Henry Marshall Sales, ex RN – can anyone add to the story please?

My musical chum Kathy Sales likes to research her family. If anyone can fill in some of the gaps in the story of her granddad, including the ranks shown in the photographs (neither Kathy or I understand them), please drop me a line at gmatkin@gmail.com and I’ll pass it along.

My grandfather, Henry Marshall Sales, was not from a sailing family at all: his father John Sales was born into a farm labouring family in Horsmonden, Kent, England and as a young man became a steam locomotive cleaner, fireman and then engine driver working out of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Company in Camberwell.

Granddad was born in Camberwell in 1891. A member of the first generation of his family to be educated, he did well at school. By the 1911 census Granddad was working as a clerk in an omnibus company, and after war service he worked in the finance department of London Transport, remaining there for the rest of this working life. It is the later part of his war service that is of interest here.

Prior to World War One, Granddad was in the territorial army, but unfortunately, the records for Granddad’s service in the army do not exist – they were probably destroyed in the Blitz in 1941. However, his later Royal Navy service record is available, as are a number of photos that have passed down to me, plus a later news cutting.

Granddad’s Royal Navy service began on 1st May 1917 age 25, after the Battle of Jutland. We don’t what made him switch to being a sailor. He was assigned to HMS Vivid I, Wikipedia reports was a section within the Navy barracks at Devonport, and was renamed HMS Drake in 1934. It is here that he received training in seamanship, signalling and telegraphy. I have his hat band for Vivid.

From Vivid I, Granddad was assigned to HMS Barham on 3rd August 1917. She had seen active service at Jutland on 31st May 1916, with 26 men killed and 37 wounded. There is information HMS Barham here here  and here, and Youtube has a video of her sinking.

I believe that all of the photographs taken on board ship that accompany this article were taken on HMS Barham, including the one of the starboard watch, in which the sailors look as if they are taking a break from a bit of amateur thespianism.

I fancy that amateur dramatics were used partly for entertainment, and partly to help with the teamwork spirit and bring everyone together. All of the photographs look far removed from a theatre of war, except for the evidence of a gun or two on the ship, with the sailors in relaxed attitudes.

Following Jutland, HMS Barham does not seem to have seen further enemy action during World War One.

She had been repaired and had a major refit before Granddad joined her. Wikipedia states that her repairs were complete by 5th July 1916, and various guns and control equipment were fitted by the end of July 1917. I have an idea that she was used for training at sea, to give sailors some real experience, even though it was still wartime, although there are no mentions of this online.

She was also in a battle-ready position if required. Granddad was still pretty green for a seaman after just one year’s service, so training at sea would have been beneficial.

Granddad’s time on board HMS Barham ended on 21st December 1917, and the next day he was back at Devonport, in the Vivid I section, to continue his land-based training. This continued until 29th April 1918, after which he was assigned to HMS Blake (Walker) – I have his hat band for Walker. Looking up this ship is a little confusing. There was an HMS Walker (D27), a W-class destroyer, which saw service in the final months of World War One , but there was also HMS Blake (1889), named in honour of Admiral Robert Blake, which was converted into a destroyer ship in 1907 and served throughout the War as a depot ship to the 11th Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet.

HMS Blake had been sent with “Captain T. P. Walker and a crew, to relieve the crew on HMS Royal Arthur” in Australia, so this may be the ship.

Granddad earned the rank of Able Seaman on 12th October 1918, and was sent ashore on demob on 6th March 1919, age 27. Throughout his service, his character is listed as “VG”, and his ability as “Sat” (satisfactory).

In one of the photographs, Granddad’s hat band shows the name London, though this ship name is not listed in his service record. There have been many ships named London over the centuries, and one such was built in 1899, a Formidable-class battleship. Her service in World War One included participation in the Dardanelles Campaign in March 1915, after which she remained in the Mediterranean supporting the Italian Navy until October 1916.

After her return to the United Kingdom, she was inactive until converted into a minelayer in early 1918. According to Wikipedia, her main armament had to be removed to accommodate the minelaying equipment. She then served until the end of the War with the Grand Fleet’s 1st Minelaying Squadron.

It seems strange that this ship does not appear in Granddad’s service record.

When clearing some items out of my mother’s loft many years ago, we came across a walnut veneered writing slope which contained various items, including two Navy hat bands (Vivid and Walker), a fragment of black (or navy) fabric together with a piece of chain (possibly nickel), a small piece of flattened brass tube, a small cut square of metal, and a newspaper cutting of the torpedoing of HMS Barham on 25th November 1941, all shown here.

I have tried to surmise where the little oddments of fabric, chain, metal and tube might be from and what they are. Perhaps they were mementos? I suspect that the chain is a piece of watch chain, but I am uncertain as to what the flattened tube was. The fabric is perhaps a piece of uniform, and the small metal square is perhaps a piece of the ship.

But my greatest treasures of all are, of course, the memories I hold of my Granddad, although they are of him as an old man, and not as he is shown in the pictures we have of him as a hopeful young man in love with my grandmother.


  • P1 Henry Marshall Sales studio portrait in uniform before embarking on HMS Barham.
  • P2 The crew ratings on HMS Barham. Henry Marshall Sales leaning against the gun front left, indicated by pencilled cross. This is a postcard photograph, written on the back to my grandmother when my grandparents were courting on 11 September 1917.
  • P3 The crew ratings on HMS Barham. Henry Marshall Sales indicated by cross back right. Undated.
  • P4 The crew ratings and on the left two petty officers on HMS Barham. Henry Marshall Sales centre second row marked by cross. Undated.
  • P5 The Starboard Watch on HMS Barham.
  • P6 Officers and mascot on HMS Barham. No names are known. However, some of the ranks are: ?, Captain, Rear Admiral, ?, and Lieutenant.
  • P7 Boy (cabin boy?) and RNR Lieutenant (names unknown) on HMS Barham.
  • P8 Henry Marshall Sales studio portrait for HMS London (no service record for this ship).
  • P9 Items kept by Henry Marshall Sales that probably came from HMS Barham after she was torpedoed. Top, possibly watch chain; left, piece of flattened brass tube; centre, cut metal square, possibly a piece of the ship; bottom, fragment of fabric, possibly of a sailor’s uniform.
  • P10 Royal Navy hat bands for HMS Vivid and HMS Walker.
  • P11 Newspaper cutting reporting the destruction of HMS Barham on 25th November 1941.


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