In a poignant ceremony held at the Civic Hall, Alford Gardner, one of the few remaining HMT Empire Windrush passengers and the last Caribbean Second World War serviceman in Leeds, was bestowed with the prestigious Leeds Award. The accolade, ratified during a full council meeting in November 2023, commends Alford’s exceptional and enduring contributions to the city.

Presented by the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Al Garthwaite, the award is a formal acknowledgment of individuals who have significantly shaped the city. The names of awardees are prominently displayed in the antechamber of Leeds Civic Hall.

At the age of 97, Alford, born in Jamaica in 1926, volunteered for the Royal Air Force as a teenager. Serving as an engineer and mechanic during WW2, he was part of the Caribbean RAF ground crew stationed at RAF Hunmanby Moor, near Filey.

Following the war, while undertaking a de-mob engineering course in Leeds, Alford met his future wife, Norma McKenna. In 1947, he sailed back to Jamaica with his brother Gladstone, also an RAF member. Faced with limited opportunities in Jamaica, the brothers returned to the UK aboard the Empire Windrush in June 1948, landing at Tilbury Docks before settling back in Leeds.

Encountering discrimination while searching for housing, Alford persisted, eventually settling in Hyde Park and pursuing a career in engineering until his retirement. He and Norma married and had nine children.

Alford’s enduring legacy in the city began in 1948 when he became a founding member of the renowned Caribbean Cricket Club. The club, a hub for the West Indian community in the 50s and 60s, stands today as the longest-running black-led organization in Leeds and the oldest of its kind 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.”