James Barr was born in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, on the 27th August 1885, the son of John and Elizabeth Barr. His father was managing director of local firm Messrs. Glenfield & Kennedy Ltd.
James Barr was educated at Kilmarnock Academy and after he had left there, he served in the office of Messrs. Mackintosh & Bain, who were Kilmarnock solicitors. He then decided that he would like to become an engineer and following a course of practical training at the local Glenfield Works he studied at Glasgow University, where he eventually secured a Batchelor of Science degree. Following 18 months of practical research he gained further experience in Elbing, in eastern Germany.
By this time, having been a regular worshipper at Grange Church in Kilmarnock, he had met and fallen in love with local girl Catherine ‘Kate’ Symington Young.
On the 18th June 1910, James boarded the S.S. Caledonia at Glasgow, and travelled across the Atlantic Ocean to New York, arriving on the 26th June. From there, he travelled on to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which was his intended final destination. James Barr took up an appointment with an engineering company after which he became Assistant to the Toronto Waterworks Superintendent. There, he became associated with an entirely new design scheme for Toronto’s water supply which would have cost £1.000,000 sterling.
On the 16th September 1913, Kate Young disembarked at Quebec from the S.S. Athenia, which had sailed from Glasgow, and two days later James and Kate married in Toronto.
Carrying on with his religious works, he was a strong supporter of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Toronto other voluntary institutions.
The Kilmarnock Standard was later to say of this period in his life: -
His kindly helpful disposition also found congenial outlet in connection with The Toronto Ayrshire Association. He was one of the original members of this society and not only took the warmest interest in its affairs but from its inception acted with much ability as Secretary.
In the spring of 1915, he decided to return to Scotland for a holiday and consequently booked second cabin passage for himself and his wife on the May sailing of the
Lusitania. Having left Toronto at the end of April, the couple arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour on 1st May 1915, in time for the liner’s scheduled sailing.
In the event, the liner did not leave until just after mid-day, as she had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Liner the S.S.
Cameronia which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for war service at the end of April. Just six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20 off the coast of southern Ireland and only 250 miles away from her home port.
Both James and Kate Barr were killed as a result and although his wife’s body was recovered from the sea and identified, that of James Barr never was and as a result, he has no known grave. He was aged 29 years.
The Reverend Andrew Aitken, of the Grange Church would later say of James and Kate Barr: -
It is difficult to realise that they are gone from us; the world is a poorer place for us in their absence; their memory will be green for years to come. They were “lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.”
1891 Census of Scotland, 1901 Census of Scotland, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Cunard Records, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv. D92/2/10, UniLiv D92/2/237, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly