Thursday, 8 January 2015

Laurence Robert Barry (1915-40), Merchant Navy seaman who died in WW2

Laurence Robert Barry was born on November 30th 1915 in Woolwich, the eldest child of Laurence (1887-1942) and Mabel (1891-1957) Barry who married in 1913. Later they had two other children, namely Norah Annie born in 1918 and Dennis born and died in 1921. Mabel’s maiden name was Wilkins and she was a younger sister of my grandmother Gertrude Taylor nee Wilkins (1890-1919). Laurence Robert Barry was a cousin of my father, Eric William Taylor (1913-2003), although my father seems to have lost touch with most of his Wilkins relations and never mentioned him to me.

Electoral registers show Laurence and Mabel Barry living at 5 Glass Yard, Woolwich from 1922 to 1932. They moved to 38 Arsenal Road, Eltham in 1933.

Laurence Barry senior was a Merchant Navy seaman. The FindMyPast website has records showing him in this occupation from 1919 to 1935. His son Laurence Robert followed the same career and joined the Merchant Navy when he was aged 14. He lied about his date of birth, giving it as November 30th 1914 (it was actually 1915). Laurence Robert’s first job was as a bellboy on RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Ascania, a Cunard Liner built in 1923. It carried passengers, mail and cargo on the route London-Southampton-Quebec-Montreal, switching to Halifax and New York during the winter. 

Laurence Robert's first Merchant Navy record card

Laurence senior also worked on RMS Ascania in 1925, 1929 and 1935. In 1925 and 1929 he is described as a “Greaser”. This was a rating for Able Seamen working in the Engine Room Department of a ship. Greasers were responsible for keeping oil-levels in various sumps on generators, compressors (air and refrigeration), winches, steering-gear etc. topped-up. They kept all machinery in the engine-room and on deck lubricated. They would also make sure engine-room bilges were kept pumped-out, so were kept fairly busy both at sea and in port.

Laurence Robert worked on RMS Carinthia, another Cunard liner, in 1932 and 1933. In 1934 he was back on RMS Ascania. A Merchant Navy record card for him that year gives his height as 5 foot 4 inches, eyes blue, hair fair and complexion fair. He worked on other ships after this – a record card gives their numbers but not their names. 

1934 Merchant Navy record card

In 1938, Laurence Robert (aged 22) married Ann Elizabeth Curry (aged 22) in Woolwich. They had a daughter in 1939. The 1939 Register shows Laurence and Ann living at 49 Paget Rise, Woolwich. His occupation is given as "submarine and power cable worker".

The picture above was taken in 1939. The couple on the left hand side are Laurence Robert and Ann Barry. The photo was taken at the wedding of Thomas Henry Drake (a cousin of Laurence Robert) to Kathleen Marguerite Dunger in Woolwich.

After the Second World War was declared in 1939, Germany began to attack British shipping in an attempt to prevent food and materials reaching Britain. Many merchant ships were sunk, mainly by German submarines. About 36,000 British civilian seamen died during the war. On August 23rd 1940, Laurence Robert was working as a Greaser on board SS Cumberland, which was a cargo boat in a 32 ship convoy heading from Liverpool to Curacao. The Cumberland was torpedoed by German submarine U-57, 25 miles north east of Malin Head, County Donegal. Laurence Robert, aged 24, was killed. It seems likely that he was working in the engine room (which would have been below the waterline) when the torpedo struck. Laurence Robert’s body was not recovered. His name is on the Merchant Navy Memorial at Tower Hill, London. Three other of the ship's crew of 58 also died. They were Greaser Thomas Herbert Baker aged 39, Greaser John Nicholas Donnelly aged 27 and Greaser James Reginald Tribbeck aged 21. The SS Cumberland sank on August 26th 1940.

Names on the Merchant Navy Memorial, Tower Hill

An inscription at the memorial reads “The twenty four thousand of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets whose names are honoured on the walls of this garden gave their lives for their country and have no grave but the sea.”

 The Merchant Navy Memorial, Tower Hill.

Laurence's wife Ann married Henry B Brind in 1946 in Woolwich. She died in 1982 aged 65 in Greenwich .

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