Martha Ann Barker was born Martha Ann Bullock 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, who worked in the pottery industry in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, and they had two daughters, Doris, born in 1900, and Winifred, who was born in 1906. In the summer of 1909, they had emigrated to the United States of America and settled in Trenton, New Jersey, where Thomas Barker sought, and was granted, United States citizenship on the 26th September 1914. Their home was at 621. Atlantic Avenue, Trenton. Richard Brammer, a work colleague of Thomas Barker, and his family also moved to Trenton around the same time
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. Her friend, Mrs. Elizabeth Brammer, and Elizabeth’s daughter, Edith, decided to accompany them. Consequently, they booked second cabin passage on the May sailing of the Lusitania and having left Trenton at the end of April, the party 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, so the two were presumably separated in the chaos of the sinking. Having been rescued from the sea, Martha Barker was landed at Queenstown, from where she 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. Both Elizabeth and Edith Brammer survived.
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.
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 the journey by the Brammer’s, who were also returning to Trenton.
On the 19th July, an account of their experiences was printed in the Trenton Evening Times: -
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 fortunate, for the ship went down that side first. The occupants of the boat were told that things were alright, 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.
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 others on board. Later stil (sic.), she was removed to a steam tug and conveyed to Queenstown, being taken to the Queen’s Hotel, there.
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 a naturalized citizen of the United States, 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. Their 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, Trenton Evening Times, Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly