REMEMBER A HERO" by Phil Reilly
For years after the
end of the Second World War the cinema newsreels opened with
images of a giant naval battleship sinking in the Mediterranean.
That ship was the HMS Barham and among the 861 seamen who lost
their lives aboard it was 21-year-old Dover Daniel McCarthy.
Daniel was the
third of 10 children growing up in a large Catholic family in
Chapel Court, Dover. Of the four that survive today - Patricia,
Marina, Sheila, and Richard - the latter two still live in the
Sheila Johnson, 76,
and Richard McCarthy, 67, are fiercely proud Dovorians. At the
dining table of Sheila's neat Castle Drive bungalow in Whitfield
the pair beam as they call themselves as "Pierites", referring
to people who grew up in the Pier district and particularly
those who went to Holy Trinity or Pier Infant schools. They are
also fiercely proud of Daniel, their older brother, who died
shortly after his 21st birthday in the Mediterranean.
of Daniel are limited. He was only a year old when his brother
left to join the Royal Navy in 1939. Sheila was nine, evacuated
to Cwmbran in Wales when the war began, but has strong fond
memories of Daniel. She says that as a teenager he became the
man of the house when his father, a Merchant Navy seaman, and
his older brother Alec,. in the Royal Navy, were away. Sheila
said, "Everyone took notice of him and everyone thought the
world of him. He was very popular at St Paul's school and lots
of girls were keen on him - he was very handsome."
Seafaring was in
his blood and as a teen he worked for Burwell's on speedboats,
taking pilots out to merchant ships in the Dover Straits. As the
war broke out he wasted no time in in signing up to the Navy. He
was one of four brothers who fought for the navy during the war.
Alec and younger brothers John and William all returned home
Daniel joined the
crew of the HMS Kipling and took part in the Dunkerque
evacuations as an AB gunner. "They were big big guns," Richard
recalled. "Like the ones outside the imperial War Museum".
In 1941 he visited
Sheila, Richard, their mother May, and two other siblings in
Wales on leave for a few days. It was the last time they would
see him. Shelia remembers, "He was OK - in good spirits,
although he had seen some terrible things. He saw a friend
sliced in half. I remember mum took him to Newport to see him
off. The last thing he said to her was, "Cheerio mum, take care
of yourself." He rejoined the Kipling and headed to the Med.
Later that summer
Daniel turned 21 and his mother posted him a signet ring. He
never received it and when it was returned it was worn by
younger brother John.
After picking up a
slight injury in the Kipling he was briefly in hospital in
Crete. He left in November and joined the crew of the mighty
battle cruiser HMS Barham, named after the east Kent Village. It
was part of a fleet headed by Lord Mountbatten and within days
it came under attack from a German submarine. The Barham sank in
just three and a half minutes. It was hit by three torpedoes
fired by a single submarine north of Sidi Barrani in Egypt.
Sheila and Richard
were still in Wales at the time with their mother. Sheila
remembers her mother being "absolutely devastated" but
incredibly proud of her son.
Richard never got
to know his brother but he is sure of one thing. "Daniel was a
hero," he said with pride and conviction. "They were all heroes
- not just those who died but those who came home as well."
This article first appeared in the Dover
Express, p28, 6th April 2006
reproduced with permission
(note: the D J
McCarthy on the Town Memorial is Daniel Jeremiah McCarthy. He
was in 6th battalion of the Buffs, and died on 5th April 1918.
He is buried at Hedauville Communal Cemetery Extension, on the
Somme in France)
British Admiralty were informed of the loss of the Barham, the
German High Command was unaware. To mislead the enemy and to
help British morale, the news of the loss was kept quiet, with
next-of-kin being notified only several weeks later and with a
request that the event should not be discussed. However, some
two months after the sinking, the German High Command had
obtained the information.
Before this, in
November 1941 a spiritualist, Helen Duncan, stated that a dead
sailor had informed her of the loss. Her authenticity as a
medium had a number of times been questioned, but for fear she
might disseminate information about the D-Day plans, she was in
1944 sentenced to 9 months prison under the Witchcraft Act of