Stoker Alfred William Barker

Service:  Royal Navy
Service No:  K20835
Date and place of birth:  3 January 1894 in Wonersh, Surrey
Date and place of death:  26 November 1914, River Medway

Family background

Alfred William Barker was born in 1894, the third son of Alfred and Agatha Barker, nee Sayers, who married in Guildford in 1887. At the time of their marriage Alfred was 28, a carman living in Albury, Surrey, and Agatha was 26.  In 1901 Alfred was living with his parents and four brothers: Jesse (13), Jack (10), Robert (5) Joseph (1) and two sisters: Rosa (11) and Elsie (8) at The Hyde, Rumbolds Hill, Midhurst, Sussex. His father was then working as a Horse Breaker, on his own account.

Alfred died in 1901, aged 41, and at the 1911 census Agatha Barker, widow (50) was heading the household and Robert, Joseph and Benjamin were still living at The Hyde, together with Samuel Baker (sic) (46), a boarder, who was married and a housepainter on the Cowdray Estate.

The 1911 census listed Alfred Barker (17), single and a gardener sharing an address with Ernest Woodgate (26), also single and a gardener, at The Gardens, Germains, Chesham.

Military service

Alfred William Barker signed on for a 12 year term on 20 October 1913, serving initially on Victory II, and then transferring to HMS Bulwark.

At the beginning of the war HMS Bulwark was serving in the 5th Battle Squadron, assigned to Channel Fleet at Portland. On 5 November it transferred to Sheerness to guard against a possible German invasion of England. The 15,000 ton Pre-Dreadnought battleship was moored at buoy No. 17 at Kethole Reach on the River Medway and was taking on coal from the airship base at Kingsnorton, on the Isle of Grain.

At 7.50am on the 26 November 1914, an explosion ripped the ship apart. Eye witness reports stated that once the smoke had cleared, there was no sign of the ship. Debris from the explosion fell up to 4 miles away. Navy divers, investigating the wreck three days later, found just two large fragments of wreckage. The subsequent Naval court of inquiry found that the cause was either a faulty shell being stored or overheating cordite next to the boiler room. Official Navy records stated that of the 14 survivors, 5 died over the following 4 days and one on 18 January 1918.

Alfred Barker was awarded Star, Victory and British War medals.

Death and commemoration

Alfred Barker was killed in the explosion on HMS Bulwark. He was 20 years old.

He is commemorated on Midhurst War Memorial, Memorial Panels in Midhurst Parish Church and Portsmouth Naval Memorial 4.

Also killed on HMS Bulwark were Midshipman John Sims, the son of Charles Henry Sims, the artist, who lived in Lodsworth, and Leading Seaman Daniel Pierson, who is commemorated on the Bepton War Memorial.

Subsequent family history

Agatha Barker’s death was registered in the Midhurst District in 1939. She was 79. Jack, Jesse, Joseph and Robert Barker are all listed on the Memorial Panels in Midhurst Parish Church as having served in the war, Alfred being the only casualty.

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project