Back row, left to right: Isobel McAuley People's Warden, Lawrence Smylie, the Rev Nicholas Dark, and Yvonne Belshaw, Rector's Warden. Seated are Alice and James Smylie
ON Remembrance Sunday in Magheragall Parish, the rector, the Rev Nicholas Dark shared the story of local man, Royal Marine John Finlay Smylie who died on November 25 1941 when HMS Barham sank in the Mediterranean, going down in just four minutes.
HMS Barham was a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship of the Royal Navy built on Clydebank, Scotland, and launched in 1914. To school pupils HMS Barham will be known as one of the great Dreadnoughts built just prior to World War One.
In World War II she operated in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. At the end of 1940, Barham joined the Mediterranean Fleet, taking part in the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941 and receiving bomb damage off Crete in May.
On November 25 1941, while steaming to cover an attack on Italian convoys, HMS Barham was hit by three torpedoes from the German submarine U331, commanded by Lieutenant Hans-Dietrich von Tiesenhausen.
As she rolled over to port, her magazines exploded and the ship quickly sank with the loss of more than two-thirds of her crew. In order to protect morale at home the Admiralty did not immediately notify the families. The Admiralty censored all news of Barham's sinking and the loss of 841 British seamen. After a delay of several weeks, the War Office decided to notify the next of kin of Barham's dead, but they added a special request for secrecy.
A notification letter was received by James and Sarah Smylie of Magheragall and as with all the letters it included a warning not to discuss the loss of the ship with anyone but close relatives, stating it was essential that information about the event which led to the loss of life should not find its way to the enemy until such time as it is announced officially. The Admiralty informed the press on January 27 1942.
John Finlay Smylie was the eldest of the children of James and Sarah Smylie. He was born on April 8 1922 at North Street, Ballinderry. There were John, William, Yvonne, Josephine, Andrew, Francis and Lawrence. The family was raised on the Causeway End Road, Lisburn, and Moneybroom Road, Magheragall.
John took his first job on Springfield Farm, situated just behind the Parish Church. When war broke out he joined up, and on October 31 1939 17-yearold John left home to join the Royal Marines and after basic training he served on the HMS Barham.
John was just 19 when he died. When the news came through the family was living in Moneybroom Road and not long after receiving the official notification of John's death his father James was taken ill and he died in February 1942.
On Remembrance Sunday 2011 John's youngest brother Lawrence came to Magheragall Parish as he does every year. On this, the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the ship, Lawrence laid the parish wreath at the foot of the Memorial. Lawrence was accompanied by his wife Alice and son James.
Lawrence and his family are from Ballyclug Parish, Ballymena, where Lawrence is a former church warden.