John Shipman (1939 - 3/10/2016)

The Late Mr John Shipman (seated) with Professor Abdalla Bujra (standing to his left) and Mr Muhammad Bin-Dohry.
At the 7 March 2015 conference for the Hadhramaut Research Centre (HRC) in SOAS London. “Rediscovering Hadhramaut”.

Muhammad Bin-Dohry:

John Shipman, Some personal recollections of my dear friend John Shipman (1939 - 3/11/2016).

I first met John at a reception party for a British trade mission to Saudi Arabia which was hosted by my Commercial Counsellor the Late Sir John Gray at his residence in 1979.

We introduced ourselves to each other and he immediately said to me “you are not Kenyan, you are a Hadhrami! I keep telling my colleagues he is Hadhrami “. I responded and said “I am Kenyan, but my parents are from Hadhramaut.” He went on to tell me how he loved the place and had made a lot of friends during his tenure in the Hadhramaut. He went further to ask me where my parents came from in Hadhramaut, and I related to him that my father came from Al Gatin and mother was from Wadi Amd. He went on to explain and expand on Hadhramaut; and felt ashamed of myself for not knowing so much detail about my own ancestral homeland!

From that day onwards we became good friends and he invited me to his home where he held a reception for some Hadhramis in Jeddah. He introduced me to Sultan Ghalib Al Quaiti, the late Sheikhan Al Habshi (a lawyer and nationalist figure in South Arabia) and several other Hadhrami emigrants who settled in Saudi Arabia after 1967. He spoke and wrote Arabic well and his dialect was typical Hadhrami. He knew so much of Hadhrami poetry, idioms some of which I picked up from him. I learnt a lot more under his tutelage over the years.

John instilled in me the desire to know more about my ancestral homeland. I made my first trip to the hinterland- the Wadi Hadhramaut only in 1980.
We met then on a few occasions within Embassy events in Jeddah and on one of the Queen’s birthday parties, he and I were appointed to be on the receiving line introducing guests to HE Ambassador, Sir James Craig, and the Defence Attache’ Col. Brian Lees. John was introducing most of the officials he knew and I was introducing the local businessmen. We later met in his office at the FCO in London during one of my duty tours in 1984.

When I settled in the UK in 1988 we were constantly in touch, with each other, he and Sir James Craig gave me references when I applied for British naturalisation in the early nineties.
Subsequently over the years John and I met frequently often for lunch at his most preferred Travellers Club in Pall Mall, the Royal Overseas Club, sometimes with guests from overseas or other his other friends from the U.K. We made it a routine to meet every month for one or two luncheons at other restaurants at Haymarket (nearer to my work place), as well as other venues in London. Our chats were long, normally covering most subjects, friends in Hadhramaut and Yemen. The politics and how the situations unfolded as the years went by.

John mixed with so many people of all ranks and file, including Gulf, Yemeni Ambassadors and was very humble in his dealings with all. He would ask of his many old friends in Hadhramaut and he did keep in touch with some by mail. Whenever I travelled he would ask me to pass on his good wishes to the old and young who he had met on his travels to Yemen. He will sometimes ask me to take small items requested by his dear old friends in the hinterland. He was a very generous and a down to earth person. He would correspond with many and in particular Sayyid Ja’afar Muhammad Assagaaf a historian in Seiyun.

He would entertain and introduce his old friends when they visited London, as I did when he was Editor and wrote for the British Yemeni Society (BYS) Journal, he mastered the art of good memory and will easily recall names and places of special historical interest. I remember introducing him to old friends whom he interviewed for his article, as they served with Lieutenant-Colonel the Hon. M.T. Boscawen in Kenya/Tanzania, (see “The quiet travels of Colonel Boscawen”)

He was host to many visitors including the late Ahmed (Nowah) Barshaid an old friend from the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion, during a medical trip to London and had lunch with him at the Travellers Club in the company of John Ducker, the late Leila Ingrams, Joanne Ellis, his son Khalid Barshaid and myself. It was a memorable occasion for all. John was a great supporter of the Friends of Hadhramaut (FOH).
John had friends from everywhere in the Arabian Peninsula mainly in Oman, Al Mahra, UAE, Saudi Arabia and gave literary and academic support to many Hadhramis and others from the various areas mentioned above.

There are too many occasions to recollect from, but the main one in recent years was his unstinting support for my efforts in the 7 March 2015 conference for the Hadhramaut Research Centre (HRC) in SOAS. “Rediscovering Hadhramaut” he gave me advice when I called on him, while he was ill and despite all odds being on a wheel chair, he came to the conference. Later on when we were in the process of producing a book on the outcome of the conference and with the advice of friends, I hesitantly asked him if he could help in editing the book in his condition. Despite his illness he shouldered quite a burden to help bring the book to fruition. He was very receptive and told me he was more than willing to do it. He was a great support to the editor, Noel Brehony and the team working on the book.

As he was moving house in September 2016, he most kindly asked me to collect a large painting of Shiba’m (the Manhattan of the desert), or find a safe home for it!
I kept checking on John on his last days and saw him at the Chelsea Westminster Hospital on Saturday 29 October. He passed away smiling peacefully five days later.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends wherever they are.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un. "We surely belong to Allah and to Him we shall return”.
Goodbye my dear friend and rest in peace
Muhammad Bin-Dohry

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