William Barker was born on August 12, 1851 and came from an established old Derry family. After he trained as an architect and engineer, he was apprenticed to the Derry building firm of George and Robert A. Ferguson. He later set up his own practice in the city and at a young age was responsible for large projects in Omagh, Coleraine and other towns.
Amongst the projects he oversaw in his native city were the Corporation waterworks at Creggan and was he was also associated to the layout of Foyle College grounds for building purposes. But amongst Barker's main projects was designing a shirt factory for David Hogg and Charles Mitchell at Sackville Street in Derry. He had also been heavily involved in the project to build the new Presbyterian |Church at Burt, Co Donegal in the mid-1890s.
Constructed in 1898, Hogg & Mitchell’s shirt factory almost immediately won a highly lucrative contract when it became the supplier of shirts for the British Army during the Boer War (1899-1902). The company founded the ‘Old England’ line of shirts which later became the globally known ‘Peter England’ brand. It continued to manufacture shirts in Derry until the 1970s and the façade of Barker’s building still exists today as the building was converted into an apartment block in 2000.
Tragedy struck William Barker when in late 1897 he fell off a horse and never recovered consciousness before his death at the young age of 47 on May 30, 1898.
He left a widow, Mary (nee McCracken) and three children-Mary Violet Barker, Thomas McCurdy Baker and William Alexander his namesake at his home at Orchard Street in the centre of the city.
While William Snr undoubtedly left his professional mark even at such a young age on his native city, it was his son Thomas who lived a truly fascinating life having borne bearing personal witness and suffered as a result of one of the most decisively brutal acts of the Second World War.
Thomas McCurdy Barker was born in 1885, was a Presbyterian minister and a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. He was the first full-time secretary of the Irish Christian Movement, the convenor and organiser of the 1913 conference ‘Ireland’s Hope’, the proceedings of which he edited, and from the 1930s a missionary and professor of New Testament Greek at Mukden in the Chinese province of Manchuria.
The Second Sino-Japanese War was fought between the Republic of China and The Empire of Japan between July 1937 and September 1945. China fought Japan with the aid of the Soviet Union and the USA, but after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 the conflict became immersed in WWII and a result became the largest conflict in Asia during the twentieth century.
The war between China and Japan was the result of a decades long Japanese imperialist policy to expand its influence both politically and militarily in order to secure access to raw materials, food and labour.
Internecine warfare in China also provided strong opportunities for Japan who viewed Manchuria as almost limitless supply of raw materials, a market fot its manufactured goods and a protective buffer against the Soviet Union in Siberia.
Japan invaded Manchuria in September 1931 after what bacame known as the Mukden Incident. It was an event staged by Japanese military personnel as a pretext for a full invasion.
On September 18, Lieutenant Suemori Kawamoto detonated a small quantity of dynamite close to a rail line owned by Japan's South Manchuria Railyway near Mukden. The explosion was so weak that it failed to destroy the track, but it was enough to allow the Imperial Japanese Army to accuse Chinese dissident with causing it and as a result they invaded and occupied Manchuria, establishing a puppet state called Manchukuo after five months of incessant fighting. The Japanese even installed China's last Emperor, Puyi as the ruler to try and lend legitimacy to thwe situation.
The invasion of the whole of China came six years later in July 1937 when Chinese and Japanese troops exchanged fire in the vicinity of the Marco Polo Bridge-an access route to Bejing. As the conflict became merged into WWII, the Japanese began imprisoning people in concentration camps and amongst these was Rev Thomas McCurdy Barker who was incarcerated for the duration of the war at Nagasaki.
On the day of the U.S nuclear strike on August 9, 1945 the population of Nagasaki was estimated to be 263,000. There were 240,000 Japanese residents, 10,000 Korean residents, 2,500 conscripted Korean workers, 9,000 Japanese soldiers, 600 conscripted Chinese workers and 400 Allied POWs.
A Boeing B-29 Superfortress plane called Bockscar, commanded by Major Charles Sweeney, took off just before dawn carrying a plutonium bomb code named 'Fat Man.'
The initial target was the city of Kokura, but it was obscured by cloud and smoke, so the Americans turned their attention to their secondary target-Nagasaki. But, it too was covered by cloud. Running short of fuel, the plane encircled the city several times and it was decided to use radar to drop the device. But, at the last moment the cloud cleared and the bomb was dropped on the city's Urakami Valley-midway between the Mitshubishi Steel and Arms plant in the south and the Mitsubhisi-Urakami Ordnace works in the north.
The plane had arrived over Nagasaki at 10.50am and just under a minute after it was released it exploded at 11.02am at an altitude of approximately 1,800 ft. Another sixty seconds after detonation the northern sec tion of the city was destroyed and 35,000 people were killed. Amongst the casualties were 6,200 of the 7,500 employees of of the Mitsubhisi arms plant and 24,000 more factory workers at various other sites. These included 2,000 Koreans and 150 Japanese soldiers.
Industrial damage at Nagasaki was high and left between 70-80% of industrial production destroyed. The attack came three days after the first nuclear bomb had been dropped on Hiroshoma, but the Nagasaki device was more powerful than the first bomb but because the city was surrounded by hilly terrain there was less damage.
In 1979, another Irish prisoner who also witnessed the bombing of Nagasaki. This was Dr Aidan MacCarthy, a medic in the RAF from County Cork who wrote: “Then there followed a blue flash, accompanied by a very bright magnesium-type flare which blinded them. Then came a frighteningly loud by rather flat explosion which was followed by a blast of hot air.
“Some of this could be felt even by us as it came through the shelter openings, which were very rarely closed owing to poor ventilation.
“We all genuinely thought, for some time, that this was the end of the world.”
Amongst his fellow prisoners was a community of Catholic nuns to whom in the absence of a priest Rev McCurdy ministered to every day-an act which was later recognised when he received thanks from Pope Pius XII when he learned of the Derry man's actions after the war.
Also there was Ann Barker, the Rev Thomas' second wife, who as a medical doctor also practised her profession during her imprisonment at Nagasaki. Her expertise is credited with helping her husband continue to live a rich life in his later retirement despite the effects that the bomb had on his physique.
Lilian McCombe was a school teacher at the Presbyterian station at Mukden where she had lived and worked since 1923.
In 1974 she wrote: “That chapter of my life closed with the attack by Japan on Pearl Harbour on December 9, 1941. From that date, I with some 12 other colleagues were under Japanese jurisdiction. The greater part of the intervening years were spent in internment camps in the cities of Kobe and Nagasaki.
“After a non-stop voyage of around three weeks via the Pacific Ocean, I was welcomed in the USA by my brother James, staying several days with the family there. The old Queen Elizabeth, then a troop ship brought me to Southampton, next day to be greeted by my family; and later, by a host of friends!
“Following a period of returning health, I was eventually led back into teaching until retirement age was reached.”
The horrendous experience of imprisonment and a nuclear attack however did not appear to dissuade Rev Barker from giving up on his mission or other duties in Manchuria. Thomas, also it seems had the ear of the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong. And, despite the all encompasing rise of communism in China, he was allowed to continued teaching up until 1951 when the leader of the People's Republic of China could no longer guarantee his safety-but Thomas Barker remained in contact with Mao Zedong up until shortly before his death.
The cleric was 67-years-old when he returned to Ireland and was appointed as minister to the Presbyterian Church in Donegal town in 1952 where he remained in service until 1959.
In recognition of his missionary service and his undoubted capabilities as a pastor the Church made him Moderator of the Presbyterian Church between 1966-1967 and his alma mater, Trinity College made awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree. When he passed away in 1967, aged 82 Rev Dr Thomas McCurdy Barker was buried at Castlerock in Co Derry.
His father William, mother Mary who died in 1943 and his brother, also a Presbyterian minister, Rev William Alexander Barker who passed away in 1965 are buried in Derry City Cemetery.
CAPTION: The mushroom cloud over the Japanese city of Nagasaki after the USA detonated an atomic bomb there on August 9, 1945.
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