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Windrush 75: King Praises ‘Marvellous’ Painting of Leeds WWII Veteran

A 96-year-old World War Two veteran from Leeds has been immortalised in paint to mark the 75th anniversary of the Windrush crossing.

Alford Gardner was depicted by artist Chloe Cox after King Charles commissioned a series of 10 paintings.

The King told Jamaican-born Mr Gardner, who returned to England in 1948 on HMT Empire Windrush, his portrait was “marvellous”.

Ms Cox said to have received a royal commission was “a dream come true”.

Alford Gardner

Mr Gardner served as an RAF motor mechanic during WWII, and later returned to England on the famous vessel after the British government passed a new law allowing people from the Caribbean to live and work in Britain.

The HMT Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury, Essex, on 22 June 1948. It brought 492 passengers to the UK from a number of Caribbean islands, including Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, to help fill post-war labour shortages.

HMT Empire Windrush

Mr Gardner met King Charles at a Buckingham Palace reception on 14 May, when the King was given a special preview of the Windrush crossing anniversary artworks.

He told Mr Gardner the collection was “a most wonderful record of a very special generation.”

The King said Mr Gardner’s portrait would be “a wonderful addition to the Royal Collection and be shown in all different parts of the world”.

Mr Gardner, who settled in Leeds to work as a factory engineer, said: “When I joined the RAF I left home and I came to England. I came to England and I found home.

“When the war was over I said ‘I’d be back’. The Windrush turned up and I was back, it was like leaving one home and coming back to another.”

Commenting about the racism he experienced in his early life in the UK, he said: “Couldn’t get away from it, it was there staring me in the face. If I go to a place and walk in and this place is hostile, I’m out, I’m gone. I never went to a place I wasn’t wanted.”

Chloe Cox

Chloe Cox said to have her artwork included in a gallery collection was “what every artist dreams of, right from being a kid” and to have her work included in the Royal Collection was “a dream come true.”

Ms Cox said the painting was her biggest artistic achievement, “especially as a descendant of the Windrush generation myself”.

She said she had met Mr Gardner twice to take reference photographs for her work, because her first set taken in the evening “didn’t have the wow factor”.

When they met again in daylight the session had been “much more relaxed” and her pictures had captured Mr Gardner’s “playfulness and his smile”, she said.

“He was always beaming,” she added.

At the Buckingham Palace reception the King said it was “crucially important” the “pioneers who stepped off the Empire Windrush in June 1948”, were seen and heard “to celebrate the immeasurable difference that they, their children and their grandchildren have made to this country”.

Source : BBC