Donald George Malet Barrow was born in Hove, Sussex, England, in 1888, the son of George Shuldam Malet Barrow and his wife, Mabel Charlton Barrow (née Harmer). By 1891, the family resided in the village of Staunton, now in Gloucestershire, but until 1931, in Worcestershire. By 1901, the family had relocated to Monmouth, Monmouthshire, Wales.
Donald sailed to Canada on board the Empress of Britain, arriving in Quebec on the 24th May 1907, and travelled onward to Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, Canada. On the 18th June 1914, he married Mildred May Morgan, at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Medicine Hat, Alberta.
In the spring of 1915, the couple decided to return to Wales so that Donald Barrow could enlist in the British Army and as a consequence, they booked third class passage on the May sailing of the
Lusitania. Having left Maple Creek some time in April they arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York on the morning of 1st May 1915, in time for the liner’s scheduled 10.00 a.m. sailing and boarded her with ticket number 617 before she eventually sailed, just after mid-day on 1st May 1915. The delay was caused because she had to embark passengers, some crew and some cargo from the Anchor Lines steamer
Cameronia, which had been requisitioned for use as a troop ship by the British Admiralty, at the end of the previous month.
When the ship was torpedoed and sunk, six days later, by the German submarine
U-20, she was within sight of the coast of southern Ireland and only about fourteen hours sailing time from her Liverpool destination. Although Donald Barrow survived the action, his wife May was drowned. His ordeal was later described in
The Western Mail for 11th May 1915: -
He says he saw the periscope of the submarine and two torpedoes come into the side of the submarine.
He placed a lifebelt round his wife, and sank near to her. He could feel legs and arms grab him under the water.
Later, he floated to an upturned boat, on which were ten live people and four dead ladies. They were picked up at 5.30.
He had identified the dead body of his wife at Queenstown. He added that when she was brought in at five o’clock on Saturday morning, there was no lifebelt on her and the wreckage had marked her face.
On the boat to which he floated were also two hysterical ladies who had to be held down.
After identifying his wife’s body, Donald Barrow sent a telegram to his mother in Merebank, Monmouth which simply stated: -
I AM SAFE, BUT MAY GONE!
Another account gives his mother’s address as 10, The Parade, Monmouth.
A more detailed account of his experience appeared in the Medicine Hat Daily News on the 22nd June 1915: -
“I thought, of course, of my wife and got to her cabin. She was not there. I got two life-belts, and was running along the deck, when my wife called to me. I calmed her as best I could, and put a life-belt round her, and the other round myself. I led her up to the end of the stern on to the top-deck. There was a boat to be lowered. I parted from my wife and put her in the boat. I said ‘I will get into the sea, and see you later.’ There was no panic just then – just a nice bunch of people. Other women were in the boat. Then an officer said the boat could not be put over the side, and the women (my wife amongst them) had to get out. Because of the angle of the Lusitania that boat could not be safely lowered. We did not think the Lusitania would go down.” His wife and he were standing together when the bow started to go under and the water came up to the funnels. Then the vessel started to slowly slide, then hover and sink. “I handed my wife a rope to scramble down,” he continued, “I said I would jump in. My wife had just touched the water when the boat sank. I went down, and never saw her alive again. I went down apparently a long way. My wife was getting off the rope to let herself into the sea when all disappeared. When I was going down I could feel legs and arms of people grabbing. It was awful. When I came up I looked for my wife. There was no one near me. The water was all froth.
“I got on an upturned, flat bottomed boat with ten other people on it and was afterwards picked up by the Indian Empire and brought to Queenstown.” He waited all night for news of his wife. “She was brought in dead at five o’clock the next morning. I identified her. There was a great mark across her face as if she had been struck by something.”
May Barrow was buried in Mass Grave C, 2nd Row, Lower Tier on 10th May 1915, the day that most of the victims of the sinking were buried, following a long funeral procession which began at Lynch’s Quay, in Queenstown. It is likely that her husband was present at her funeral.
On the 17th June 1915, Donald called to the Recruiting Office in Monmouth and enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps. He stated that his occupation was a motor cyclist, and that he was widowed with no children. On the 23rd August 1916, he married Madeline Lansdowne Wilcox in Bristol. He was discharged from the Royal Flying Corps as being physically unfit for service on the 23rd August 1917. At the time of his discharge, he held the rank of Air Mechanic, 2nd Class.
Donald Barrow had a brother who served as an officer in the Royal Navy during the Great War, who also survived the War.
In 1919, Madeline Barrow died, aged 25 years, and it is thought that they had no children. In 1929, Donald married for a third time, his wife on this occasion being Annie H. Rose, and this marriage took place in Brighton.
Donald Barrow died in Brighton on the 13th February 1946, aged 57 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, Cunard Records, IWM GB62, PRO BT 100/345, Medicine Hat News, Medicine Hat Daily News, South Wales Argus, Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel, Western Mail, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly