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WW2 RAF veteran opens For King, Country and Home exhibition

WW2 veteran Alford Gardner (left) and son Howard with the exhibition panel featuring Alford in 1945

Local legend, 97-year-old Alford Gardner opened the inspiring For King, Country and Home exhibition at Leeds Central Library.

Alford is the last surviving Jamaican Second World War veteran in Leeds and his story is among those featured in this poignant new exhibition which explores, and celebrates, the lives and times of the Caribbean WW2 RAF veterans from the city who volunteered as teenagers and young men to answer Britain’s call to defend ‘the Mother Country’.

Alford, who attended with his son, Howard, was among the special guests, along with some of the children of other Caribbean servicemen from Leeds.

The exhibition, which runs at the library until the end of June, includes photographs, keepsakes and memories gathered over the years of those who, pre-Windrush, helped to form the beginnings of the city’s Black community.

Alford Gardner (front row, with medals) with children and grandchildren of Jamaican WW2 veterans featured in the exhibition

Alford’s son Howard Gardner believes the exhibition highlights a story that deserves to be told. “It was very important work that they did because there weren’t enough English people to do the jobs they were doing,” he said.

“But for me this story’s been whitewashed out of the history of the war, nobody knows about it. So I hope this exhibition educates people and reminds everyone what West Indians have done over the years.”

At the start of the Second World War around 6,000 West Indians responded to RAF recruitment campaigns and by early 1945, there were over 3,700 Jamaicans in the air force.

Many of those who remained in the UK after the war eventually settled in Leeds where they started families, set up sports and social clubs, race equality organisations, and built a thriving Caribbean community that has become an integral part of the city’s identity today.

One of the panels at the exhibition, sharing details of the life of WW2 veteran Lionel Roper

Susan Pitter, Out of Many Festival Director and curator of For King, Country & Home, said the exhibition was a chance to tell the stories of these pioneers and give thanks for their inspiring legacy. “It has been an honour to work with the children of Jamaican World War Two veterans to give an insight into the stories of their lives and their families.

“The significance of their service, joining the RAF as young men and teenage boys to fight a war thousands of miles away should not be underestimated. They were true pioneers who are too often unrecognised or under-valued. Their contributions are a part of British history that deserves to be championed,” she said.

Staged in partnership with Leeds Libraries and generously supported by Leeds Civic Trust Community Heritage Fund, For King, Country and Home is a part of the Jamaica Society Leeds Out of Many Festival made possible thanks to National Lottery players by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England.

Photos by David Lindsay and Paolina V Photography