography workshop before they sat down for a chat about the participants' hopes and aspirations for the future.

ELEVATE encourages clear pathways from the early years to adulthood to support young people and help them access successful careers in the cultural industries.

RELATED: Kate Middleton Responds When a Fan Tells Her She Will Be a 'Brilliant Princess of Wales'

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge attends the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge attends the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station

John Sibley - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Then the couple attended the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station.

Designed by Jamaican artist Basil Watson, it has been created as a permanent place of reflection, fostering a greater "understanding of the Windrush Generation's talent, hard work and loyalty to Britain, inspiring future generations forever," the couple's office at Kensington Palace says.

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As the memorial was unveiled, Queen Elizabeth sent a message, saying it "serves as a fitting thank you to the Windrush pioneers and their descendants, in recognition of the profound contribution they have made to the United Kingdom over the decades."

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