This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.

Pocket book battleship

shapes and sizes.

At one end of the spectrum are the 13th century copies of the Magna Carta, or the ‘definitive’ American Declaration of Independence in Washington DC – iconic texts which shaped the future. At the other end are the personal and modest, and Gordon Lumley’s contribution to history lies here. But don’t for a moment think that Gordon’s tiny,

dirty Letts pocket diary has no value. The senior rate’s brief, pithy views of life on board

an interbellum battleship may be just a vignette, but still provide a glimpse of a little-known world. It was 32 years ago when Neil MacNeill and his

wife were moving into their new home in Caol, near Fort William, when he spotted the diary, about the size of a matchbox, behind a kitchen cabinet. “I nearly threw it out when I first spotted it,” said

Neil. “It looked just like a dusty off-cut of wood. “But when I picked it up I saw it was a diary which had been written by Gordon Lumley, a sailor on a ship called HMS Barham in 1936.” Despite his best efforts, Neil wasn’t able to find the author or an owner and so Shirley, his wife, put it safely away in a tin in the back of a kitchen drawer. “It was the recent story of the grave of the 14-year-

old boy sailor being found that brought the diary to mind again,” Neil continued.

could try and find out about its author.” Neil approached local journalist Ian Abernethy, who has an interest in local history, who in turn pointed Neil in the direction of Derrick Warner, another local history buff – especially maritime history. Derrick, the CO of the Lochaber Sea Cadet unit in Spean Bridge, was fascinated by the find. “I couldn’t believe my ears when Neil mentioned the name ‘Barham’ down the phone,” said Derrick. “I was extremely keen to read what promised to be a small slice of history – and I wasn’t disappointed. “Although the diary is tiny and the writing is barely 2mm tall, it provides a fascinating insight into the daily life of Gordon Lumley, a baker/chef on board a British battleship between the wars. “Not only does he describe his duties, but he mentions the places he visited, people he met, the ships’ activities and the world events which took place.” During

Mediterranean, and its regular cruises to exotic ports feature as frequently as gunnery exercises. World events shape Barham’s programme, such as

1936 Barham was stationed in the

War (see right).

The discomforts and dangers of life on a warship are also featured, including the brutal death of a boy sailor on a gun turret on March 16. Barham herself features prominently, of course – one day pitching and tossing in a rough seas, on another flooding below decks in huge waves, later “behaving splendidly” in a heavy swell off Tunis. Barham’s name resonates in the annals of the Navy, and her service in World War 2 was brief and bloody. Launched on the Clyde in 1914 and commissioned the following year, she saw action at Jutland and was still on front-line service in 1939. While operating off Libya on November 25 1941 Barham was struck by three torpedoes from U331. Within four minutes the battleship had rolled, her magazines had exploded and she sank, taking more than 860 sailors with her – 450 survived. The sinking was filmed by a Gaumont news cameraman on board HMS Valiant – some of the most dramatic war footage. But what of Gordon?

the death of King Fuad of Egypt and the coronation of King Farouk, and the year also saw momentous events take place within our own monarchy; the death of King George V, the abdication of Edward VIII and his succession by George VI are all mentioned. The year also saw the start of the Spanish Civil

An appeal was put out to try to find more information on the Barham’s diarist. Derrick said:

“I asked Shirley if she could look it out again so we

HISTORICAL documents come in all

● Members of the Lochaber Sea Cadet unit with Gordon Lumley’s diary

“Thanks to the Lochaber News we were able to find out what had happened to Gordon and to trace his family.”

Graeme McConnachie, of Fort William, contacted the paper and said: “Gordon was eventually posted to HMS St Christopher, the coastal forces base here. “He was a petty officer by then and married a friend of my mother. “After the war Gordon worked in the local aluminium smelter.

moved from Caol to another Alcan smelter in Canada in the late 1950s.” Family friend Neil Clark is

“He eventually

still in touch with Gordon’s son Iain, who lives in Canada. “Iain Lumley was able to fill in a few more details,” said Derrick. “It seems Gordon spent some

12 years in the Navy. As well as serving on the Barham, he also spent time on HMS Curacao. “Iain was also able to confirm

that his father had been posted to HMS St Christopher in Fort William, where he spent his time on board a vessel called the Aberdonian, which was tied up at the old British Aluminium Pier where it apparently helped provide

against air raids. protection

“Iain has also been able to send us some copies of the documents and pictures which have helped add to the story.”

Neil Clark said: “Iain Lumley wasn’t aware of his father’s diary, but it’s great that we’re going to be able to send it back to the family, where it belongs.”

Dear Diary...

Gordon Lumley, 66 Mess, 1936

Jan 9 1936 At Port Said. Purchased this

diary; hope to keep true account of my daily doings. Duty baker today, so usual routine. Climate quite warm. Jan 11 A day of glorious sunshine – duty again – made three doughs – 1,200lbs. Played tombola, out of luck. Jan 21 Received news of the death of our King at 4.30am. Fired salute of 70 guns.

Jan 28 King’s funeral;

fired salute of 70 guns 0930. Attended service on Q-deck. Feb 20 Left Alex for Malta at 1700. Economic speeding about 10 knots. Feb 24 Ran into very rough sea at 0630 this morning; entered Grand Harbour at 0900. Went straight into dry dock. Changed over from ship’s galley to dock galley. Terrible working conditions. Feb 27 Paid a visit to ‘The Gut’; at 2300 went to a dance at the Orion. Turned in at Star Hotel about 2am. Feb 28 Back on board by 0700. March 7 Tonight my chum and I are going to see a boxing tournament on the Glorious. March 16 Going out to sea this afternoon; fatal accident on B Turret; Boy Keld; crushed to death, terrible injuries. Watched shipwrights make Keld’s coffin.

March 17 Boy

Keld buried ashore at 1030.

March 18

Going out for big shoot today; 100 guests on board.

April 21 Left harbour

waves. April 25 Heard this morning we are to go on a cruise to Palestine. Am looking forward to this trip. April 27 Talk about rotten luck. We were supposed to have sailed for Palestine this morning, but owing to the sudden illness of king Fuad it is postponed. What luck.

May 6 [Alexandria] Paid

visit to skating rink, found floor hard. May 16 3rd death occurred today – boy seaman. May 17 – Boy buried in cemetery ashore at 1400. May 27 After a very rough trip arrived here [Haifa] at 0730. Rioting and strikes between Arabs and Jews ashore. Dispatches band playing to us this evening. June 6 I feel as stiff as a poker; had PT this morning too, but failed to work it off.

June 14 Ship has

been overrun by young women all afternoon, members of the YWCA; what a

nuisance these visitors can be.

0830, commenced manoeuvres 1030. Very rough sea, it was great sport on the upper deck dodging the

● Gordon Lumley (right) with a shipmate in Alexandria

Sept 24 Sailed for Tangiers at 7.30am. Travelled at full speed as rioting has broken out ashore. Arrived at 10am, but everything seems quiet now. Sept 25 Captain granted request to go through for leading rate. Continuing my swotting. Sept 29 Saw terrific battle between government’s destroyers and rebel cruiser; one destroyer sank, only 20 survivors picked up by French liner. A great scrap. Sept 30 Left Tangiers at noon for Gib. Arriving there at 3.30pm; American cruiser in harbour, looks like a big scrap heap to me. Oct 16 Had a lot of my old roommates off the Hood on board; paid a visit to the Hood, prefer the Barham anytime.

Oct 28 Our

Oct 29 Oh boy! What a change; awoke to find ship pitching and tossing. Heavy swell running; Gee, never seen so many people seasick before. Don’t feel too good myself, but haven’t been sick yet. Oct 30 Gigantic waves breaking over us. Flooded out below decks. What a difference to our trip to Gib in Sept. Nov 20 Turkish fleet arrived [Valetta] this morning. Four submarines tied up alongside. Sailors look a dirty greasy crowd – smell of garlic. Dec 9 Q excited is sense on board, rumoured that our King wants to marry Mrs Simpson. Dec 10 According to our papers, looks as if our king will abdicate. He is expected to make a statement in the next 24 hrs. Dec 11 King Edward abdicated. Listened to his speech on the wireless at 11pm. The most pathetic and moving speech I have ever heard. Dec 12 Duke of York proclaimed King George VI; fired royal salute this evening. I wonder how many more Kings we are to have before this commission ends; this is the third. Dec 14 New seaplane arrived at 1100. Dec 20 7.30am, speeding along Tunis coastline. Heavy swell running tonight, but Barham behaving splendidly; rolling a little. Duty Chef. Dec 25 Our second Christmas out here [Palma], wonder if will see a third? Had a smashing time. Spent evening on quarter deck with officers, what fun we had singing, dancing and acting the fool. Jan 3 1937 Ashore at 0100. Took Conchita to a bull fight. The cruel sights were revolting, but she enjoyed it. Stayed with Conchita until 9.30pm

morning, no one hurt except machine. Beautiful night, lovely sea and moon. Holding speed trials. Ran into heavy fog.

seaplane crashed this

June 16 We had some great fun this afternoon in the preparing room – Lea got his accordion out and we all had a good sing song. July 21 Sighted Malta at 1130am. Ran into shoal of porpoises, how interesting they are to watch. London and Devon proceeded at full speed for Spain, Civil War broke out there it seems. Barham entered floating dock at 3PM August 26 At 9.30 PM approx 78 miles off Gib; in war zone; special lookouts for mines which are said to be floating south. Lovely night, stars, moon and placid sea. August 30 At last a glimpse of action; at 1530 rebel destroyer came and fired on land battery around three miles off; return fire proved too hot for rebel boat, she made off at high speed.

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