I consider myself privileged to start the springtime of my shipping career as a Covenanted Executive in James Finlay & Company in Bangladesh under legendary John A Radford. I recall my days started with him as the best of times. The last time I spoke with him was October 19, 2019 few days before his death on October 25, 2019 in his London residence.
John Alfred Radford joined the Shipping Department of James Finlay & Co, Chattogram in June 1948. He retired from the company in April 1980 after 32 years of service. Born on November 6, 1924 in Toxteth, Liverpool he was the only child of Alfred Radford and Elsie Boswell and lived there until 1933.
At the age of 11, he won a scholarship to the Wirral Grammar School which he attended until 1941 when he was employed as a Junior Clerk in the Accounts Department of the State Insurance Company of Liverpool. At the beginning of the World War II, whilst still at school, he joined St John's Ambulance as a cadet and in 1941 he joined the Home Guard.
Just before his 18th birthday in 1942 he volunteered for the army by joining the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders at Fort George, after being failed to join the Naval Medical due to poor eyesight. He was subsequently selected for training as an Officer Cadet and was finally commissioned in May 1944 as Second Lieutenant in the East Lancashire Regiment.
In June 1948, he joined James Finlay & Co of Glasgow, a company with branches and tea estates in India, Sri Lanka and the then East Pakistan. He sailed from Liverpool at the end of July, spending a couple of weeks in Finlay's Calcutta Office before finally reaching Chattogram in September where he spent most of the next 32 years until his retirement to the UK in April 1980.
During the next four years, he spent time in various departments eventually forming and running the Insurance Department before returning to the UK on leave in July 1952. In October 1952, whilst visiting Redcar with his mother who had relatives there, he met and fell in love with Elizabeth Graham Thwaites.
When John returned to Chattogram in January 1953 it was on the understanding that they would be married, probably on his next leave in 1956. However, in October 1954, Betty flew out to Chattogram where she and John were married on October 16, 1954.
They enjoyed life in Chattogram. John continued to work in various departments including the Air Passage Department which he formed and ran until retirement. John and Betty had an active social life. He continued to play cricket and rugby for the club, and they went shooting in the cold winter months in the tea districts.
John and Betty's daughter, Susan, was born in Dhaka on October 3, 1956 followed by a son, Nigel, born in Chattogram on November 8, 1958. When Susan, and two years later, Nigel, reached the age of eight it was no longer possible to educate them in East Pakistan so they went to England to attend boarding school.
They used to return to Chattogram during most of their school holidays. In 1965, John and Betty purchased their first house in 48 Beverley Road, Redcar to use as a base when on leave.
In 1968, the political situation in the then East Pakistan worsened and by late 1969 the UK High Commission in Pakistan decided to evacuate by air the wives of British Nationals from Dhaka. But Betty could not leave the country as she missed the aircraft along with some other British nationals.
In early 1971, the Pakistan Army succeeded in putting down the uprisings in Dhaka and sent troops to Chattogram to restore order there. John and Betty, along with many others left Chattogram for the UK. However, John had assisted number of Greek vessels during the emergency period.
In 1972, he was promoted to area manager and was awarded the Officers (Gold) Cross of the Order of the Phoenix of Greece for assisting the Greek vessels. He was extremely proud of this achievement as not many foreigners hold it. At this time, he was also elected the chairman and subsequently president of the Chattogram branch of the United Kingdom Citizens Association of Bangladesh.
In the January 1979 Honours List, John was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire of which he was always very proud of. John and Betty together with Nigel and Susan had a very memorable trip to Buckingham Palace where John was awarded his medal by the queen.
Before retirement in 1980, John and Betty passed most of their time in Chattogram. Some of the best memories he cherished were of times spent with friends and family on the newly created Kaptai Lake following the building of the dam. In 1972, John built a catamaran type boat. It was officially named the "Looless" for very obvious reasons. This was later replaced with a converted fishing boat called the "Spindrift".
After John retired and returned to the UK, the house in Beverley Road was sold and a new one bought in Green Lane. Having become unemployed for the first time in 39 years at the age of 55, John spent a difficult year searching for a job. Any replies he received either said he was over-qualified or too old. Fortunately, in March 1981, a Greek friend asked him to go to Piraeus as there was a job they felt might suit him.
He left home for that job on the first available flight, and began his second career. The position was that of Maritime Industrial Relations Consultant to the Union of Greek Ship-owners comprising of more than 850 Shipping Lines. Over the next 15 years, whilst working for the UGS, John travelled to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, Egypt, Honduras, Chile and Ghana in order to negotiate and administer employment agreements.
John finally retired from active work and returned to the UK at the age of 70, although he was still consulted from time to time by the UGS and continued to keep in touch with them for many years. After his retirement he continued to paint a little and researched the family tree. In 1976, he became a Life Member of BACSA – the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia and in 1999 he (in collaboration with Sue Farrington) produced a booklet titled "Chattagram Christian Cemeteries" followed by "Tombs in Tea" in 2001.
Having finally retired he and Betty enjoyed life in Green Lane catching up with family and friends. They continued to keep in touch with friends around the world. They used to attend Chattagram Reunions in London and Pensioners Reunions in Glasgow. They enjoyed spending time with their grandchildren.
John met many people during his long life. He made lots of friends and the family have had some wonderful comments, photos and shared memories from people he worked with whilst in Chattogram and in Greece.
The author is chairman of Port & Shipping Committee, BGMEA. Email: [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.