EMANUEL ALEXIS ELDEN

PIONEERS

A veteran of the historic voyage of the MV Empire Windrush to Tilbury Docks 70 years ago, former RAF volunteer Alex Elden would once again make history when he became one of the first black people to pass what is considered one of the most difficult tests in the world and become a London cabbie

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As a young man Alex Elden could have easily followed in the footsteps of his father, a well known civil engineer in Jamaica responsible for a number of important construction projects of the day. But instead, it was watching the dare devil antics of Errol Flynn playing the role of a war pilot on the silver screen that persuaded him to volunteer for the Royal Air Force.

After a short induction in Kingston, Alex, who’d been baptised Emanuel Alexis Elden, travelled to Britain by steam ship, arriving in Glasgow in 1944. He trained at RAF Hunmanby Moor, Filey, Yorkshire, and Yatesbury Airfield in Wiltshire before becoming a runway controller at RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire.

When the war ended, Alex joined a specialist team looking for deserters, and supervised the return of servicemen to the Caribbean. He made his own way back to Jamaica but, unable to find suitable work, decided to return to England on the MV Empire Windrush.

Having trained in scientific glass blowing and glass technology, he worked for J Arthur Rank in Crystal Palace, south London, until 1952, making TV tubes and laboratory equipment. Then, in 1956, he became the second black person to have got through the legendary taxi driver test known as ‘The Knowledge’ to work as a London cabbie.

Alex worked hard for his community and in 1970 he began teaching driving skills to young underprivileged adults on behalf of the Melting Pot Foundation. A decade later he set up the Green Badge Taxi School to help a new generation pick up the skills to get through The Knowledge. Hundreds successfully qualified.

A keen cricketer, he played for Carshalton, the West Indian Student Union and the Caribbean Cricket Club. He was an active member of the West Indian Association of Service Personnel (formerly West Indian Ex-Services Association) and served as its vice-chair in 1995. The Association was established more than 40 years ago by Caribbean RAF veterans. He spent his last two decades living in Croydon, no doubt regaling his 16 grandchildren with tales of a life well lived.

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