Harper, William John

Harper, William John (Willie)

Able Seaman

SS Marcella (London), Merchant Navy

Died as a result of enemy action on Saturday 13 March 1943 (aged 25)

No known grave


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Tower Hill Memorial, London, England (Panel 68)

Donaghadee and District War Memorial

Shore Street Presbyterian Church, Donaghadee

Family grave headstone in Donaghadee Parish Church of Ireland Graveyard


William John (Willie) Harper was born on 27 January 1917 in Moat Street, Donaghadee, his birth was registered in Newtownards and he was a son of John Walker Harper and Jane Harper (nee Moderate) of 107 Moat Street, Donaghadee.  John Harper was a postman and he and Jane Moderate were married on 8 October 1913 in Ballygrainey Presbyterian Church.  John Walker Harper was a son of William John Harper, a labourer.  Jane Moderate was a daughter of Samuel Moderate (deceased).

John Walker Harper and Jane Harper (nee Moderate) had at least six children, three of whom died in infancy.

They had a daughter named Sophia Harper whose married name was Richards; Sophia died on 12 May 2003.

They had a son named Alexander Lennon Harper who was born on 10 February 1918 in Moat Street, Donaghadee and died there of pneumonia on 21 March 1920.  They had another son who was born some four months later, on 12 July 1920, and they named him Alexander.

During the Second World War William John Harper served with the Merchant Navy and, when he died, he was serving aboard the SS Marcella.  Before that he had served aboard the SS Orlock Head and the SS Atheltemplar.  In his papers it is noted that he was 5 feet 6 inches tall with grey eyes, brown hair, medium complexion, and no distinguishing marks.  The SS Marcella was a cargo ship built in 1928 by Lithgows Ltd., Port Glasgow and she was owned by Kaye and Son, London.  She was on route from the Clyde to Capetown, South Africa via Freetown in Sierra Leone.  At 5.30 am on 13 March 1943 the German submarine U-107 attacked Convoy OS-44 some 190 miles west of Cape Finisterre, Spain.  Four ships were torpedoed and sunk by U-107 – the SS Clan Alpine, the SS Marcella, the SS Oporto and the SS Sembilangan.  Able Seaman William Harper (aged 25) was one of 44 men aboard the SS Marcella who were killed.  Another SS Marcella casualty that morning was Able Seaman John (Jack) White from Donaghadee.

Able Seaman William Harper is commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial in London; on Donaghadee and District War Memorial; in Shore Street Presbyterian Church, Donaghadee and on the family grave headstone in Donaghadee Parish Church of Ireland Graveyard.

His father, John Walker Harper, died on 3 August 1957 and his mother, Jane Harper, died on 19 January 1973.