war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper




Daniel McCarthy


HMS Barham exploding, from Wikimedia CommonsFor 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 town.

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.

Richard's memories 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 alive.

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)


Although the 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 1735.  

information from Wikipedia.

Copyright 2006 Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved