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Rear-Admiral Barry Bingham VC (1881 - 1939):
Sailor, Rear-Admiral

Rear-Admiral Barry Bingham VC

Barry Bingham was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at the Battle of Jutland, the huge engagement between the British and German navies in May 1916. Of four VCs awarded for that battle he was the only Ulsterman or even Irishman so honoured, and the only VC winner to survive the battle.

The honourable Edward Barry Stewart Bingham was born in Bangor Castle, County Down; he was the third son of John Barry George Bingham, 5th Baron Clanmorris, and Matilda Catherine, daughter of Robert Edward Ward of Bangor Castle. Baron Clanmorris's mother was a member of the Persse family, one of whom, Isabella, became famous as a dramatist under her married title, Lady Gregory; she was a co-founder of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin along with WB Yeats among others.. Barry joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman (often described as the "lowest form of life" in the service - by people in it), after school at Arnold House, Llanddulas, Wales and a spell on HMS Britannia, a permanently-moored training ship at Dartmouth, England.  

He was commissioned Lieutenant and served a year (1904-1905) on HMS Cormorant based at Gibraltar, then was given his own command, of the torpedo boat destroyer HMS Star. The outbreak of war in 1914 did not see the expected naval Armageddon between the Royal Navy and the German High Seas Fleet; nevertheless there were two early naval clashes in which Bingham saw action. Now a lieutenant-commander, one of the gunnery officers,  on the battlecruiser HMS Invincible (the world's first ship of this kind), on 28 August 1914, there came the Battle of Heligoland Bight (or as Bingham put it, the Battle of the Bight of Heligoland; the name refers to an area of the North Sea off  the north-western coast of Germany). Essentially, the British plan was to send lighter vessels to attack German ships to lure them out where they would be attacked by heavy British ships. The plan came off successfully, as several German ships were sunk, enough that the strategic aim of discouraging German patrols was achieved. 

On 8 December the same year, Invincible was one of the heavy ships sent to the South Atlantic to "avenge" the British defeat at the Battle of Coronel on November 1 (the battle was named for the nearest town, which was Coronel in Chile). Specifically, a German fleet commanded by Admiral von Spee and including two heavy cruisers had shattered a much lighter British squadron. What was especially shocking, Bingham recounted in his memoirs, was that survivors of sunken ships were not rescued by the German vessels, even though the seas were sufficiently calm. It was important for the Royal Navy that they destroy the German force, otherwise they could cause serious problems for British shipping in virtually the whole Southern Hemisphere - to say nothing of revenge. Invincible and another battlecruiser, Inflexible, were ordered south. Bingham described how enjoyable the weeks-long voyage was, with deck hockey and even an onboard swimming pool. The British ships put in at the Falkland Islands for coaling, one day before the Admiral Spee decided to attack the Falklands, totally unaware of what he was to find there. It was an easy victory for the Royal Navy; in particular, the two British battlecruisers which took on their two nearest German counterparts were far faster, and had a weight of shot three times greater which could be delivered far out of range of the German guns. The Battle was an overwhelming victory. In 1915 Bingham was promoted Commander, and given HMS Hornet, a destroyer.

The long-expected showdown between the British and German fleets came on 31 May 1916, at the Battle of Jutland. By this time Bingham captained the destroyer HMS Nestor, and had also under his command two similar vessels, the Nicator and the Nomad. These and nine other destroyers were ordered to attack the German battlecruiser squadron commanded by Admiral Hipper. The purpose of such destroyer attacks was to approach large enemy ships to as close a distance as possible and fire torpedoes at them. They first encountered the protective flotilla of German destroyers, two of which were sunk, some British destroyers were though disabled. Nevertheless, Bingham led his own vessel along with Nicator to continue their attempt to attack the German battlecruisers and managed to close within 3,000 yards, close in naval terms, but the overwhelming firepower of heavier German ships was too much for Bingham's lighter force, and his ship was seriously damaged, though a circling German destroyer, sensing an easy kill, closed in only to discover that there was nothing wrong with Nestor's guns. Bingham had enough time to carry out drills for sinking ships: ditching all charts and confidential papers, stocking and launching lifeboats and floats and so on. In fact, this was done so efficiently and rapidly that he was left with a crew with nothing to do but wait for the end, but Bingham's first lieutenant (his second-in-command; also a personal friend and golf partner, and for whom Bingham had nothing but the highest praise) Maurice Bethell suggested ordering the crew to prepare towing cables. During the final bombardment, Bingham recounted, and after they had seen all the crew into boats, he asked Bethell where the two of them should then go, he received the reply, "to Heaven, I hope, sir!" Bingham never saw him again.

Many of the crew survived and with Bingham were picked up by the German destroyer S-15, whose captain summoned him. Although he could see Bingham was soaked through, he offered no change of clothes, and according to Bingham, was "thoroughly Prussian and discourteous", though he ensured his prisoners were well fed while in his charge. Bingham would spend the rest of the war as a prisoner in Germany. Such though are the fortunes of war that when Bingham entered a German POW camp, the first person he saw, who was having a bath in the open air, was his brother George Roderick Bingham, who was a Captain in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Of this time as a prisoner of war he wrote very little, other than to say that while wearisome, it had the compensation of a good esprit de corps amongst the prisoners. He also became a kind of lecturer, by his own admission because he got tired of being constantly asked the same questions, especially when he was moved to a new camp (he was incarcerated in several parts of Germany).

After the war, he stayed in the Royal Navy, was promoted several times and retired in 1932 with the rank of Rear-Admiral and having for a year held the position of Senior Officer of the Reserve Fleet, Devonport. He had several commands, including of the battleship HMS Resolution in the Mediterranean. He served as Chief of Staff in the Nore Command, 1927-9 (this is based on the coast east of London and was especially important for protecting convoys along the east coast), and was appointed ADC (aide-de-camp or personal assistant; in this instance a largely honorific title) to King George V. Outside the Navy, he interests were equestrian; he was a keen jockey and polo player.

In addition to his VC, Bingham was also awarded the OBE and was mentioned in dispatches. He was also awarded the (Tsarist) Russian Order of St Stanislaus. He published a memoir of his naval career in 1919, notable for his description of the worst part of naval life being, not nearly being blown to pieces in battle, nor the nervous hours and minutes before battle; it was the ordeal, in that pre-diesel age, of coaling.

Bingham had in 1915 married Vera Temple-Patterson; this was dissolved in 1937 though they had a son and a daughter. His nephew, the 7th Baron Clanmorris, was a successful novelist, as John Bingham, whose daughter Charlotte in turn would follow in these of her father's footsteps .Some maintain that his espionage activity during World War Two provided a model for the fictional writings of John le Carré, the successful English writer of spy fiction

Barry Bingham, who latterly resided at Evershot, Dorset, died in London.


Born: 26 July 1881
Died: 24 September 1939
Richard Froggatt

Lord Clanmorris

Commander the Hon Barry Bingham, VC, RN: Falklands, Jutland and the Bight (London, John Murray, 1914); Dictionary of Irish Biography; King's College London, Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives: Survey of the Papers of Senior UK Defence Personnel, 1900-1975; Martin Gilbert: First World War (London, HarperCollins 1994); David Stevenson: 1914-1918, The History of the First World War (Penguins, 2004);