Rev. Robert Burton Barry (1919-2009)

Murmansk Run changed clergyman's life

ST. STEPHEN - The Second World War convoy run to Murmansk in northern Russia changed people who survived it, including Able Seaman Robert Burton Barry.

Barry, a Baptist from Beaver Harbour, studied theology at Kings College in Halifax, after the war to become an Anglican priest - something he did not plan when he signed up in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1939.

"From the story of my mother, apparently he was on the Murmansk Run," his son Rev. Robert John Barry of Miramichi said in an interview Thursday, the day after his father's death at 90.

The Germans tried desperately to cut the flow of supplies into northern Russia. They sank more than 20 per cent of the convoy cargo on the Murmansk Run, compared to six per cent of cargo to the Russians through Iranian ports in the Persian Gulf, according to information on the Veterans Affairs Canada website.

Barry survived, but came back "a different man," his son recalled his mother telling him.

Barry met Catherine Barr of Glasgow, Scotland, during the war. After their marriage in 1944, she came in to Canada. She settled with her in-laws, William Luther and Viola Pearl (Eldirdge) Barry. "She stayed with Dad's parents in Beaver Harbour until he was mustered out in '45," the younger Robert Barry said.

The navy sent Barry to a land-based job in Northern Ireland before the war ended.

"Believe it or not, he got seasick. That's how he was able to land a shore job in Londonderry," the younger Robert Barry said, recalling his father saying, 'It got me off the ship, anyhow.' "

The younger Barry does not believe that seasickness had much to do with the change that convoy duty in the Arctic wrought on his father.

"I think everyone was so scared, that was the inference from my mother," he said.

He eventually received a small pension for loss of hearing likely related to serving without ear protection near firing guns.

After the war, Barry finished his program at Kings College and then moved his family to Nakina, Ont. - "250 miles as the crow flies north of Port Arthur" - in the diocese of Moosonee in 1949.

His bishop ordained him an Anglican priest in Schumacher, Ont., in 1949. The Barrys had three more boys: Ian David, Paul Renison and Carl Alistair.

He loved his years in northern Ontario, working in a district served by dogsled, train and airplane.

"There were no cars there," the younger Robert said.

The family returned to New Brunswick after 10 years mainly because Barry's parents, who ran a general store at Beaver Harbour, were getting older.

"By the time I got out of there, '59, I was 15," the younger Robert said. "The first summer we came out of the north country we stayed there in Beaver Harbour."

Barry served as an Anglican clergyman at St. Martins, Richiboucto and Harcourt, Hardwicke near Bay du Vin, and his last posting at McAdam.

His first wife, Catherine, died in 1965. Barry married Bessie Evelyn Brooks, a widow from Sussex with a son Charles James Gibbs, in 1969. She died four years ago.

Barry retired from parish duties and moved to Saint John in 1985.

He served as the Royal Canadian Legion's provincial padre for several years.

"He was a very nice person," Mavis Cooper of Miramichi, current president of the legion's New Brunswick Command, said. "He took the time to speak to you, he was very understanding."

In Saint John, the elder Rev. Barry attended St. James Church in Lakewood.

SOURCE: New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal (Saint John, NB) - August 17, 2009.

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