My name is Alford Dalrymple Gardner. I was born 27 January 1926 in Kingston, the capital city of Jamaica. The fourth child of eleven, I had seven sisters and three brothers. My siblings in order of birth: Minerva (Sista Nerva), Essmedora (Enez), Gladstone, myself, George, Eslyn (Lynn), Bridget (Bee), Florence (Grace), Hannah (Mate), Pamela (Mell), Samuel (GG).
My father was Egbert Watson Gardner and my mother was Lovenia Gardner. They got married in 1930, four years after my birth. At the time it was fairly common for couples to have children and then get married. Now in Jamaica there is the expectation to be married and then have children.
During WWI my father volunteered to join the army: the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR). He trained at Salisbury and saw action at the Battle of the Somme and at Ypres, but that’s all I know. He never spoke about his time in the army. My father was a stoic man.
However, when I was born, he was a veteran and a policeman. A man is many things, but I think ‘policeman’ sums up my father. That’s how the community saw him and how he interacted with them. He was well respected as a policeman, and the local people saw him as his children did, a strict but fair disciplinarian. He didn’t stand for nonsense and wouldn’t let you get away with anything.
Before becoming a policeman, he worked as a tailor. I know that he went to work in Cuba for about nine months, but unfortunately, I don’t know what he did there; this was years before my birth. At that time it was very common for men from different islands to travel around to find work if there was nothing available locally.
Papa never spoke much about his time in the BWIR, he only said that he did his training on Salisbury Plain before moving over to Europe. Physically and mentally he was fine and on returning to Jamaica he went straight back to his job as a policeman. My research tells me that the men of the BWIR were mainly used as stretcher bearers and as helpers to build roads and gun emplacements and dig trenches. Basically, they were used as general labourers and most of the time they served within range of German artillery and snipers.
My papa was an athlete. When not on duty he would be out running or taking part in various athletic events on a weekend, often 100-metre and 200-metre events. He was so fast that he could have been in the Olympics. His best times were under the qualifying times for the Olympics, he could have gone in 1936, but he was too old by then. If only he’d trained for it and tried in his prime. Beyond the track, he liked to play tennis and just generally loved to be outside, even just walking in the countryside. Our neighbours were always saying that they had seen Papa out and about.
As for my mama, she was a very clever woman. She didn’t have much of a traditional education, nor did she have any formal medical training, but she was like the local nurse. People in the village would come to her with their ailments. The neighbours trusted her, and she would always try to help them, she never turned anyone away and never charged anyone.
My mother’s knowledge was that which is passed down from generation to generation combined with what she gleaned from experience. During the days of slavery, medical assistance for some of the enslaved was non-existent. The women and men had to learn how to repair cuts, bandage wounds and cool down fevers. Women like my mother have always been important to communities where medical professionals are not readily available.
Both my parents served our community in their own way and commanded tremendous respect from the community and their chil- dren. In another life I would have liked to be a doctor. I wonder how much of that desire came from watching my mother help everyone who came to her.
Finding Home: A Windrush Story is out 22nd June 2023, and is now available to pre-order with Jacaranda Books and everywhere books are sold.