A determined doctor who overcame bigotry and prejudice to help others during the First World War finally won recognition a hundred years later. As Britain celebrates Black History Month, we trace his story.
John Alcindor was a gifted doctor, respected and trusted by his many patients.
Originally from Trinidad, John graduated with a medical degree from Edinburgh University in 1899. He then worked in London hospitals for several years before going into practice on his own.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, he naturally wanted to use his skills to help with the war effort.
But despite his qualifications and experience, he was rejected outright by the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1914 because of his ‘colonial origin’.
It was a cruel snub, both racist and self-defeating. (The Medical Corps, after all, desperately needed good doctors).
At this point, Dr Alcindor could have been forgiven for just returning to his own practice and quietly seeing out the war years – but he was determined to play his part.
Brushing aside the army rejection, he instead joined 90,000 others in signing up as a British Red Cross volunteer.
Throughout the long years of the conflict, he helped countless wounded soldiers at London railway stations as they returned from the battlefields.
Deservedly, he was later awarded a Red Cross Medal for his life-saving work.
Following the war, Dr Alcindor – a long-term resident of Paddington – became a senior district medical officer for the area.
Renowned for his devotion to patients, whatever their origin or race, he became known locally as the celebrated ‘black doctor of Paddington’.
While his name lived on in local legend following his death in 1924, sadly Dr Alcindor’s legacy has largely been lost with the passing of time.
But in 2014 – on the 100-year anniversary of the start of the war – the good doctor finally got the recognition he had so long deserved.
Fittingly, the inscription reads: ‘Dr John Alcindor 1873-1924. Physician, Pan-Africanist and WW1 local hero’.
The importance of his contribution was perhaps best summed up by Reshma Bissoon-Deokie, acting high commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago.
She said: “Dr. Alcindor’s achievements in the medical and military fields, as well as his ardour for racial equality, are a testament to the impact one can have on society regardless of origin. His story will serve to inspire future generations.”
Over a hundred years on, the Red Cross can be satisfied that it was on the right side of history – and proud to have been associated with such an inspiring figure.
The blue heritage plaque was organised by the Nubian Jak Community Trust, set up in 2004 to commemorate historic black figures.
Did your relatives volunteer during the First World War?
Read our fascinating First World War blogs.