Martha Ann Bullock was born in Wybunbury, Cheshire, England on the 19th May 1876, the daughter of John and Sarah Bullock. She had a sister, Mary, and two brothers, William and Joseph.
In 1899, she married Thomas Barker in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, and they had two daughters, Doris, born in 1900, and Winifred, who was born in 1906.
In May 1909, Thomas Barker, and his friend, Richard Brammer, whom he worked as a presser with in the pottery industry, decided to try their fortune in the United States of America and travelled from Liverpool to New York City on board the
S.S. Cedric, arriving in early June. They very quickly found work in the pottery industry in Trenton, New Jersey, and having established themselves, both men sent for their families to join them.
On the 21st August 1909, Martha, and her two daughters – Doris and Winifred, accompanied by Elizabeth and Edith Brammer, boarded the
S.S. Cedric in Liverpool, and arrived in New York City on the 28th August. Richard Brammer and Thomas Barker were awaiting their arrival and both families made their way to Trenton.
Both Thomas Barker and Richard Brammer sought, and were granted, United States citizenship on the 26th September 1914, and thus their wives and children also gained citizenship. The Barker’s made their family home at 621. Atlantic Avenue, Trenton.
In the spring of 1915, Martha Barker’s mother became ill and as a result she decided to return home and take Winifred with her. Elizabeth Brammer decided to accompany her friend, as it gave her an opportunity to visit her own family in England, and she also decided to take her daughter, Edith, with her.
Consequently, they booked second cabin passage on the May sailing of the Lusitania
and having left Trenton at the end of April, the two families arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour on the morning of 1st May 1915, in time for the liner’s scheduled 10.00 a.m. departure. The liner’s sailing was then delayed until the afternoon as she had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Liner
Cameronia, which had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty for service as a troop ship at the end of April.
She finally left the port just after mid-day and just six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May; she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20. At that point, she was twelve miles off the coast of southern Ireland and only 250 miles away from her Liverpool destination.
Although Martha Barker survived the sinking, her daughter was lost. Elizabeth and young Edith Brammer also survived. Having been rescued from the sea, they were landed at Queenstown, from where Martha made her way to 91. Moston Street, Birches Head, Hanley, Staffordshire, which was probably the home of a relative. Martha was aged 38 years at the time of the sinking.
On the 15th May, Thomas Barker set out from his home in Trenton, accompanied by his daughter, Doris, and arrived in England on the 24th May to comfort his wife, Martha, and make enquiries as to locating their daughter Winifred. He was accompanied by Richard Brammer, who was anxious to be re-united with his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Edith.
On the 10th July 1915, having obviously resigned themselves to the fact that it was now unlikely any trace of Winifred would be found, Thomas, Martha, and Doris Barker embarked on the
New York at Liverpool, arriving in New York harbour on the 18th July, and from there they travelled to their home in Trenton. They were accompanied on this journey by the Brammer family.
On arrival in Trenton, the Barkers and the Brammers were interviewed by a reporter from the
Trenton Evening Times, and their story appeared in the 19th July edition of the newspaper: -
At the moment the Lusitania was first struck the Barkers and Brammers were at lunch in the second class saloon.
When the ship was actually struck, there were very few indeed who did not understand its import. The vessel, Mrs. Barker said, stopped almost dead, shuddered, and began to list. Of what actually happened during the next few minutes Mrs. Barker is naturally not very clear. A gentleman provided the daughter with a lifebelt, but Mrs. Barker did not secure one for herself. Mrs. Barker and her daughter got into a boat, but at the captain’s order she and the other occupants vacated it, which was unfortunate, for the ship went down that side first. The occupants of the boat were told that things were all right, that the water-tight doors had been closed, and that the ship was gradually righting herself.
The ship was righting herself when struck by a second torpedo.
They were mistaken in stating that the Lusitania was struck by a second torpedo, as only one was launched by the German submarine,
U-20. They possibly thought that the second explosion they heard and felt was a second torpedo, however; it is now known that this second explosion was either the boilers or cargo exploding. The report continues: -
Mrs. Barker held her daughter by the right hand, and they stood waiting for the end. The daughter was very brave, saying, “Don’t worry mother darling; we shall be saved.” The suction of the ship took them both down. Mrs. Barker remembers going down and down until consciousness left her. When she recovered she was on an upturned boat, to which she had been lifted by someone, but she was horrified to find that her daughter was no longer with her.
A collapsible boat came along, and Mrs. Barker was placed in it. A fishing boat then came along and took Mrs. Barker and the others on board. Later still, she was removed to a steam tug and conveyed to Queenstown, being taken to the Queen’s Hotel, there.
The ship was struck about 2.30; it was 10 o’clock at night when the hotel was entered. The wife of the United States Consul at Cork, who went over to Queenstown to render aid, was especially considerate. Mrs. Barker says she will have a warm place in her heart for Irish people as long as she lives; their behaviour, she says, was simply splendid. She remained several days, hoping against hope to hear some tidings about her daughter, but unfortunately no news reached her.
After the boat was torpedoed every one left the dining saloon and in the jam the Barkers and Brammers were separated, and it was not until they were all put on a rescue ship and on their way to Queenstown that they met again.
Arriving on the deck of the ship, after it was struck, a clergyman from Queenstown who was a passenger on the vessel, placed lifebelts on both Mrs. Brammer and her child and although both, the woman and her daughter, sank with the ship, they were never separated and were picked up later by one of the lifeboats.
The identity of the clergyman who assisted the Brammers is not known; however, there was no person on board the
Lusitania who came from Queenstown, so Elizabeth Brammer must have had her facts wrong. Continuing: -
Mrs. Brammer remembers very little of the disaster, as she lost consciousness when she sank and when revived she was in the lifeboat with her child.
On 30th June 1921, Martha’s husband, Thomas, died, and on 4th July 1923 she married a widower, Michael Thomas Gretton, an Englishman who was also a naturalized citizen of the United States, living in Trenton. Michael’s wife, Edith Priscilla Gretton had died on the 27th January 1922. Following their marriage Michael and Martha resided at 809. Quinton Avenue, and later at 1877. Hamilton Avenue, in the city.
Martha filed a claim with the Mixed Claims Commission after the War, claiming compensation for the loss of her daughter and her personal belongings. On 21st February 1924, the Commission awarded her $5,000.00 for the loss of her daughter, and a further $500.00 for the loss of her belongings.
Michael Gretton died in 1940, and was buried with his first wife in Riverside Cemetery, Trenton. Martha died on the 18th March 1963, aged 87 years, and is interred at Greenwood Cemetery, Trenton, beside her first husband, Thomas Barker. Her daughter, Winifred, is remembered on their gravestone.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1881 Census of England & Wales, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1910 U.S. Federal Census, 1920 U.S. Federal Census, 1930 U.S. Federal Census, New York Passenger Lists 1820 -1957, Cunard Records, Mixed Claims Commission Docket No. 234, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO BT 100/345, Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel, Trenton Evening Times, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly