Winifred Barker was born in Hanley, Staffordshire, England, on the 2nd May 1906, the youngest of two daughters of Thomas and Martha Ann Barker (née Bullock) of Hanley. She had a sister named Doris. In 1909, the family emigrated to the United States of America and settled in Trenton, New Jersey, where her father sought and was granted United States citizenship on the 26th September 1914.
In the spring of 1915, Winifred Barker’s maternal grandmother became ill and her mother decided to return home to Hanley and take Winifred with her. It proved to be a fateful decision for the little girl. Family friends, Mrs. Elizabeth Brammer, and Elizabeth’s daughter, Edith, decided to accompany them.
Having left Trenton at the end of April, the party arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York on 1st May 1915, in time for the liner’s scheduled 10.00 a.m. departure as second cabin passengers. Winifred Barker would have had her last view of America just after mid-day as the liner made her delayed exit from the port. This delay was caused by her having to take on board cargo, passengers and crew from the Anchor Liner
Cameronia, which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for war service at the end of April.
Six days later, Winifred Barker was dead - killed after the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger’s submarine
U-20, within sight of the southern Irish coast and only hours away from her Liverpool destination. Winifred Barker was only nine years old!
As Winifred Barker’s body was never recovered and identified afterwards, she has no known grave. She had celebrated her ninth birthday during the voyage. Her mother and the Brammers were fortunate to have survived the outrage.
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 throughout the journey by the Brammers, who were also returning to Trenton.
On the 19th July, an account of an interview with Martha Barker was printed in the
Trenton Evening Times in which she gave details of her last moments with Winifred: -
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, Winifred’s father, Thomas, died, and on 4th July 1923 her mother married Michael Thomas Gretton, a naturalized citizen of the United States.
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.
Her mother, Martha Gretton, died on the 18th March 1963 at Trenton, New Jersey, aged 87 years. She was buried beside her first husband, and Winifred’s father, Thomas Barker, and Winifred is remembered on their gravestone.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1910 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