The Airmen's Stories - F/O N J M Barry
Nathanial John Merriman Barry or ‘Nat’ as he was better known and son of Richard and Gladys Barry originally came from the Cape Province in South Africa but travelled to England and eventually gained a place at Pembroke College, Cambridge, to study Mechanical Engineering. He gained a love for flying by joining the University Air Squadron in 1938 and with the outbreak of war in September 1939 was called up as a member of the RAF Volunteer Reserve.
‘Nat’ earned his wings and as a newly commissioned Pilot Officer was posted to be 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.
Soon in action, Nat didn’t have too long a wait until being unfortunately on the receiving end of enemy fire, when early in the morning of Monday 30th September he tangled with Me109’s over Maidstone. His Hurricane L1657 was hit in the engine and Nat was obliged to force-land his stricken fighter at Pembury, just to the east of Royal Tunbridge Wells. Though damaged, the Hurricane was repairable.
Seemingly none the worse for this experience, 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 remote Dales of North Yorkshire:
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 “probables” yet – only one “damaged”, also that I haven’t used my parachute yet!
[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 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. The sad outcome however was that a brave young pilot lost his life and he will not be forgotten. Flying Officer Nat Barry rests in the quiet churchyard of Finghall in Yorkshire.
Text courtesy of Dean Sumner.
On 26th May 2007 the Shoreham Aircraft Museum unveiled a stone marker close to the spot where Barry fell (see photos below).
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