By Len A.Hynds

In the Old Kent Road one day I saw an elderly grey haired black man staggering along, obviously ill. I stopped him and questioned him and he told me that he was a merchant seaman, and that his home was on the Island of Grenada in the West Indies. He told me that he had fallen ill whilst ashore from his vessel, and when he had been released from hospital, he had made his way back to the East India Docks in East London, only to find that his ship had sailed without him. He knew that it had just one more port to call at on the mainland of Europe, delivering bananas, before returning to London, to fill up before its return to the West Indies and his home. He had stayed in the vicinity of the docks awaiting his ships return, and having no money, he had begged for food from the people living near the docks, but after several weeks he realised that the normal procedure had been changed.

I called an ambulance and he was taken to Lambeth hospital, where it was discovered he was suffering from acute malnutrition. I visited him, and got his home address from him, as he could not write, and I wrote to his wife, explaining that he was safe and alive in hospital in London, and that I would keep her informed.

I told him on my next visit that I had written to her, and he said that there was somebody nearby who would read the letter to her, and also probably write back to me. He was slowly improving with regular meals and a warm bed, after about three weeks sleeping on the pavements outside the docks, being kept alive by the kindness of those poor people in Stepney. We still had the empire in those days, and I made all sorts of enquiries about the protection of seamen from the empire that had fallen on hard times, and Grenada was part of our empire.

I eventually found The Prince Alfred Society for the protection of Empire seamen, and went to see them, and they gave an immediate grant for me to buy him a complete new set of clothes, which delighted him, and they also paid for him to travel home as a paid passenger on one of the many cargo ships travelling to the West Indies and Grenada.

By this time I had good communications with his wife, via the neighbour, and I was able to let her know when his ship would be arriving home. I collected him from the hospital and took him to the docks, and helped him on board, and saw that he had good accommodation, went through all the clothes and what they had cost etc., and he couldn't believe it when I gave him the cash balance from the Societies grant. For many years he sent me a Christmas card, until eventually he passed away.

A nice job, something really out of the ordinary.