NATHANIEL JOHN MERRIMAN BARRY

Flying Officer, NATHANIEL JOHN MERRIMAN BARRY, 72514.
501 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
Killed in Action, 7 October 1940. Age 22.
Son of Richard Alan and Gladys Isobel Barry, of Keer Weder,
Franschhoek, Cape Province, South Africa. 

Remembered with Honour
FINGHALL (ST. ANDREW) CHURCHYARD, Yorkshire, United Kingdom

Nathanial John Merriman Barry (known as ‘Nat’), was the son of Richard Alan and Gladys Isobel (Nee VAN DER BYL) Barry of Cape Province in South Africa.

At the time of his death his parents lived at Keer Weder Farm in Franschhoek.  Richard was the son of Sir Jacob D. Barry (Judge of Supreme Court, Cape Colony) and Lady Barry of Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa; grandson of Bishop Merriman of Grahamstown.

Richards brother Nathaniel died serving in German East Africa in 1917.  They both attended St. Andrews College, Grahamstown and then Sherborne School in England.  Their Grandfather, Joseph (The Uncle) Barry (his wife was the Daughter of the Bishop of Grahamstown) was the founder of Barrydale near Swellendam.

Nat was born on 18 June 1918 in Pilgrim’s Rest, Mpumalanga, South Africa and was educated at St. Andrews, Grahamstown and at the Diocesan College, Cape Town. There he gained Greek and Maths with Honours.

In 1937, he travelled to England to enrol at Pembroke College, Cambridge to study Mechanical Engineering. He early on joined the University Air Squadron and with the outbreak of war in September 1939 was called up as a member of the RAF Volunteer Reserve.

Now a Pilot Officer, he was appointed Aide-De-Camp to Air Vice-Marshal Hugh Vivian Champion de Crespigny MC, DFC, the Air Officer Commanding No 25 (Armament) Group. This duty was not entirely to Nat’s liking and he hankered after a posting to fly fighters. His persistence eventually paid dividends and Flying Officer Barry was posted to No.3 Squadron at RAF Turnhouse in Scotland during the Battle of Britain to gain some operational experience on Hawker Hurricanes. On 26th September 1940 Nat was posted south from No.3 Squadron to No.501 (County of Gloucester) Auxiliary Air Force Squadron at RAF Kenley and was soon in action.

No.501 (County of Gloucester) Auxiliary Air Force Squadron

In the morning of 30th September, he was in combat with Me109’s over Maidstone. His Hurricane 1 (L1657) was hit in the engine and he force-landed at Pembury, east of Tunbridge Wells. The Hurricane was repairable. The following day Nat wrote a letter to his sister Erica, who was living in Yorkshire with her husband Robert Thompson, the headmaster of Aysgarth School in the Yorkshire Dales. His brother Surgeon Lt. Adrian Barry lived in Bedale at the time, he was to die in a terrible accident between the battleship HMS King George V and the Destroyer HMS Punjabi in 1942.

My dear Erica,

Many thanks for a letter just forwarded from Turnhouse, containing Adrian’s second letter describing London’s Air Raids.

Hope you had my last letter telling you of this change in my address, as letters are somewhat liable to go astray.

All goes well here.  We do a lot of flying! I got shot down yesterday with a bullet in my engine – this is nothing to fuss over, so don’t be surprised. I have explained the matter as tactfully as possible to Mother and Dad, as it is the sort of thing which may happen at any time, and if I were to get so much as a cut finger in the course of it, they would, as well as you, be officially informed by telegram.

I have seen far less of the Air Raids than Adrian has, and can only give you my own, dull, side of the story; which is that the sirens go on and off all day, so that is hard to tell whether it is “all clear” or “alarm”. Every night is just one long raid – I find I can sleep very satisfactorily in my own bed which no bomb has arsed out yet.  Were one to behave like a good citizen, and take cover, it would be impossible to keep awake during the day – besides shelters frighten me.

My love to your family, especially to Jennifer at school. Hugh will be disappointed to hear that I have no “confirmed victories” or even “probable’s” yet – only one “damaged”, also that  I  haven’t  used  my  parachute yet!

Much love,

Nat

[Note: grammar and spelling in the above letter is faithfully reproduced, except for the underlined segment.]

Six days later in the mid-morning of Monday 7th October, Nat took to his parachute! Flying Hurricane 1 (V6800), the young South African once again found himself in combat against Me109’s, this time high over Wrotham almost midway between Shoreham Village and West Malling. Enemy gunfire singled out Nat and V6800 and a decision was taken to bale out.

Nat was reportedly seen to safely leave his doomed Hurricane and take to his parachute, but what happened in the minutes it took him to descend to terra firma has left a mystery that remains to this day – despite seemingly baling out safely, the lifeless body of 22 years old Nat was found at Wilmington to the south of Dartford. Less than 2 miles to the east, his Hurricane crashed in flames near to Lane End in Darenth. Whether Nat’s parachute failed him is not known, but there is speculation he had a fatal bullet wound. Whether this was sustained before he baled out or he was deliberately targeted as he floated down, or perhaps hit by a stray round, cannot be confirmed.

“Nat knew the dangers he faced, and met them with a great heart,” wrote his father, Richard Barry, “We must give ungrudgingly, fully, without complaint, of our very best.”

On the day of Nathaniel’s funeral, his father sent a telegram, “Please lay flowers for us”.

To give some idea of the air battle that day a fellow 501 Squadron Pilot Officer Ken Mackenzie had the following battle: “Within days he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and damaged a second. On October 7, in Hurricane 1 (V6799), he shared in the destruction of another over London docks and then pursued yet one more, which he attacked. He registered hits on the enemy fighter before running out of ammunition. As the enemy aircraft turned for France and started to descend, Mackenzie closed on it. Determined not to let it escape, he positioned his Hurricane on the enemy’s port side with his starboard wing over its tail plane. He then slammed his wing tip on the Bf 109’s tail which snapped off sending it diving into the sea. His violent and unorthodox manoeuvre immediately severed the outer part of his Hurricane’s wing.

Fortunately, it was a clean break and Mackenzie retained some control. Although pursued by two more Bf 109s and sustaining damage to his engine from enemy fire, he managed to clear the cliffs near Folkestone and belly land in a field. The force of the impact threw him against the gunsight and he lost four teeth. For this daring feat and his earlier successes that week, he was awarded a DFC “for his skill and gallantry”.

In 2002 volunteers from Shoreham Aircraft Museum found some relics from Nat’s plane. A monument to Barry was unveiled at Court Lodge Farm, Darenth on 26th May 2007.

He is also commemorated in the Diocesan College Roll of Honour and on the Battle of Britain London Memorial.

He would have been awarded the following Medals:

1939 to 1945 Star with Battle of Britain Clasp

Aircrew Europe Star

Defence Medal

War Medal 1939 to 1945