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Remembered Today:

Midshipman Barber and the "Najade" 1917


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Hi all,

I have come across a Midshipman John (or John R.) Barber RNR who was born in Holyhead, hence my interest. The CWGC register notes he was killed as an armed guard aboard the Norwegian steamer "Majade" on 6 March 1917 aged 19. One other mention states "killed in action", but that may be an assumption.

I have also found copies of the log of the ship he was on at the time, namely the armed boarding steamer HMS EBRO. The ship intercepted was actually a sailing vessel, and spelled "Madjade" as well as "Majade" , spotted in the north Atlantic two days earlier, and followed until the weather (wind force 8) improved enough for her to be boarded on 6 March, west of the Faeroes. As a result, Midshipman Barker was left aboard as an armed guard, with orders to proceed to Kirkwall.

And that's all I can find about the incident at present. No note of the sinking of such a vessel either by U-boat or the weather. For all I know the crew got fed up and chucked him overboard, but I may need to dig deeper.

Any thoughts?

Likewise concerning him, he was the son of an RN Lieutenant and appears on the war memorial at Victoria Street, Alderney in the Channel Islands where his parents resided after the war. He is supposed to be on the old Boys Grammar School memorial at St.Peter Port, Guernsey (though one image I was able to find didn't confirm this), and on the Bailiwick of Guernsey Memorial nearby. Even more curious, he is said to be on the Bailiwick of Jersey Memorial. No commemoration at Holyhead.

Any further details welcomed.


Whoops - spelled his name "Barker" incorrectly. Amended ships name in topic as well.

Edited by LST_164
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The name of the ship is NAJADE sunk on 21 March 1917 by U59.

See naval-history.net and uboat.net and previous thread on this site.


Joe R

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Thanks very much Joe R - just one letter but it makes all the difference in a search!


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Hi Clive

It just might also be worth your while looking under NAIADE in case any transcribers have silently "corrected" the j to i.


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Here's a nautical thought that struck me. The Najade is boarded on 6 March west of the Faeroes at, 61' 31"N by 11' 10" W and ordered to head for Kirkwall in the Orkneys. She is subsequently sunk on 21 March at 53' 35" N by 2' 17" W near Fair Isle, between the Shetlands and Orkneys.

It doesn't look a great distance between the boarding and sinking sites, but she took a full two weeks to get from the one to the other. Even allowing for her being a sailing schooner (and some seasonally bad weather), isn't that quite a long time? Or am I being landlubberly in this?


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OH reckons that your two map references are about 510 nautical miles apart.

Najade was a barque according to naval-history.net and OH guesses an average speed, depending on size, of 10 knots (nautical mph) but only if the wind was with her. So with following winds she'd do it in two to three days. But if the wind was dead against her all the time and she had to tack, that would take longer.

All I can think of otherwise is: 1/ the wind was so bad that she hove to for some time 2/ she was very heavily laden 3/ she had already reached Kirkwall, tied up for one or more nights and started on the return voyage 4/ for some reason of his own the captain took a very erratic course...

Possibly someone at http://forum.oldweather.org might be able to help with the weather/winds?

sJ with help from OH

(corrected for distance calculations, oops.)

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You're right Horatio, except that he wasn't alone - there were these three also in the armed guard:

Ord. Sean. James Robert Alexander, RNVR Clyde Z/8184, age 36 from Broughty Ferry, Forfarshire

Ord. Sean. Ronald James Robinson RN J55801, age 19 from Frinton-on-Sea, Essex

Able Sean. John Simmonds RN 183437 (RFR B.3779), age 39, parents Twickenham, wife Reading, Berks.

Alexander is listed on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, the others (incl. Barber) on Chatham Naval Memorial. These three are like Barber all described in the CWGC registers as "killed while acting as armed guard on Norwegian barque (or steamer - it does vary!) Majade". The curious thing is that these three have a death date of 21 March 1917, which matches the known sinking of the vessel.

Sometimes all four are listed together, but I suppose the fact is that the entire guard died. Barber was originally reported missing, and my guess is that maybe his date of death (as with some others who vanished in the war) was originally assumed to have taken place "on or after" a given date - in this case, the last day he was seen alive. It doesn't answer why the others have a different date; or indeed why the vessel was still seemingly making for Kirkwall after 2 weeks. If it had reached port, been examined and released wouldn't the guard have stayed ashore?? I suspect there'd be little chance they and the Najade would have set off on a minor odyssey to locate the Ebro once again??

Comments welcomed.

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