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On Monday 9th June 2003 the 39ft sailing yacht Papageno departed from the south coast of Crete bound for 32° 34'N 26° 24'E, the tragic position where HMS Barham sank on 25th November 1941 with 862 officers and men. This position was arrived at on Wednesday, June 11th. A weath was cast into the water on behalf of the association. Also, a memorial wreath to E.R. Sorley who lost his life in the sinking and who's son, and four grandsons undertook the voyage. These wreathes were blessed by the naval chaplain in Portsmouth, on Sunday 18th. May 2003.
A family vigil
Amongst the crew of HMS Barham was Surgeon Commander E.R. Sorley (known as Robert to family and friends) - the beloved father of Graeme Sorley, of Victoria, British Columbia and Diana Hall of Hadleigh, Suffolk. Robert was the much loved first husband of Joan Dove of Levington, Suffolk who died recently.
Joan and Robert left eight grandchildren (who live in Canada, The United States of America and Great Britain). The whole family were devoted to Joan and retained a great sadness for the father and grandfather of whom they were deprived.
At Joan's funeral half her ashes were buried with her second husband Commander John Dove in Hasketon, Suffolk.
At that time it was decided to keep the other half so she could be reunited in body and spirit with her first husband Robert Sorley. Before Joan died, her grandson James Robert Pritchard-Barrett, being a keen yachtsman vowed to 'one day sail out to HMS Barham as a personal vigil to the grandfather he never knew' and Joan loved this idea.
After her death this idea was embraced by the rest of the family as a way to sail on a voyage of vigil together and reunite Joan with Robert and bless them in a private ceremony of remembrance.
A voyage of remembrance takes shape
In 2002, two of the grandchildren James and Alexander, sailed Papageno from Plymouth (her home port) to Greece by way of Portugal, Morocco, Gibraltar, Spain, The Balearics, Sicily and then to Levkas where she was laid up for the winter.
This spring she will be sailed southwards to Paleokhora, Crete where the family crew will join for the voyage to the position where HMS Barham sank. Surgeon Commander E.R. Sorleys' relations who will be sailing as crew will be as follows: Graeme Sorley (Son), Skipper of the boat: James Pritchard-Barrett. (Grandson). Robert Sorley (Grandson). David Sorley (Grandson). Alexander Ravenshear (Grandson).
Papageno sailed south east from Crete on Monday 9th June 2003, and should take no more than two days to cover the 210 nautical miles to the position.
It is estimated that the position will be reached on Wednesday June 11th.
The skipper, James Pritchard-Barrett returned from the trip on June 20th 2003 and writes the following:
"I am pleased to announce that our voyage of remembrance went extremely well. We sailed south east from Crete for two days to the position 62 miles north of Sidi Barrani off the Egyptian coast arriving on the morning of Wednesday 11th June.
There we laid a wreath to my Grandfather Surgeon Commander E R Sorley, along with my Grandmothers ashes. We also laid a wreath from the HMS Barham Survivors Association for the 862 who perished on that site on 25th November 1941.
We accompanied the ceremony with a number of prayers and poems significant and appropriate to the occasion.
The service was carried out on a beautiful morning with a light north westerly breeze and the bluest sea imaginable. The position seemed to be a most peaceful and beautiful spot. A flying fish was seen taking off shortly after we laid the wreath.
Having carried out the service we sailed north east to Karpathos (Scarpanto) and presumably passed close by the position where HMS Barham was hit in Y turret by a bomb after the action carried out on the airfield on that Island.
It was a suitably sad and sombre experience to carry out our service of remembrance on that tragic spot but we came away feeling a real sense of peace and were glad to have paid our part in keeping alive the memory of all those whose perished.
Graeme Sorley writes, Family Pilgramage to Barham War Grave - A Personal Reflection:
It was mid December 1941 and a cold winter’s day in England. The war news was grave and the appearance of the postman coming up our path with a buff coloured envelope in his hand heightened anxiety for my mother, 6-year-old sister and 8-year-old me. The contents bore the dreaded news that my father was missing in action presumed dead. We knew what it meant – our lives were changed forever. Two months later came the official announcement of the loss of HMS Barham. There were no memorials, no burials and hence no closure for the grief that we and so many others experienced. In less than four minutes, 862 men had lost their lives.
In August 2000, my mother died aged 92. Only three weeks before her death, my nephew James made her a promise. He would sail to the spot in the Mediterranean where the Barham went down and throw two wreaths; one in memory of his grandfather, the other for his shipmates. At the time of her funeral, James told me of his promise and the plan to make a voyage of remembrance in a boat he would buy, provision and sail to the site. He invited my two sons, his brother and me to accompany him on this journey. He had requested that a small vial of my mother’s ashes be kept so that once at the site they could be committed with the family’s wreath.
On June 9th, 2003, we set off from Crete for the site some 55 miles from Egypt. The sunset provided a comforting start to the pilgrimage. At sunrise two days later, it was calm, auguring well for the service of commemoration we had come so far to perform. We were 2,935 metres above the spot where the Barham lay and the watery graves of my father and his shipmates.
I pinned my father’s medals on my jacket, and paid a tribute to him. As a family of four grandsons and a son, we had come to pay our last respects. We had come to commemorate him and my mother, his shipmates and HMS Barham. After a prayer, I threw the wreath on the waters ending with the words “May God rest his soul”.
Then James, using prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, sprinkled my mother’s ashes such that, symbolically, she and her husband would be joined together for eternity. My son Robert, named for my father, dedicated the HMS Barham Survivors’ wreath to all those lost on that fateful day.
As we watched the wreaths float away, my thoughts went back to two days in late 1941; the tragic event on this spot on November 25th and the day the buff envelope arrived with the news that I would never see my father again. For me it was the closure I had never had. I felt a powerful emotional and spiritual peace for the father I lost when I was a mere 8 years old and the mother I had loved for 66 years.
"They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning. We will remember them."
| last updated:
13 July 2013