John Bowden was born on May 4th 1929 at Woking Maternity Home in Surrey to Edith and Sydney Bowden. He had an elementary education but had a natural flair for literacy and was a fine amateur artist. His self-education in literature, history, art and music stayed with him throughout his life.
Just before his 14th birthday in 1943 he joined Kingston’s Instruments as an apprentice, making machine tools for companies such as Hawkers and Vickers. While there he became a shop steward and qualified as a tradesman and journeyman toolmaker. He also became an avid Daily Worker reader.
In 1947 John chose to do his national service in the navy. He was sent to Portsmouth and then to Clyde in Scotland to join his first ship, HMS Ranpura, before returning to his previous job in 1949.
During the 1950s John married his first wife and they had a family.
He later worked at Napiers, a factory famed for its organisation and militancy. While there at a social event in Brooklands, Weybridge he met Joe Scott, the Communist member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union’s executive council.
He was also introduced to Robin and Brian Thompson who invited him for an interview to discuss recruiting young men like himself to WH Thompson’s law firm.
Following that he met Harry Pollitt, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
He joined WH Thompson in April 1953 and as a result became active in the Communist Party.
John was still associated with the AEU Junior Workers. He attended the annual youth conferences for three consecutive years and along with Jimmy Reid and Aubrey Lytton he led the apprentices’ strike of 1960.
John also joined the Haldane Society, a socialist and legal campaigning organisation founded in 1930 to provide legal support to the then Labour government. About this time he also became a member of the Communist Party’s lawyers group, which met at Seifert Sedley’s offices. He eventually became the advisory’s secretary.
During the 1960s he set up home with me, and in 1965 we had a daughter together. John qualified as a lawyer in 1976. He later left WH Thompson to join Seifert Sedley, and eventually set up his own practice, John Bowden Trainer & Co.
He also became secretary of the Paddington and Westminster borough committee and a member of the Communist Party’s London district committee.
His legal speciality was defending the rights of workers, especially within the trade union movement.
One of his greatest achievements in this field was the Wapping dispute. He was legal adviser and friend to the London machine branch of the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants, which later merged with the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades, and to many print workers. He supported them at the Briant Colour work-in, in various Fleet Street battles and finally during the News International dispute at Wapping.
He was present in many a jail, court, picket line and demonstration representing and supporting print workers in struggle.
During one of his stints as a legal observer at Wapping he was smashed in the face by a policeman’s baton, only to insist on making a defiant rallying call to demonstrators before being carted off to hospital.
In addition to his work in Britain he worked abroad in countries including Guyana, Grenada, Turkey and Greece.
He represented Arnauld Rampersaud at his murder trial in Guyana in 1977 on behalf of the Haldane Society and the cab section of the Transport and General Workers Union, successfully establishing Rampersaud’s innocence.
He continued to provide services to the Guyana People’s Progressive Party and was honoured to receive an award for these services presented to him by the Guyana ambassador on February 10 this year.
John also travelled to Grenada for the hearings of the Grenada 17 murder trials.
During his childhood his father brought him a book called The Young Angler. It transformed his life and he became a skilled fly fisherman.
He fished all over the world but he particularly enjoyed fishing in Exmoor, Devon, where he fished the River Barle, his favourite river.
He wasn’t just a great fisherman but a skilled craftsman. He made the most exquisite fishing rods and a beatifully engineered fly-tying device upon which he made many a fly.
In 2001 he retired to North Molton, where he soon became a part of the community by joining the angling club, arts classes, the Grumpies – old boys’ gatherings – and the local history society, where he helped write a book on the town’s past.
However shortly after moving to Devon John was tragically diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and he soon became unable to participate fully in the activities he so enjoyed.
John continued to read the Morning Star and to follow campaigns within the movement. He remained a communist to the end and people in the Communist Party, trade union movement, fishing fraternity, his family and friends will miss him greatly.
John Bowden died on Monday November 4 at the age of 84, leaving behind one sister, his children and grandchildren.
Morning Star Feature November 29th 2013