Having lived in Bosnia and Canada, subsequently a finished products commodity trader in a Yugoslav trading company in London (turnover £200m), John Shirley tumbled into international freight when the company in question turned out to be mainly Serb and was then closed under UN sanctions in 1992. Years later he helped the Sunday Times defend themselves against a libel action by the managing director. They had discovered evidence that pointed to him donating to the Tories and also to Arkan, the notorious warlord.
John was offered work in Dover by a clearance agent whom he had used for imports. He quickly established, by talking to drivers from former Yugoslavia at customs in the port, that the majority were going out from the U.K. empty having made their deliveries, to re-load in Holland or Belgium. This could be from as far up as Glasgow.
At this time in the early to mid-nineties the wars in Croatia and Bosnia were in full swing with the consequent need to feed, clothe and house refugees then, eventually, to re-build the infrastructure in the war torn areas. It was expensive for charities and NGOs to hire and insure trucks to get their aid there. Learning of the empty trucks from former Yugoslavia and the low cost involved they snapped at the chance to use them. Through this agency and subsequently through John Shirley Ltd, then based in Willesborough, aid went from Dublin, Glasgow, Turrif, Bristol, Wrexham, London, Rotterdam, Aarhus, Nuremberg, Rennes, Paris , Naples, Gibraltar, Istanbul, Ziar nad Hronom, Balassagyarmat, Belgrade etc. in vast quantities, much of it paid for by the government of Japan in their first major donation programme.
Goods shipped included tens of thousands of tonnes of NAAFI biscuits and Bailey bridges, baby boxes, pasta, flour, rice, cooking oil, sugar, seed potatoes, tomato paste, beds, tents, body bags, generators, tractors, bowsers, stone crushers, paper, thermal power plant parts, garbage trucks, tippers, fire engines, armoured Landrovers, Landcruisers and so on.
Later, in 1999 to 2001, the exercise was repeated with Kosovo resulting in a doubling of turnover in 2000. At all times phone calls in Serbo-Croat to get trucks though borders and vetinary checks was imperative. Use of French, German and Spanish at the loading places was often a tremendous help. Since those hectic years the nature of traffic has become more commercial however, the necessity to get trucks and containers to their loading places on time when there are a dozen or more volunteers waiting remains as aid is still being shipped although in much lower quantities except in the spring of 2016 when great quantities of blankets mattresses and tents were taken to the migrant camps on Lesbos, near Athens, Novi Sad, Skopje and Slavonski Brod and .Languages spoken: fluent Serb, Croat, Bosnian, French, Spanish, conversational Albanian and some German.