Harold BARNETT who apparently served on the Voltaire as a seaman in 1923

(more on Voltaire)

Hello Mac,

Before I begin let me thank you for one of the best laid out and surely the most informative site with regards to Naval issues.Keep up the good work (And your partner) and well done.

Anyway, back to my question : I am looking for a man by the name of Harold BARNETT who apparently served on the Voltaire as a seaman in 1923 when she was first launched. We know that he joined the Merchant Navy at a young age as he would have been born around the 1898 period.

The Voltaire was taken out of service as a passenger ship in 1930 and was commissioned by the Admiralty in 1939 before being put back into service as an AMC (Auxillary Merchant Cruiser) in 1940.

We are led to believe that he was also stationed on this vessel when it was destroyed in a gun battle with the German vessel `Thor` on April 4th 1941.We know he survived this event as he lived to an old age (More info on him in just a second...!)

I am trying to find out if there was a Harold BARNETT on the HMS Voltaire and where he was shipped to as a POW along with the rest of the survivors.

I have been informed by family members that they remember he had three yellow stripes on his uniform but that was probably later on in his career.

We know that after his retirement from the Navy he returned home to Neath or Port Talbot in South Wales UK and at some point he committed suicide by walking into the sea at Aberavon in Port Talbot and drowning himself. We do not know why he did this.

This would have taken place around the late 1970`s to early 1980`s as I was in a family photo with him and I was born in July 1973 which would mean that he was in his late 70`s to early 80`s when he did this.Apparently he was also awarded medals during his service but the track of time has seen the loss of them.

He also had a brother called Norman BARNETT who again was in the Merchant Navy (apparently) and was killed in a fight outside a pub in Barry, South Wales during the 1960`s.

If anyone can help me further with things like confirmation of any of the above being in the merchant navy or where the germans held them as pow`s I would be most grateful.

Thank you for your help

Hello Sarah,

My thanks for your kind remarks about Ahoy, it is always pleasing when some one across the world makes an effort to contact me. Terry in Atlanta, and I, get a lot of pleasure in keeping the site going and trying to make it interesting. Only recently Terry said we had received about 230 messages such as yours, usually with a question about some thing I had written about.

The ones you have posed may be somewhat difficult to answer, but try I will, and rest assured I will be back to you in due course Sarah, whether with your answers or not.

Again, nice to hear from you.

Best regards,

Hi there Mac,

Thank you for your very prompt reply.....what a service !!!

I am finding it very difficult trying to find Harold Barnett....He just seems to be so elusive!

I was wondering actually (Being a veteran yourself) if you know why I wouldn`t be able to find him on the census records.Would it be because he was in the services and their details would not have been allowed to made public during those hard years or is it just simply because he was always away at sea.Family who still remember him vaguely say that they never saw him until after retirement !!!

Being a disabled person myself I find it difficult to travel and find any research and I am a little reluctant to pay for any services unless I know that this man really does exist as I cannot find a thing on him.

The only thing that makes me think he existed was the `Elis Island` website where I searched the records that they have and it came up with a few Harold Barnett`s who were actually crew members and working out their birth dates ties in with about 3 separate ships being `Voltaire` which was taken out of service as a passenger ship and re-commissioned by the Admiralty.Then there was the `Median` of which I can find no information on and then the `Scandinavian` which again I cannot find any information on.So as you can see....I have a task ahead of me !!!!! I want to thank you for all of the help you have given...you are so kind.

Regards to you and your partner across the `Pond` and keep up the excellent work and don`t give up on your site - it is fantastic and it has certainly been placed in my favourites list for quick referral !!

I am so desperate I have even borrowed a book from the library called `Battle of the Atlantic` which I am hoping might shed some light on things...but who knows!!!!

Anyway - I will stop dribbling on and let you get on with your hard work....you must deal with so many people every day that it must sometimes be exhausting for you.

All the best

I had told Sarah to persist about finding Harold, and told her about Manus and the Royal Charter

( I seem to have lost that message from my computer )

This is her reply.


Hello again Mac - How are you today??

I have been browsing through some old photographs that I have in the vain hope of finding any pictures of Harold BARNETT.

I have enclosed an attachment for you to look at.I am not 100% sure if this is him or not but he is the only one who attended a wedding of my Aunty Irene BARNETT in a uniform.

He was Irene`s grandfather.

I know it is not very clear due to the age of the photo but I was just wondering if you had any sort of idea of the insignia on the cap he is wearing.This photo would have been taken around the mid to late 1960`s in Wales.
I see my Aunty Irene on a regular basis ... well every week more or less but her memory is not so good on things like this.She is the one who has in her posession the photo of Harold in uniform during a family photograph....not many years before killing himself by walking into the sea.

Irene is away at the moment visiting her sister in Cambridge,England for about a week and when she returns I will retrieve the other photo and will send you a copy.

Hope the picture is of some help.

Thank you


Harold BARNETT who apparently served on the Voltaire as a seaman in 1923

Harold BARNETT who apparently served on the Voltaire as a seaman in 1923.
The cap badge is a Merchant Navy one.


I understand there is a book written about the sinking of HMS Voltaire, and his time spent in the German Prison Camp as a POW by a signalman from the ship. It was published in 1967, and will only now be available in second hand shops, it is called: Sailors in Cages, the author Roger V. Coward.

If you put Abe Books into your search engine, then the Title, some available copies will come up.

I have ordered one from a UK book seller at about US $ 10. plus some shipping costs.

Hope this helps.


Hi Mac,

How are you,well I hope.Thank you for your mail it was very interesting and I will try to get a copy of that book. It is also nice to see that you are still helping me.....you really are a gentleman.

I went to the local library where they keep all of the newspaper archives for South Wales and I have found a headline for 1983 with regards to a man`s body being found on the beach that we were told. Obviously we do not know for definite if this is for Harold Barnett but I have many more trips planned to search the next batch of papers for an item with regards to identification.You will see what I mean when you read it......I have attached a copy for you and I have re-typed it underneath just in case you cannot read it properly (No offence meant )!!

We were told it happened in the early 1980`s and that he walked into the sea at Port Talbot but his body was found in Swansea bay (Obviously carried by the tide).As I said though....many more trips are needed back to the library.....It took me four and a half hours just to find this article !!! (GULP)!!!!

I have also been in touch with the local bmd archive service which is in our County Hall in Swansea to see what I have to do to get access to the records but I am waiting for an e-mail back on that one.

I am hoping to find a death date in the obituary columns in the newspaper archives and then I will look at the death registers for the same date and see if I can tie him in that way.

I will keep you updated on everything.

Once again,thank you for your wonderful response and I must go to bed now......it is 20past midnight here so must be about 09.30a.m with you !!!! (Its a good thing that E-Mails don`t take that long to travel isn`t it)???!!!!

Thank you Mac - Goodnight (Or Goodmorning)!!

Newspaper clipping perhaps about Harold Barnett

Hi Mac,

Thank you for your e-mail. Its nice to hear from you after so long. You seem very busy at the moment and so running a website too must be exhausting.

Its good to see that we have helped you to decide to launch a seperate section on the `Voltaire`as information is very scarce. It seems there are some other people who also appreciate this too in your letter section.

Anyway,back to `Harold Barnett`............This is what we have on him now......

Our Aunty Irene who we have mentioned has been quite wrong in some of the information she has passed on to us.

Harold`s real name is Edward Harold Barnett and he was born 23rd May 1902 in Britton Ferry,Neath,South Wales,UK.

He died in 1978 after comitting suicide as previously mentioned.

This is the confusing bit....get ready.......

At Edward Harold Barnett`s sons wedding Edward is listed on the marriage certificate as `Deceased`.This wedding took place in 1949. Obviously he was very much alive at the time as there are family photographs of him taken after that date. Did he have a quick re-incarnation ???LOL

We think that maybe he was either missing in action during whatever was going on in 1949 or we suspect that he may well have been captured after the sinking of the Voltaire along with the other 75% of the crew and was in a POW camp during 1949.

Also on the certificate it stated that he was an Engineer in the merchant Navy during 1949.

We also know that he suffered from Malaria and suffered Shrapnell wounds during battle.

Where we previously stated that his brother`s name was Norman we were wrong again. His brother`s name was Seth and we dont know if he had any military connections as we know nothing about him just yet.

It was Edward Harold Barnett`s son who entered the Merchant Navy and his name was Desmond Jackie Barnett. If any of your readers out there know anything of him also,we would be very grateful to hear from them.

We know Desmond Jackie Barnett was killed during a fight outside a pub in Barry, South Wales whilst home on leave. We were told that this took place during the sixties but can find no record of this incident as yet. As further information appears we shall of course let you know.

Hopefully if anyone out there can help with regards to these names and incidents we would be really grateful if they could help.

Maybe someone is researching for someone else who served in the Merchant Navy and could ask for us.Maybe someone will remember either one of them as we know that whilst these men were serving on these ships they obviously had to be very close-knit so to speak to defend each other.

I have enclosed the last picture taken of Edward Harold Barnett.It was taken on 1st July 1972 in Port Talbot, South Wales. Please enclose this in your forums with this message. Someone might recognise him.

Edward Harold Barnett

Edward Harold Barnett

If anyone out there does recognise him then we can be contacted via e-mail at genfind@aol.com

An immediate response is guaranteed.

Keep up the excellent work and the same to your partner.Full compliments on the site.


In response to your message, I am having great difficulty in finding much about the ship Baltavia, The one reference I can turn up, is from The Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour in Sydney, and it is but brief, namely: MV Baltavia was built in 1924, and was of 2,592 tons.

I have asked my friend, Billy McGee in UK, who runs a large site there, all about Merchant Shipping, mainly over WW2, if he can help at all.

I assume that your Grandfather was at sea in Baltavia in 1941, and some event, that I am not able to track down, happened to her at that time, and he is recorded as being discharged from that ship then, and he did not serve again in another vessel until January of 1942, but that is conjecture on my part Sarah.

Sorry I can not be more helpful for you.

If we unearth any more information, I promise to come back to you again.

Best wishes,
Mac Gregory.

At last, Billy has unearthed some details about Baltavia, as you can see the ship had three different name changes until 1938, when she was called Baltavia, serving as a store carrier for the British Admiralty for the duration of the 1939-1945 WW2.

She was thus carrying out this important task when your Father served in her over 1939-41.

After her war service where she seemed to have escaped any enemy attacks, once more a name change, until 1964, when she was scrapped.

Hope this helps a little.

Kind regards,

Hello Mac,

Received this from a contact of mine as I had nothing on her. No record of an attack this ship.
BALTAVIA, 2,461 g.t., 296ft x 45.9ft, twin screw, passenger / cargo ship, speed 12 knots.

Built 1924 by A/B Gotaverken, Goteborg (Yard No.377) as the CITY OF PANAMA for Pacific Mail SS Co, Panama.

1925 owned by Panama Mail SS Co, Panama,

1930 transferred to U.S. registry (O.N.229038),

1931 renamed SANTA CATALINA, same owner,

1935 renamed CHIMU, same owner,

1938 sold to Anglo-Estonian Shipping Co Ltd (United Baltic Corp.), London renamed BALTAVIA.

1939-1945 Admiralty requisition as commissioned store carrier,

1945 returned to owners,

1958 sold to Cheong Kee Nav. Co, Hong Kong (Jebshun Shipping Co) renamed SHUN SHING,

1959 owned by Shun Kee Navigation Co, Hong Kong (Jebshun Shipping Co),

1964 scrapped at Hong Kong.
Rgds Billy

Hello again Mac,

Since my last mail to you I have managed to acquire the medal sheet which contains Edward Harold BARNETT.

I am having a little difficulty understanding it`s contents and would like to know what medals he received. All I know is that in the first circle it says "1939". Being a man who knows all : ) , I was wondering if you could tell me what the rest mean.

He is listed 2nd up from the bottom.

I have also asked for a form to request his full naval service record which is on it`s way to me.

I have also been in touch with the Ministry Of Defence to enquire about the other chap I wrote to you about by the name of Ernest HITCHON. They are also sending me a form so I can request his service records also.

I appreciate your help and yes you may upload a copy of this Medal sheet to your pages as it might help someone else and seeing as it only cost me £3.50 I hardly think it is going to be much of a hardship.

I hope you are well and getting on okay.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Hello Sarah,
Lets look at Harold's Medal Sheet. the top row 39, is the 1939-1945 Star, AT, the Atlantic Star, AF, the Africa Star, PA, the Pacific Star, BU, the Burma Star, FR, the France and Germany Star, WM, the War Medal.

The bottom row is IT, the Italy Star, and all the CL letters under AT, AF, PA,  BU, FR stand for clasp.

In many cases one could qualify for two Medals but be awarded one and then wore a Clasp to denote the second medal.

In Harold's case he has been awarded the 1939-1945 Star, it tooks 6 months at war to gain this one, only after you had qualified for this medal could you earn an Atlantic Star after another six months service in the Atlantic Ocean. So his second medal is the Atlantic Star. ( this is the one medal I prize most of all in the 12 I managed to gain over the 39/45 War ) On his Atlantic Star, will be a clasp for the France and Germany Star, which Harold was awarded no doubt as a POW in Germany. His last medal is the War Medal.
Sarah, in another message I will send you a link to the Campaign Stars and Medals of WW2 from my AHOY site. There you can find all the Stars and Medals reproduced in colour, what the ribbons represent, and the qualifying details for each of them.

I hope that sorts out that query for you. I will respond separately about Ernest.

I am fine, but the kitchen saga drags on and on.

Take Care of yourself.

Best wishes, 

--------We may put this on a separate page -----------


Picture of Esperance Bay. She was built by Vickers Limited at Barrow on Furness, completed in 1922 as Hobson's Bay.

Renamed Esperance Bay, she plied the Britain /Australia run for the Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line Limited as a passenger ship.

Come the 13th. of September 1939, the ship was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser, her tonnage 14,204, with 7 by 152 mm guns and 2 by 76 mm guns, her speed 15 knots.

Her allocated Pennant Number was F-76.

From December 39 to April 40, the ship served on the South Atlantic Station.

May 1940 found her operating with the Halifax Escort force, then from June 40/ October 40 she was part of the Bermuda/Halifax Escort force. It was over this period that Ernest was killed, but I am unable to find any action that would result in his death, perhaps he was subjected to some accident on board, I just do not know.

To be an Ordinary Seaman at 22 is quite old, as long as a sailor was 18, he was rated as an Ordinary Seaman, the lowest level on the seaman ladder. By the time a sailor was 22 he would have advanced to Able or even to Leading Seaman, It could be, that Ernest had not long before joined the royal Navy, hence he was still an Ordinary Seaman.

Now in November 1940, the ship moved to theFreetown area ie off West Africa, and a main assembly point for convoys to form up before they made the last dash for England. Esperance Bay stayed on at the Freetown area until August 1941.

By the 12th. of November 1941 she had returned to UK to be used as a Troopship by the Ministry of War Transport, until war's end.

Returned to her owners in 1945, the ship was finally scrapped in 1955.

Here is a note of an American soldier shipping out of New York in 1944 in Esperance Bay, Jan 18/44

"Left Camp Shanks and boarded H.M.S. SS Esperance Bay (British) in New York Harbor. APO 9394. It was here that we received our final physical checkups etc before departing for overseas duty."

I will see if I can find any report of an action which may have caused Ernest's death.

Sarah you asked about finding Harold on a Voltaire crew list, Naval ships had many crew changes and its hard to pin a list down over a particular time frame, whereas in the case of a passenger list, people made a specific trip, that may well be able to be turned up. If you get Harold's Navl records, that should list any time he spent in Voltaire .

Graeme Dodds did not make any further comments about his Grandfather.

I guess thats it for now.

All the best,

Mac. http://www.merchantnavyofficers.com/shawsavill/esperencebay.jpg

Hi again Mac,

You truly are a little gem !!

You always seem to come up with the little tit-bits that make for interesting reading and what you have sent me on Ernest HITCHON is truly fascinating. Maybe he followed in someones footsteps to join the navy and left it a little late. I suppose when I eventually get his records I will have more on him. I am waiting for the application form to arrive from the ministry of defence but they have told me that I have to prove that he is related before they will even part with his records........data protection and all that stuff !!! I really don`t think they would appreciate a printout of our family tree !! It`s huge !!

Also,the information supplied about the medals that Edward Harold Barnett received was very very helpful and now we know that he was more than likely a POW a little more research is in order as to which camp he may have been at.

Also,on his medal sheet are two sets of numbers......one long number under his name (I am presuming this is his service number) but I do not know what the set of four digits are over on the right hand side.Could this just be a registration or enlistment number or something ??

I keep checking the time on your side of the world to try and catch you "Live" so to speak but the time differences make that a little awkward !!! Maybe I should move to Oz !! This is probably something you would not relish as I am probably enough of a thorn in your side now !! Ha Ha Ha Ha !!! LOL : )

Anyway,I had best let you get back to work.I have purchased a website which I am starting work on shortly.The site should be live within the next couple of days for everyone to see. It will be at.......... www.myfamilyhistoryarchive.co.uk  ................when it is launched.

I am intending to have an acknowledgement page in so that I can thank everyone for their hard work and efforts in helping me so far and if you like I can place a link for your site too ...... maybe someone else out there could do with us.

The site will contain what I have dug up so far.

I hope I have not bored you and good luck with your re-furbishment !!!

Stay well.
P.S - Don`t forget that you can use the medal sheet to post on your boards.Maybe it will help someone else.

I have been passed your e mail dated 20 November addressed to Chalmers Bath Estate Agents. I have been working in Bath for 30 years plus, and knew Roger Coward well. He passed away some years ago, but I read his book and had various conversations with him over the years. He was one of Baths characters and was an estate agent for many years. He was one of the "old school" whereas I was one of the new boys, and sometimes gave him a bit of hard time ! But I did buy my house through Roger Coward , and still live in it .

Hope this helps.

Bob Chapman


My thanks for your trouble in sorting out the detail about Roger Coward, very kind of you to take the time to write to me. I have passed your detail onto Terry who was seeking it.

T'is indeed a small world, you bought your house via Roger, and are still in it. The wonder of the internet and its facility to bring so many diverse people and their interests together, never ceases to amaze me.

With best wishes and regards from Australia.

Hello again Mac, (17 January 2004)

I trust you and your family are keeping well and not overdoing things too much like last year !!!!

Anyway Mac, as I recall I told you before about another photo of Edward which had to be found so that we would know a little more about his ranking.....well - guess what - We have finally found it in my wife`s Aunt`s posession and I have now made safely backed up copies of it.

I have enclosed a picture of him in the uniform concerned and was taken around 1977-78 in the family home. This would have been immediately before he comitted suicide. As a guide I have also included close up images of his stripes on his cuffs as well as a closer image of his cap (Which is very blurry in the original photo that I sent you) and also I can see different coloured blocks above the left hand pocket of his blazer.Would you happen to know what these might signify so I can put our minds at ease.

Also the order has now been processed with the National Archives here in Great Britain for his service records. I have paid for them and I am now awaiting delivery of them. Would you happen to know roughly what they would contain.

There will be 13 Units ( A3 size sheets) which will contain information. Is this a lot for a merchant Navy seamans records or is this about average. I can only presume you have your service records but these will probably differ as you were in the Royal Navy....am I correct with this assumption ?

I am not sure how long I will have to wait for the records but you will surely get a copy as always !!!

Anyway the pictures are attached and I hope they will help us further. Even a ranking would help !!!

Thank you once again Mac and remember to take care.


Edward Harold Barnett in Full Uniform

Edward Harold Barnett in Full Uniform



Here we go!!

The stripes on Edward's cuff, if there is no colour between the stripes, he was a Chief Officer ( one immediately below the Captain, and a Seaman Officer )

If there are colours between each stripe, please tell me the colour, which defines which branch the officer served in eg. Engineering, Pursers, Electrician, Medical.

His Cap badge confirms what I earlier indicated, he was a Merchant Navy Officer, this badge is common for all MN Officers, irrespective of branch.

The colour blocks above the LH pocket of his uniform jacket are his WW2 Campaign Stars, and Medal ribbons.

From L to R, they look like, the 39-45 Star is always worn first ( it may be partly hidden by the uniform lapel, the Atlantic Star would come next, I can't make it out, but would expect him to have earned it, the red/white/green/white/red ribbon is the Italy Star for service in Sicily and Italy between the 11th. of June 1943 and the 8th. of May 1945.

( I would have thought he would be a POW at that time, Thor sank Voltaire on the 4th. of April 1941 )

The last ribbon is the War Medal 1939-1945.

Is there a second row? I cannot really make one out.

Separately, I will E-Mail two photos of the WW2 Campaign Stars and Medals, you can then pick out the colours of the ribbons on Edward's uniform jacket yourself.

I really cannot comment on his MN records, but 15 by A4 sheets does seem a lot, he may have moved through a number of ships, all would be documented.

His promotions from Third Officer ( one stripe ) Second Officer ( two stripes ) to Chief Officer ( three stripes ) would be noted.

The Captain wears four stripes.

He would have passed exams for each step, all noted, no doubt he passed his Master's ticket, to allow him to take command in due course.

If he was a POW in Germany, I would expect that to be noted.

His time on leave, physical exams, innoculations, sick time etc, all would I think be in his MN records.

I was an Executive Officer in the Royal Australian Navy for 20 years, my records cover every appointment, every promotion from Cadet Midshipman to Lieutenant Commander.

My examinations passed from all the courses I undertook.

My Medical and Dental records.

In fact a dossier of my total time in the RAN.

I have yakked on Sarah, but am trying to help you understand what I think you may find when the records
arrive at last.

It is after midnight here, must away.

Look after yourself,



Here is a start on our ship list. Some details about Dunaff Head.

She was owned by the Ulster Steamship Line.

Ulster Steamship Company / Head Line / Lord Line (After 1917) / Head-Donaldson Line

Registered in Dublin in 1877, the Ulster Steamship Company ran services to the east coast of Canada, the Far East, Europe and Baltic ports. New Orleans voyages started in 1896 and the company commenced carrying a limited number of passengers at about the same time.

In 1917 the Irish Shipowners Company, Limited, (Thomas Dixon & Sons, Belfast) known as the Lord Line, was taken over. They had run sailings between Belfast / Dublin / Cardiff and Baltimore, Rotterdam to Galveston and Cardiff to Montreal and Quebec. These services continued to be known as the Lord Line.

Agreement was reached in 1919 between Ulster Steamship Company, Palgrave, Murphy & Company, Dublin and Hudig & Veder NV, Rotterdam, to form a working partnership and to pool vessels. There were limited inter-fleet sales of vessels between the three partners. Following changes of ownership and the creation of the Republic of Ireland, the company was re-registered in Belfast in 1924.

On the opening of the Great Lakes to foreign deep sea vessels, a new service to this area was established. With the advent of containerisation and increased air passenger services, Ulster Steamship Company acquired the shares of Donaldson Line in 1967 and the company traded under the name of Head-Donaldson Line. In 1979 their last ship was sold and the Head-Donaldson services were absorbed into the Canadian Pacific operations.

Was built in 1918, and was of 5,877 tons. Torpedoed and sunk in 1941, and 5 crew members died.

Cannot find a picture.


SS Kirnwood, a 3,829 ton ship was part of Convoy SC57, carrying 5,500 tons of grain.

On the 10th. of December 1941 at 2357 ( 11.57 PM ) in position 56 degrees 57 minutes North 16 degrees 35 minutes West ( in the North Atlantic about level with Scotland but somewhat to the west ) she was torpedoed by U-130, and sank with 12 crew members from 45 dying.
U-130 had commissioned on the 11th. of June 1941 was herself sunk west of the Azores on the 12th. of March 1943 by the US destroyer USS Champlin.

All her crew of 53 perished. In her career this U-Boat sank 24 ships to total 162,015 tons.
No pictures.

back to letters index


This site was created as a resource for educational use and the promotion of historical awareness. All rights of publicity of the individuals named herein are expressly reserved, and, should be respected consistent with the reverence in which this memorial site was established.

Copyright© 1984/2014 Mackenzie J. Gregory All rights reserved