Winifred Barker was born in Hanley, Staffordshire, England, on the 2nd May 1906, the younger of two daughters of Thomas and Martha Ann Barker (née Bullock) of Hanley. She had an older sister named Doris, who had been born in 1900.
In May 1909, her father, Thomas Barker, and his friend, Richard Brammer, whom he worked with as a presser 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, Winifred and her mother and sister, accompanied by Elizabeth and Edith Brammer, boarded the
S.S. Cedric in Liverpool, and arrived in New York City on the 28th August. Her father and Richard Brammer 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, 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.
Elizabeth Brammer decided to accompany Winifred and her mother back to England, as it gave her an opportunity to visit her own family, 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.
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! It is probable that in the confusion of the sinking, mother and daughter were separated as Martha Barker managed to survive, as did Elizabeth and Edith Brammer.
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.
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, 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, Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel, Trenton Evening Times, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly