ALFORD GARDNER

PIONEERS

Alford Gardner is one of the MV Empire Windrush’s few surviving passengers as well as being among the many former RAF servicemen on board. After experiencing a hostile reception, Alford displayed the pluck and determination typical of his generation, working as an engineer, raising a family, and founding the first Caribbean cricket club in the country

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When Alford Gardner arrived at Tilbury Docks aged 22, it was not the first time he had stepped on to these shores. Four years earlier, at the height of World War II, he and his brother Gladstone had set sail for Britain to serve as ground crew in the Royal Air Force, leaving Jamaica in June of that year and arriving in Liverpool via freezing Greenland the following month.

The new recruits were among the 4,000 Caribbean volunteers who would be stationed at RAF Hunmanby Moor in Filey, Yorkshire – later a Butlin’s Holiday Camp – and were met by an official welcome party complete with military band. After basic instruction, Alford trained as an RAF engineer at Weeton near Blackpool and later took a six-month engineering course in Leeds. But once the war was over, the RAF insisted that he and Gladstone return to Jamaica.

Times were hard back home so when Alford heard in March 1948 that the MV Empire Windrush was on its way to the UK via Jamaica, he jumped at the opportunity of returning to England, managing to raise the fare of £28.10 shillings and persuading his brother to come along, too. Alford remembers the journey with fondness. He said: “We had a happy time. The [calypsonians] Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner were on board and everything that happened, they sang about it. We had a happy, a very happy time.”

Upon arrival, Alford and Gladstone headed straight for Leeds. But this time around, he found that he was not as welcome as before and it took him a while to find accommodation and work. Eventually he was able to put his wartime skills as an engineer to use at local plants, and once settled, he bought a house and later married, raising a family of eight. In the meantime, he founded the Leeds Caribbean Cricket Club, not only for the sport but also as a gathering place for new arrivals. The club was the first of its kind in the UK and, like Alford, it’s still going strong.

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