Donald Foster Hudson: [Heath 1926–1935]

Donald Hudson standing on a path in front of some bushes in India
Donald Hudson in the 1950s

Donald Foster Hudson was born on 29 April 1916 to John and Kate; his birth certificate lists his father’s occupation as ‘waggon driver’ and Donald learning to drive and service vehicles later on came in useful in unexpected ways. He went to Battinson Road School from which he gained a scholarship to Heath.

His childhood ambition was to be a missionary in Africa and he planned to study at the Baptist College in Rawdon but a meeting with a senior minister led to him sitting the Oxford Entrance Examinations and entering Regent’s Park College, then a private hall of residence, in 1935, becoming a member of St Catherine’s College, the umbrella college for students who were not members of a traditional college.

He took the pass course in Greek and Latin literature in his first two terms followed by Greats so that he could complete his BA in three years and followed this with two years studying theology. He was active in, among other things, the Student Christian Movement, then a hotbed of ecumenism, and the Student Christian Movement Federation as the German invasions progressed and members in other European countries were caught up in the hostilities. His final year as a student minister was memorable, among other things, for trying to reach rural churches on a bicycle after all the road signs had been taken down!

Because of his qualifications, the Baptist Missionary Society decided to send him to work at the theological college founded in India in 1818 rather than to Africa. As a member of a reserved occupation he worked in the ARP as an ambulance driver until, in December 1940, he was able to take the last ship on which civilians could travel to India. It went round the Cape of Good Hope and shore leave in Durban brought him face to face with the reality of apartheid well before it became government policy.

He was sent to Dhaka for two years to learn Bengali; there communal rioting between Hindus and Muslims meant that Christian ambulance drivers were the only ones able to drive safely into both communities. The advance of the Japanese also prompted the authorities to set up a fire service to deal with the expected Japanese bombing and Donald become chief technical officer of the fire brigade. Initially, there was much scepticism about the brigade but, when they turned out to put out a fire in a warehouse, the business community swung round in support. Donald had a couple of hair-raising moments when fellow firemen were members of the ‘wrong’ community but managed to negotiate his way through these.

After two years he began work at Serampore College, temporarily relocated to Chandranagore after the college buildings had been requisitioned as a military hospital. Throughout the war he corresponded with Miriam, who was a Sunday School teacher at Pellon Baptist Church, and about this time he asked her to marry him. She accepted and was eventually able to join him in 1945 on the first ship to India carrying civilians. She particularly remembers tasting Jaffa oranges brought on board as they passed through the Suez canal, something unavailable in England for many years!

They were married shortly after Miriam arrived in India and John was born a year later. Then in 1947 Donald was finally able to return to England ‘on furlough.’ This consisted of nine months going round churches talking about his work and three months with family. These happened every five years thereafter but, interestingly, though church attendance was the norm in the 1950s, Donald thought that most of the churches he visited during that decade were ‘dead.’

When he returned to Serampore in 1948, he became warden of the girls’ hostel and in 1950 he moved into staff accommodation in the college, having become bursar, a post he held for the rest of his time at the college. He taught New Testament Greek and theology, out of which came Teach yourself New Testament Greek published in 1960 and breaking with over a thousand years of tradition in that he omitted the Greek accents which had originally been invented to enable non-Greek speakers to read Homer. His argument was that, as the writers of the New Testament had never known about them, let alone used them, there was no point in burdening trainee ministers with them.

In the late fifties he had also become responsible for teaching new missionaries Bengali and out of this came Teach yourself Bengali. However, it was not all work; he was an amateur poet, a successful organiser of social evenings, first of all among the community in Dhaka and then among the students at the college, and a footballer into his fifties. He followed Yorkshire Cricket Club from afar and never missed an opportunity to remind people of his Yorkshire roots.

Eventually, in part as a result of the success of the college, it was considered that it could recruit sufficient suitably qualified Indian staff to continue its work — as has been the case since then — and for his last couple of years he was secretary of the Board of Theological Education, flying to colleges up and down the sub-continent with those inspecting their provision and the quality of their teaching.

On his return to England, he settled in Bradford, initially teaching at a centre for immigrants and then RE at Wyke and later Garforth schools. He was involved in developing the Agreed Syllabus in Religious Education, one of the first attempts at an inter-faith syllabus, and was elected chair of the Community Relations Council, a post he held for several years and for which he was fondly remembered by many of the minority ethnic communities in Bradford.

He became a member first of the West Bradford and then the Central Baptist Fellowship, preaching several Sundays a month and stepping in when younger ministers were ill! In 1997 he was chosen to receive the Maundy money from the Queen when the service was held in Bradford Cathedral.

In retirement, he became a consultant to the translators of the Apocrypha section of the Good News Bible and a proofreader of bibles and bible translations, many of which were being put on computer for the first time and needed someone to check that this had been done accurately.

Though he withdrew from many commitments as he grew older, he continued to proofread and to preach until about three months before he died when he learned that, although he had given up smoking some years earlier, he had contracted lung cancer. He died on 25 May 2003 leaving three children, John, Rosemary and Andrew and five grandchildren, Miriam having died in 1998 and another grandchild in 1994.

John R Hudson [Heath 1957–1960 and 1962]

Abbreviated version of the original obituary based on the funeral eulogies but with some new material.

Original version published ; abbreviated version published