Benjamin Barnes RN, courtesy of Bill Chesters
Bill Chesters has been kind enough to send the following...
Immediately after the loss of the Vanguard the Royal Navy sent divers to the wreck to recover bodies, sensitive material and gather evidence that would help explain the explosion. Benjamin Barnes of HMS Imperieuse was part of that diving team.
The irony could not have been lost on Ben Barnes as his first ship in August 1913, had been HMS Natal that suffered a similar fate to the Vanguard when she was destroyed by internal explosion in 1915. However by 1915 Ben was no longer with the Natal but involved in the Dardanelles campaign and had his own scrape with death. Ben survived being shot by a Turkish sniper and his grandson, Bill Chesters, still has the small calibre bullet and hurt certificate in his possession. Ben Barnes was all the more fortunate as the bullet had to be removed from his neck.
Following hospitalisation at Malta, Ben returned home and fate led him to the Vanguard. It is unfortunate that like so many of his ilk, Ben Barnes spoke infrequently, if at all, of his more horrific experiences from the Great War but he did tell his family that when the diving team recovered the bodies of Vanguard men they were instructed to bring them up to the surface face first. The bodies were heavy and this was not an easy process to perform, but never the less was strictly enforced by the officers. This must have irked Ben as this was one of the few stories he recounted many times.
Ben Barnes died in 1963. On his mantle-piece the day he died was an old wooden clock with a brass mounting engraved with the words "Salvaged from HMS Vanguard, blown up July 9th 1917". From some of the salvaged teak the Carpenter of the Imperieuse had made three clocks, one for the Captain, one for himself, and one he gave Benjamin Barnes.
by David Horne
Stand still! Stand Still! Ye leaping waves
And mourn along with me
For a gallant ship has crossed the bar
Of the great eternal sea:
A flash, a roar, a blood red flame,
Then a huge overwhelming cloud,
And a thousand soles are wrapped within
The ocean's winding shroud.
Ten thousand doors do ever lead
To death upon the deep:
Sometimes they open silently
Sometimes our hearts do creep
When a blinding flash, and a deafening crash
Sends a good ship to her doom
And her gallant crew are hid from view
Within a watery tomb.
Oh! Little we know of the price men pay
Who guard the silvery sea,
Who keep our homes inviolate
Each town, each winding lea;
We reckon it up in paltry cash
In bars of gleaming gold
But the ransom's dyed in a ruddy tide-
The blood of warriors bold!
So bare your heads ye landsmen all,
Who live at home in ease,
And pray the Lord that ye worthy be
Of the men that hold the seas;
Of the mighty Vanguard who are stood
So valiant in the strife,
Of her gallant crew that flashed from view
Through death to endless life!
From the Chatham News, 24 July 1917, courtesy of Jonathan Saunders.