LISTEN TO ALFORD GARDNER’S INTERVIEW HERE:
Alford Dalrymple Gardner was born in 1926. He grew up in Montego Bay and Springfield Jamaica and was one of 10 children. His rebellious youth began with his refusal to learn British history so dropped out of schooling even though he thought he was a “brilliant,” student.
His father was a policeman who had previously fought in the first world war. A recruitment campaign for men to join the Royal Air Force (RAF) came to his village in 1943 and he signed up aged 17. Once he had completed his “square bashing” aged 18, he and 300 fellow recruits was sent to England in January 1944 on board SS Cuba travelling via Virginia USA.
He did his training in Filey and Leeds in Yorkshire and met lots of English women. He found that people were welcoming and friendly. His brother also joined the RAF and together they hitch hiked to see the Victory Empire (VE) day celebrations in London and saw the King and queen. He also took part in VJ celebrations.
De-mobbed in 1947, Alford returned to Jamaica but within six months heard of a passenger ship the SS Empire Windrush heading to England. He along with four fellow ex RAF men boarded having bought tickets for £28.10 shillings and smuggled a further four stowaways on board. He told stories of their escapades on the ship.
Once landed at Tilbury Essex he and his friends all dressed “sharp”. They got RAF passes and boarded a train to return to Leeds to become one of only eight Caribbean men living in Leeds in 1948. He noticed the change in attitudes as he was no longer in uniform fighting for the Motherland. He told stories of meeting hostility from local people, discrimination and difficulty finding jobs and accommodation. All four men had to share a room before buying a house together with the help of a local philanthropist.
He set up a Cricket club and became the “can do” contact for people in Leeds. Alford “worked hard, played hard,” as a mechanic and enjoyed life. He married a local white woman and they had eight children. His motto is music, family and sports. He said he is proud that “A man who wouldn’t learn history is now history.”