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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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O/N J124(Dev)


This account of the life and death of William Barge was compiled by Barrie K Downer - Lieutenant Commander, Royal Navy (Retired List).

It draws on information available in the Commonwealth War Graves Records, Casualty Lists provided by the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Royal Navy Seaman’s Records in the National Archives and information provided by Muriel Brine.

We recommend a visit to the award-winning website of the Barrow in Furness branch of the Submariners Association at www.submariners.co.uk.


Leading Seaman (Seaman Gunner) William Barge was born in West Teignmouth in Devon on 20th Aug 1891.  He joined the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class at HMS IMPREGNABLE on 6th Jan 1908.  After being rated Boy 1st Class on 11th Sep 1908 he was drafted to the 12,000 ton Cruiser HMS SUTLEJ (Captain Evelyn R Le Marchant, Royal Navy) of the 4th Cruiser Squadron on 23rd Sep 1908.  On 29th Jan 1909 he was drafted to HMS VIVID (the Royal Naval Barracks) at Devonport ‘awaiting draft’ and was then drafted back to sea to the Devonport based 5,600 ton Light Cruiser HMS DORIS (Captain Spencer A Hickley, Royal Navy) on 11th Feb 1909 before being drafted to the 5,600 ton Cruiser HMS TALBOT (Captain B M Chambers, Royal Navy) on 4th May 1909.  William Barge was rated Ordinary Seaman on 20th Aug 1909.  He left HMS TALBOT on 13th Oct 1910 and his next draft is not yet established but he was rated Able Seaman on 14th Oct 1910.  He returned the HMS VIVID on 16th Dec 1910.  He qualified Seaman Gunner on 16th Aug 1911 and was drafted back to sea on 22nd Jan 1912 when he joined the 9,000 ton Cruiser HMS BLAKE (Destroyer Depot Ship) for the 747 ton Torpedo Boat Destroyer HMS CAMELEON (Commander Hugh J Tweedie, Royal Navy).  Advancement to Leading Seaman followed on 1st Nov 1914. 

William Barge joined Submarines on 1st May 1915 with a draft to HMS DOLPHIN at Gosport ‘for Submarine Training’.  He was then drafted to the Submarine Depot Ship HMS MAIDSTONE (8th Submarine Flotilla) at Harwich ‘for Submarines’ on 18th May 1915.  For some reason he was disrated to Able Seaman on 9th Nov 1915 but was re-advanced to Leading Seaman on 16th Jul 1916.  He was drafted to HMS MAIDSTONE ‘for Submarine C25’ on 1st Apr 1918.  Submarine C25 (Lieutenant David Courtenay Bell) was nearly lost on 6th Jul 1918.

The Submarine was on the surface at about noon when the Commanding Officer called the Second Captain (Sub Ronald M Lieutenant Cobb) to come to the bridge to look at a flight of five sea-planes.  As the Sub Lieutenant was on his way up the order was given to dive so he flooded all main ballast and went full ahead on the main motors.  Bombs were dropped and several small holes appeared in the pressure hull and water started to come in.  An order was given to surface and the ballast tanks were blown.  At that point the boat had not actually started to dive from the earlier order.  Sub Lieutenant Cobb then ordered ‘Surface Action Stations’.  Small bombs and bullets were still being fired at Submarine C25 and, as a result, the Coxswain (Petty Officer William Borrow) was badly wounded and Able Seaman Sidney Hamilton was killed in the Conning Tower.  The Sub Lieutenant went up the Conning Tower and found the Commanding Officer, Leading Seaman Barge, Signalman Arthur Buttle and the Lewis Gunner – Able Seaman John Walsh all killed. The Lewis gun was missing although three drums of Lewis gun ammunition had been fired. As the firing from the sea-planes was still going on the Sub Lieutenant came back below for about 15 minutes and started to repair damage.  He then went back on the bridge with two Engine Room Artificers but had to come below again as a further attack was starting.  This attack continued for another 5 minutes and then, having waited a further 10 minutes he returned to the bridge.  Cobb was in an unenviable position.  Although the Engine Room Artificer got the Diesels running the steering gear was jammed both from the Control Room and the Bridge steering positions.  Both compasses were out of order and there was no sun to steer by and no land in sight.  The radio was not working, the Aldis Lamp was broken and the grenade rifle was damaged. 

Luckily at about 12.45 p.m. he sighted and identified himself to Submarine E51 (Lieutenant Commander Hugh R Marrack) by firing Very lights.  The wounded Coxswain was transferred to Submarine E51, the Commanding Officer of Submarine E51 came on board to examine the damage, signals were made to the Depot Ship and a tow was established.  Despite the efforts to get the Coxswain to proper medical attention he later died of his wounds.  Further attacks by the sea-planes were made between 3.18 p.m. and 3.45 p.m. during which time Cobb and his crew remained below decks.  Eventually the Destroyer HMS LURCHER arrived to take over the tow and take Submarine C25 back to harbour. 

William Barge was the son of Robert and Susan Barge (nee Harper) of West Teignmouth in Devon and the brother of Walter Barge who also served in the Royal Navy.  He is buried in the Shotley (St Mary) Churchyard in Suffolk in the Submarine Enclosure.


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