one of the nation’s last surviving HMT Empire Windrush passengers and the city’s only remaining Caribbean Second World War serviceman received the Leeds Award in a ceremony at the Civic Hall.
The award, which was approved at a full council meeting in November 2023, was made in recognition of Alford’s special and lasting contribution to the city and presented by the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Al Garthwaite.
The Leeds Award formally recognises the achievement of people who have made an enormous contribution to the city, with their names proudly displayed on the wall in the antechamber of Leeds Civic Hall.
Now aged 97, Alford was born in Jamaica in 1926 and volunteered for the Royal Air Force as a teenager. Travelling to the UK, he served as an engineer and mechanic during WW2, 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 de-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 aboard 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. Alford and Norma also 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 50s and 60s.
Today, the club is the longest-running black-led organisation in Leeds and the oldest of its type in the UK.
The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Al Garthwaite, said: “It was a great honour to be able to present such an inspirational person as Alford Gardner with the Leeds Award today.
“Alford is a true pioneer who has made a lasting impact on his adopted home while blazing a trail for so many members of the city’s Caribbean community.
“This award is richly deserved, and we are proud to honour him and celebrate the contribution he has made to Leeds, while also ensuring that his remarkable story continues to be told for many generations to come.”
Commenting on his Leeds Award, Alford Gardner, said: “I am very honoured to receive this award but surprised!”
“It is something that I never expected. When I returned to the UK in 1948, my only thought was to get back to Leeds because I loved the city and the people.”