Bromley World War Two veteran recounts sailing to Malta to fight Nazis

Keith Barker in his Navy days

Col. Keith Barker at home in Bromley

First published in News
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News Shopper: Photograph of the Author by , reporter

It is perhaps fair to say that few men have woken up to find a piece of bathroom embedded in their shoulder. But after battling on dangerous seas to save Malta from the Nazis that's what happened to Bromley's Colonel Keith Barker. JOSH BARRIE reports.

In 1942 a convoy left Gibraltar for Malta with 13 merchantmen escorted by two battleships, HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney, as well as aircraft carriers, destroyers, cruisers, submarines, and the US oil tanker SS Ohio.

It sounds like a game of battleships, except in this case the ships were in full view of the enemy and of course the stakes were far higher.

Malta was besieged by the Germans and Italians and was in desperate need of military reinforcements, food and fuel.

In the midst of the Second World War operation was Colonel Keith Barker (then a Navy seaman) – the Bromley veteran who last month received a letter from the president of France, Francois Hollande, for his efforts in the Normandy Landings.

Two years before D-Day and the young man was given the job of ‘spotter’ on the Port-side of a ship. He was playing a part in the ‘Mediterranean Theatre’ of the war.

Soon thrust into the battle of Anzio, he and accompanying Allied Forces were sent to take men and supplies to the island.

Recounting his treacherous voyage, he said: "The enemy forces were after the Ohio, which had precious cargo of course. It was a frenzy.

"My ship was giving it cover as we sailed to Valetta (the island’s harbour). We were under heavy fire - only three of the 13 merchantmen made it across.

"The enemy threw everything at us - even the kitchen sink.

“Bullets were flying in and I was shot above the eye – and then I was flat on my back. They thought I was a goner.”

Col. Barker recalls being taken into the sick bay, his face covered in blood, and hearing others proclaim him dead.

"No I’m bloody well not!" was his reply – and it was not long before he was back in the fight, which saw a number of the vessels forced to retreat and the HMS Furious sunk.

But the Ohio continued towards the safety of the dock. Sailing alongside it to provide cover, the sailor was wounded for a second time.

As a nearby vessel was “blown to pieces” he was hit in the back by, amazingly, a piece of tap. Fortunately, Col. Barker survived, and woke up to find he had made it to Malta.

While resting he was visited by some of his fellow sailors, who told him: "They did throw the kitchen sink – and here’s some tap that was embedded in your shoulder."

From then on he was known as ‘tap’ and, after recovering, returned to England where he was sent to HMS King Alfred and later toiled in an excursion to Russia.

‘Tap’ made it out of the far colder eastern country too – granting News Shopper the opportunity to tell another of Col. Barker’s memorable tales.

News Shopper:

Read next week’s News Shopper or keep an eye out on our website for details on Col. Barker’s D-Day exploits.

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