Smylie, John Finlay (No. PO/X 4563)

Smylie, John Finlay (John)


No. PO/X 4563, Royal Marines, HMS Barham

Died as the result of enemy action on Tuesday 25 November 1941 (aged 19)

No known grave (lost at sea)


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Portsmouth Naval Memorial (Panel 59 Column 2)

Magheragall Parish Church of Ireland Church Memorial Plaque

Family grave headstone in Magheragall Church of Ireland Graveyard


In the CWGC Debt of Honour website it is recorded that Marine John Finlay Smylie (No. PO/X 4563) was a son of James and Sarah A. Smylie of Lisburn, Co Antrim.

In naval records it is recorded that Marine John Finlay Smylie (No. PO/X 4563) was born on 8 April 1922 in Bangor, Co Down.  Another source suggested that John Finlay Smylie was born in North Street, Ballinderry but this is not corroborated by Magheragall Church records.  The only Smylie baptism that took place there was John’s youngest brother, the youngest in the Smylie family; there is no evidence that they were in Magheragall before late 1930s.

John Finlay Smylie’s parents James and Sarah Smylie (nee Finlay) were married on 6 July 1921 in Bangor Presbyterian Church.  James Smylie, a labourer from 8 Vimy Ridge, Bangor was a son Alexander Smylie, a shoemaker.  Sarah Finlay (aged 19) from 37 King Street, Bangor was a daughter of John Finlay, a labourer.

Marine John Finlay Smylie (No. PO/X 4563) died on 25 November 1941 when HMS Barham sank in the Mediterranean Sea, going down in under five minutes.  HMS Barham, a Queen Elizabeth–class battleship, was built for the Royal Navy on Clydebank, Scotland, and was launched in 1914.  HMS Barham was on active service during the First World War and participated in the Battle of Jutland.  During the 1920s and 1930s HMS Barham was assigned to the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Home fleets.

During the Second World War HMS Barham operated in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.  In 1940 she participated in the Battle of Dakar before joining the Mediterranean Fleet and escorting many of the Malta convoys.  In March 1941 she took part in the Battle of Cape Matapan and received bomb damage off Crete in May 1941.

On 25 November 1941, while operating off the Egyptian coast, HMS Barham was hit by three torpedoes fired from the German submarine U–331, which was commanded by Lieutenant Hans–Diedrich von Tiesenhausen. As HMS Barham rolled over to port, her magazines exploded, and the ship quickly sank with the loss of more than two–thirds of her crew.

To conceal the sinking from the Germans, and to protect morale at home, the Admiralty did not immediately notify the families of those who had been killed. The Admiralty censored all news of Barham’s sinking and the loss of more than 850 crewmen.

It was reported in the 15 December 1941 edition of the Belfast Telegraph that

James and Sarah Smylie of Streamvale Cottage, Moneybroom, Magheragall had been informed that their son had been lost at sea.  The paper noted that John Smylie was a grandson of Mr and Mrs John Finlay of 37 King Street, Bangor.

As with all the other letters issued, the Admiralty letter to the Smylie family included a warning not to discuss the loss of the ship with anyone but close relatives, stating it was essential that information about the event which led to the loss of life should not find its way to the enemy until such time as it was announced officially.  The Admiralty informed the Press on 27 January 1942.

In 2011, on Remembrance Sunday in Magheragall Parish Church of Ireland Church, the Rector, the Rev Nicholas Dark shared the story of Royal Marine John Finlay Smylie.  It was noted that he was the eldest of the children of James and Sarah Smylie:  John, William, Yvonne, Josephine, Andrew, Francis, and Lawrence.  After moving to Lisburn, the Smylie family lived in the Causeway End Road, Lisburn, and then the Moneybroom Road, Magheragall.

John’s first job after leaving school was on Springfield Farm, Magheragall and, when war broke out, he joined up.  On 31 October 1939 John (aged 17) left home to join the Royal Marines and, after basic training, he served aboard HMS Barham.

John Smylie was just 19 when he died. When the news came through the family was living in the Moneybroom Road and not long after receiving the official notification of John’s death his father James was taken ill and died on 24 February 1942.

John’s mother, Sarah Ann Smylie, died on 7 January 1989.