b. 26/07/1881 Bangor, Northern Ireland. d. 24/09/1939 London.
Edward Barry Stewart Bingham (1881-1939), had the distinction of being the only member of the Royal Navy to be awarded the VC while in captivity during World War One. He was born at Bangor Castle, Bangor, County Down, on 26th July 1881, the third son of John, 5th Baron Clanmorris, JP, DL, ADC to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and his wife, Matilda Catherine nee Ward, Lady Clanmorris, daughter and heiress of a wealthy builder. He was educated at Arnold House, in Llanddulas, Wales, and on the Dartmouth-based navy training ship HMS Britannia before being commissioned as a midshipman in 1897. Promoted to Lieutenant on 30th June 1903, Bingham, who was a fine horseman, was a member of the Royal Navy polo team, which won the Inter-Regimental and Ships Annual Challenge Cup in Malta.
At the outbreak of war, he was serving as Lieutenant Commander aboard the Admiralty yacht Enchantress, a miniature liner of some 2,000 tons complete with its own boardroom and wine cellar. The following morning he joined the Dreadnought battlecruiser Invincible as fourth most senior officer in command of A turret.
Despite undergoing an extensive refit when war was declared, Invincible was at sea by the middle of August 1914 and by the end of the month had taken part in the successful action at Heligoland Bight. Dispatched to the South Atlantic in November, Invincible and Bingham played a prominent role in the defeat of Vice-Admiral Graf von Spee’s Pacific Squadron at the Battle of the Falklands on 8th December 1914. Having fired Admiral Sturdee’s first sighting shot at the retreating Leipzig, Bingham’s gun crew scored a number of hits during Invincible’s destruction of the Scharnhorst. In recognition of his service, he was promoted to Commander on 31st December and was promised a destroyer command.
On 12th February 1915 he took charge of the 850 ton Hornet and a division of destroyers which formed part of the First Flotilla based at Harwich and, from the following month, the Firth of Forth. For the next 14 months Hornet was engaged in essential, though largely uneventful, patrol work, often in company with Beatty’s battlecruisers or a squadron of elderly pre-Dreadnought battleships.
During a 48 hour leave from Hornet, he married Vera Temple Patterson, only daughter of Mr Edward Temple Patterson, of Culford Gardens, South Kensington (they sadly divorced in 1937). They had two children, John Temple Bingham and Lavinia Mary Bingham.
In the spring of 1916, the First Flotilla began to replace its existing ships with new M-Class destroyers. Bingham’s new command, HMS Nestor, arrived in the Firth of Forth on 30th April and the following day the bulk of Bingham’s Hornets transferred en masse. Within a month, the majority of them would be dead, wounded or prisoners of war, including Bingham.
On 31st May 1916, during the Battle of Jutland off Denmark, Commander Bingham was in command of a destroyer division. He led his division in their attack, first on enemy destroyers and then on the battle cruisers of the German High Seas Fleet. Once the enemy was sighted Bingham ordered his own destroyer, HMS Nestor, and the one remaining destroyer of his division, HMS Nicator, to close to within 2,750 meters of the opposing battle fleet so that he could bring his torpedoes to bear. While making this attack Nestor and Nicator were under concentrated fire of the secondary batteries of the German fleet and Nestor was subsequently sunk.
Bingham was picked up by the Germans and was held initially in Mainz, before being taken to Friedburg in Hessen. After a stay of 9 and a half months, they were transferred to Augustabad, Neubrandenburg. It was while he was in Friedburg that he got the news that he had been awarded the VC. What he did not know was the amount of debate that surrounded his award, gazetted on 15th September 1916. In examining the recommendation, the Naval Secretary had urged that the question of Bingham’s VC be postponed until the war was over. Writing on 28th August, he declared that Commander Bingham, “being a prisoner of war, is not by the accepted rules eligible for an honour until his release and subsequent enquiry into his conduct.” But Arthur Balfour, the First Lord of the Admiralty, disagreed. Two days later, he replied “I see no sufficient reason why…..Bingham should not receive the VC at once.” With that the recommendation went forward, and was approved by King George V.
The following June, Bingham, now at Augustabad, learned that the Russians had awarded him the Order of Stanislaus 2nd Class with two swords, for his exploits at Jutland. During his two and half years’ captivity, he prepared his memoirs, published in 1919 under the title “Falklands, Jutland and the Bight.” On his release from captivity, he returned to Britain and was presented with the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 13th December 1918. His home town of Bangor gave him a hero’s welcome. He then resumed his naval career, and was promoted to Captain on 31st December 1919. He was also awarded the OBE and, the following year, was appointed to command the Admiralty yacht Enchantress, in which he had served before the war. After taking a senior officers’ course, he returned to destroyers in 1923 as captain of the Montrose and commander of the Fourth Flotilla, part of the Mediterranean Fleet. He then commanded the Nore Destroyer Flotilla from 1925 to 1929 and then the battleship HMS Resolution. In 1931 he was made the Naval ADC to King George V and appointed senior officer of the Devonport Division of the Reserve Fleet. The following July, he was promoted Rear Admiral on his retirement and settled at Evershot in Dorset.
Barry Bingham, the only one of the quartet of Jutland VCs who lived to receive his VC, died in a London nursing home on 24th September 1939. His body was cremated in a private service at Golders Green Crematorium. Two years later, after the death of his mother, his birthplace was bought by Bangor Borough Council and converted into the Town Hall. On 13th October 1983, the North Down Borough Council purchased his medals from a private collector for £18,000 and they were placed on display in the Heritage Centre. They were replaced by replicas in 2001 after a thief made off with the medals, only to be apprehended by an off-duty policeman.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NORTH DOWN MUSEUM, BANGOR, COUNTY DOWN, N.IRELAND.
BURIAL PLACE: GOLDERS GREEN CREMATORIUM, LONDON. ASHES SCATTERED.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Golders Green Memorial
(Picture - Thomas Stewart)
War Illustrated, 31st March 1917
War Illustrated, 17th June 1916
War Illustrated, 31st March 1917
Ward Park, County Down (Paul Quinn)
Courtesy of The North Down Museum, Bangor, Northern Ireland