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Service held for a true friend of Bangladesh

Ansar Ahmed Ullah:

The funeral service for Michael Barnes was held on Thursday 5th April at St John’s Church, Notting Hill, West London. He passed away on 22 March 2018. The Service was conducted by Rev Canon Dr William Taylor and attended by his family members including his wife Anne Barnes, son High Barnes and his grandchildren Tatiana & Aliki Barnes, Alfie, Harry, Stanley & Daisy Cain. The Bangladesh High Commissioner Nazmul Quaunine, Deputy High Commissioner Khondker M. Talha, UK Awami League’s President Sultan Shariff and other Bengali representatives of Bangabandhu Parishod & Swadhinata Trust were also present.

Michael Barnes was a Labour MP (1966-1974) for Brentford and Chiswick in West London. He was best known to the Bengali community for being a Friend of Bangladesh or formally titled ‘Friend of Liberation War Honour’ by the Bangladesh government in 2012 for his unique contribution to the War of Liberation of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh. On receiving the award in Dhaka, the former British Labour MP Michael Barnes said they were greatly honoured at the Bangladesh government’s invitation, “We accept the honour. Long live Bangladesh. Joi Bangla.”

In the UK he was the longest serving Chair of Bangabandhu Parishod since its inception in 1979. His link with the UK Bengali community was partly through his time at UKIAS, the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service. He was the Chief Executive of IAS, from 1984 to 1990.  The other link was with the Awami League in London. The Awami League had founded a society called the Bangabandhu Society (Parishod). The first chairman of the Parishod was Sean McBride, who had defended Sheikh Mujib in one of the trials. Sean McBride was very eminent person. He was a former Irish Minister for External Affairs. He was the first president of Bangabandhu Society, and Michael Barnes was the Vice Chairman. Michael Barnes was a real friend of Bangladesh and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. During the Liberation War he went to India to visit refugee camps and Bangladesh and had met members of exiled Bangladesh Government as a member of a British delegation to see the inhumane conditions of the people. During nine months of war he visited war affected areas twice with aid.

Michael Barnes met Bangabandhu in 1972 as a member of All Party British Parliamentary delegation to see the destructions done by the Pakistan occupying military. He came back to Bangladesh in 1973 with British relief. On meeting Bangabandhu he had said I met him in February 1972. I went with another member of the parliament. My companion was a senior Conservative Member, H. Frasier. My colleague was the chairman of the British-Bangladesh Parliamentary Group. I was the Vice Chairman, so we went to Bangladesh and we met Sheikh Mujibur then. And at that time, it was very difficult to travel around Bangladesh, so many bridges were down, and travel was very difficult. So, we just made one visit out of Dhaka, we flew to Dinajpur; and were able to see some of the destructions. About Bangabandhu Michael Barnes said he had a very great charisma, a very impressive gentleman. He spoke quite slowly and quite softly, and he would speak about his love for the people of Bangladesh, and also their love for him. He was a very great man. Sheikh Mujib only had three years. He found it very difficult to run the government, if people wanted to see him, he would see them, and if you are the Prime Minister or the President; you have to draw the line somewhere. But I think in those days, at first to begin with, that literally there was queue of people, who wanted to see him with their problems, so it was very difficult.

He also went to Bangladesh during the Pakistani crackdown. During the war the Pakistani cricket team was due to come to England for a tour and he thought this was most inappropriate. He tabled a motion in the House of Commons saying words to the effect that the Pakistani team should not come. In the parliament he gave a clear picture of the genocide that was happening in Bangladesh. He felt it was most inappropriate for the Pakistani cricket team to visit especially after the crackdown by the end of March 1971 and all the reports coming through of killings & rape.

In an interview in 2006 he said Bangladesh had a great future and was an incredibly fertile country. At the service in his eulogy Machel Barnes’s son Hugh Barnes in an emotional tribute to his father he said his father was back in Bangladesh in 2012 to receive an award from Mujib’s daughter Sheikh Hasina. His acceptance speech on that occasion was, in Michael Barnes opinion, the best speech he had ever made, and there were tears in his eyes as he drew to a close with raised hand and the words, ‘Joi Bangla!’