This year on Remembrance Sunday in Magheragall Parish, the rector, the Rev Nicholas Dark shared the story of Royal Marine John Finlay Smylie.
John Finlay Smylie 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 U–331, 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 over 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 of 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.
Magheragall man John Finlay Smylie was the eldest of the children of James and Sarah Smylie. John was born on April 8 1922 at North Street Ballinderry. There was 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, the farm situated just behind the Parish Church. When war broke out John joined up, and on October 31 1939 John left home to join the Royal Marines aged 17 years 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 the 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 and on this year of 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 members of Ballyclug Parish, Ballymena, where Lawrence is a former church warden.
They and the sacrifice they made will never be forgotten.