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12:01 AM 2nd July 2024
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Jamaica Society Leeds Honours Windrush Veteran Alford Gardner

 
Alford Gardner
Photo: Leeds City Council
Alford Gardner Photo: Leeds City Council
Alford Gardner, one of the last surviving passengers who travelled on HMT Empire Windrush when it came to the UK in 1948, has been made an honorary member of Jamaica Society Leeds – the first time the organisation has granted anyone this award in its 47-year history.

Alford, 98, is Leeds’s only remaining Caribbean Second World War serviceman and a well-known and much loved member of the West Indian community in the city.
Born in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, in 1926, Alford volunteered at the age of just 17 to help Britain’s war effort – following in the footsteps of his father, Egbert, who fought in the Battle of the Somme during the First World War.

Alford joined the RAF, arriving in the UK in 1944. He served as an engineer and mechanic during the Second World War, one of thousands of Caribbean RAF ground crew who were based at RAF Hunmanby Moor, near Filey.

Once the conflict came to an end, while taking a pre-mob engineering course in Leeds, Alford met his future wife, Norma McKenna, before he sailed back to Jamaica in 1947 along with his brother Gladstone who was also in the RAF.

However, with limited job opportunities in Jamaica, Alford returned along with his brother on board the Empire Windrush, landing at Tilbury Docks in June 1948 before making his way back to Leeds.

Initially met with discrimination when searching for a place to live, Alford persevered, settling in Hyde Park and finding work in engineering until his retirement. He and Norma married and had nine children together.
His legacy in the city was cemented when, in 1948, he became one of the founding members of the city’s famed Caribbean Cricket Club, a focal point for the city’s West Indian community in the 1950s and 60s.

Alford (right) pictured in 1945 with his friend Dennis Reed
Photo courtesy of Alford Gardner.
Alford (right) pictured in 1945 with his friend Dennis Reed Photo courtesy of Alford Gardner.
Commenting on the award, Alford Gardner, who was unable to attend a recent ‘in conversation’ event in his honour in Leeds due to illness, said:
“I would like to thank the Jamaican Society Leeds for this honour. It is something that I never expected. Along with the other early West Indian arrivals, I first came to help the ‘Mother Country’ in its hour of need during the war and then together we helped to rebuild the country.

“With the starting up of the Caribbean CC, this was our way of getting to know the British people. As we all know it was not easy, but we persevered and here we are today. Thank you all again.”


Melody Walker, from Jamaica Society Leeds, said:
“It’s the first time we have awarded someone from the Jamaican community in Leeds with an Honorary Membership. We felt Alford deserves this honour and we wanted to recognise his foundational contribution to the Leeds Caribbean community.

“We honour Alford as one of the founding members of Leeds Caribbean Cricket Club, which is the oldest Caribbean institution in the city. The Leeds Caribbean Cricket Club was for many years the only organisation that served the cultural and social needs of the burgeoning Caribbean people coming to settle in the city. It also holds special memories for the first generation of children with Caribbean parents who were born in the UK.

“This is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to Alford for being part of a pioneering group of men and women who helped build the British Caribbean community here in Leeds.”