Arthur Barnard of Gosport, England lost on Voltaire

Dear Mac,

I came across a February 1941 edition of a Canadian Newspaper which had interviewed my Grandfather whilst he was on leave visting a relative in North America. The paper's article was headed "Sailor Sees Lots of Action - Still Serves in Navy After Many Exploits" and went on to mention parts of his naval career from 1910 to 1935 when he left the service before rejoining again in 1939. He had fought in most theatres during those years on Destroyers, Cruisers and in the 1930's was on HMS Nelson - we have some photos of the ships, crews etc from these times in the family.

However, unfortunately he did not survive the sinking of HMS Voltaire which occurred less than two months after this news article was published. He achieved the rank of Chief Petty Officer and was in the Gunnery section I believe. The content of the newspaper article is as follows:-

"The black waters of the Baltic Sea catch the reflection of lights from the Copenhagen waterfront saloon as three battered figures crash through the door. If the moon was brighter you could recognise the torn clothing of the trio to be remnants of uniforms of the Royal Navy. For Britain had just won another conflict against overwhelming odds.

The tallest and most battered of the three is listed in naval records as Seaman Arthur Barnard of Gosport, England. He is only 25 years of age, but his name has already been in such records for 10 years.

Two decades have passed since Barnard staggered out of that Copenhagen saloon, but his name is still on the rolls of the Royal Navy. The only change is that it is now Chief Petty Officer Barnard.

Petty Officer Barnard is starting his 27th year of service with the Navy. In Windsor on leave from his station at an Eastern Canadian port, he sat in a local office today and told of his experiences during more than a quarter of a century of wearing the King's uniform. He related true stories that would be a credit to the imagination of the best of fiction writers, tales of valor and the might of his country's navy which has taken him to every corner of the world.

The diary of this black bearded beetle browed son of the sea is virtually the log book of the British Navy from 1910 to 1935. For there was scarcely a naval engagement or peacetime task performed by the navy during that time which he didn't witness.

One would need a good sized book to do justice to the exploits of Petty Officer Barnard. He has been in so many battles and tight scrapes that "Davey Jones" has given him up in disgust and he will have to build a "locker" of his own.

To return to that night 20 years ago in a Copenhagen saloon. Barnard insists it was the most exciting evening of his career. "I never thought we'd get out of the place alive" he related, after telling how he and the other two sailors were set upon by about 100 merchant seamen with anti British feelings. "I sure thought my number was up, but we managed to fight our way out. We returned the following night with reinforcements armed with half broom handles and sure cleaned that joint out"

It is difficult to understand why Barnard should place the bar room brawl before some of his other experiences. It is hard to imagine that being held prisoner for five days and being tortured in the hope that you would reveal military secrets would be as much fun as a hard game of tiddley-winks.

There is only one thing to do when you have a story of a fellow like Barnard to relate and that is accompany him when he first enlisted in the navy and try and follow him through 25 years of adventure.

No one was surprised when young Barnard decided to follow the sea in His Majesty's services for his father wore the blue uniform for 30 years. "All us Barnards go for the navy, although we are direct descendants of the Duke of Wellington" the Petty Officer observed.

The young "tar" first saw something that resembled action in 1912 when the destroyer he was on was sent to Constantinople to keep an eye on the trouble brewing there. The following year he was on a similar mission in China during a minor rebellion. "We weren't supposed to take any part in it" he confessed.

Barnard was a qualified seaman when the First Great War broke out anmd immediately was appointed to a large battleship.............unfortunately a couple of lines are illegible here................

"My first thrill was when I was sent over the side of the ship with a line to save 57 men who were drifting by on a wrecked cutter" the petty officer continued. " I managed to get them the line and they were saved"

Barnard received the Humane Society Medal for that life-saving feat but didn't get excited about it because such decorations are "quite common" in England.

After going through the Dardenelles campaign, Barnard's battleship was sent to the Adriatic to help the Italians. "The Wops couldn't fight any better than they can now" he related. "We always found we were alone when there was any action"

One of Barnard's most "bothersome" experiences was when his boat was helping evacuate the Serbs from Albania. His landing party of 18 was cut off from the boat by the Austrian advance and they had to march 80 miles to safety. "It took us 11 days and we lived on fresh air and hope" he added.

Out of action for a short time as a result of a flesh wound in the arm, Barnard returned as a gunner on a small vessel known as a drifter. One of the thrills of his life was when his boat sank an Austrian submarine with her three pounder gun.

At Zeebrugge, which he terms just "hell and brimstone" Barnard was in the thick of things and escaped with just a sore head when he was "beaned" by one of his own men as he was reboarding his vessel. It was a case of mistaken identity he says.

Armistice did not mean the end of the action for Barnard. He was stationed in the Baltic Sea for the White and Red Russian strife and was captured by the Red Army. A captive for five days, his jailers did their utmost to obtain information from him regarding the British forces. But they tried in vain. "Twisting kneecaps was one of the lesser means of torture they employed " he recalled.

After being pensioned  in 1935, Barnard retained his association with the navy as a civilian instructor at a gunnery school. He was called back on active service at the outbreak of the present conflict.

Despite his willingness to recall his past, the petty officer remains tight lipped regarding his experiences during the past 18 months although he admits he has seen "plenty of action"

"You can say I have no doubt that the outcome will be the same" he added. Of the 13 members of the Barnard family who served with the navy in the last war, only four survived. Three were lost in the Battle of Jutland.

Barnard came to Windsor to visit a cousin now living in Detroit who served with him in the other conflict. He has two brothers also in the navy."

Whilst I had known something of the naval career my Grandfather had, it was very interesting to see this article in a 60 plus year old paper. He has two surviving children, my uncles, but sadly my own father died in 1996. If any other person reading this knows or has pictures relating to my Grandfather's time in Voltaire of other ships - I have some names of the vessels he served in I would be pleased to hear from people.

Kevin Barnard, Seaford, England

E-mail address: kevinpetebarnard@aol.com


My thanks for your E-Mail, and the wonderful report about your Grandfather's long service in the Royal Navy.

What a pity that the Voltaire action should claim him, after he had survived so much action.

Do you have a photograph of him please, and any others that may include time in Voltaire? We have generated so much interest in Voltaire, her fight, and those who served in her, the time her survivors spent as POW's in Germany, I am sure some of our readers would enjoy such photographs if available.

Again, great to hear from you,and I repeat my thanks for getting in touch.

Best wishes,

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