John Rowland Barker Papers
Soldier of Pawtucket, RI
Size: 0.25 linear feet
Catalog number: MSS 1099
Processed by: Karen Eberhart, May 2002
©Rhode Island Historical Society
John Rowland Barker (Jul 9, 1914- May, 1999) and his brother Kenneth G. Barker (Apr 24, 1912 - Feb 14, 2000) were born in Pawtucket, RI to Mary Henchliffe (Riley) Barker and John Godber Barker. Rowland enlisted in the United States Army in March, 1941. He served the entire duration of World War II, spending three years on islands in the South Pacific including the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, Fiji, Manihiki and Tonga Tapu. He was on board the troop ship the SS President Coolidge when it was sunk by "friendly" mines on October 26, 1942 just off the coast of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. Rowland gives a brief description of his escape from the ship in his November 9, 1943 letter to his parents. He contracted malaria in the spring of 1943 and was hospitalized for several months. After recovering his strength he was finally granted his desire to transfer to the Air Force in July 1943 and was attached to the 13th Air Force, 319th Fighter Control Squadron. In May 1945, Rowland's outfit was moved to the island of Mindanao, Philippines. It appears that he returned to the United States aboard the SS Cape Henlopen in October, 1945. He lived in his parents house for the rest of his life at 46 Greenfield St. in Pawtucket. His obituary in the Pawtucket Times on May 31, 1999 states that he worked for the Bodell Lace Company in Pawtucket, RI as a lace card puncher until his retirement. A search of the City Directories for Pawtucket and Central Falls confirms that information. He retired sometime around 1983. There is no evidence that he ever married nor had any children. He is buried in Attleboro, MA.
Kenneth G. Barker began his career as a weaver in 1931. He continued in that line of work until he joined the Army in 1942. He served at Fort Standish in Boston, MA protecting the harbor before going to England in 1944 and then France in 1945. He served with the 241st Coast Artillery (Harbor Defense); Battery I, 9th Coast Artillery and Battery C, 549th Field Artillery Battalion. After the war, according to the City Directories for Pawtucket and Central Falls, he returned to live with his parents and brother at 46 Greenfield St. in Pawtucket and took up his old work as a lace weaver. The directories list him as working for the American Textile Company from at least 1952 to 1972. He switches to the Bodell Lace Company sometime around 1975 and retires around 1977. The directories also list Kenneth as married sometime around 1963 to a woman whose name is recorded in the directory as Helen L., Helen-Louise and Louise H. They live at 35 Waterman in Pawtucket. He marries a woman named Ruth circs 1969 and she works as the office manager for the RI Council of Churches. Ruth dies sometime between 1981-1983.
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Scope and content:
The collection contains letters, diaries, an address book, a newsletter from the SS Cape Henlopen, and an account of the premiums paid by Rowland Barker to the Modern Woodmen of America. The majority of the letters are written by Rowland Barker to his parents while serving in the Army and then the Air Force during World War II, 1941-1945. The collection also includes eight letters from Kenneth Barker to his parents, 1942-1945 and four letters written by various Barker family relatives in England and Australia, 1942-1945 which give good descriptions of conditions in those places and details about the enlistment of the male family members.
While in training in the United States, Rowland was able to write detailed accounts of his activities and training. Once he is shipped overseas to the South Pacific, the censors check his mail and any descriptions of his location or military activities are strictly forbidden. His letters become accounts of his free time which consists mostly of watching movies, writing letters and swimming. He does provide occasional glimpses into the action and his response to it: Sep 9, 1943 "I had one of the biggest thrills that I ever had just recently. Saw a couple of Jap bombers shot down in flames. Boy, they really hit too. Makes a guy feel good to see stuff like that." Attitudes toward the Japanese come through clearly in several passages: November 3, 1943: "Nearly every squadron has a Jap skull outside their orderly room as an ornament and lots of trucks have them on their radiator caps. Some even illuminate the insides with an electric light to give them an eerie expression at night."
The censors were not as concerned about the letters written by Kenneth and he is able to provide description of his activities at Fort Standish and the defense of Boston Harbor. He tells of standing guard in the cold and describes the types of training they receive.
In the four diaries written before the war by Rowland Barker,1936-1939, he writes primarily about his leisure time. The favorite activities are movies, shooting practice at the Providence Revolver Club, model trains and airplanes, cruising in the car and spending time with his brother "Kennie" and their friends at the Howard Johnson's restaurant. He briefly and infrequently mentions his work at the Bodell Lace Company in Pawtucket, RI.
The diary kept by Mary Henchliffe (Riley) Barker from April - May, 1935 served her as an account book. She records the cost of food she bought, what she prepared for dinner, laundry, and occasionally her activities during the day. One small glimpse into her personality and relations with her family shows in the entry for April 20, 1935: "Planted 13 gladiolas where Rowland drives his car over Haw Haw."
See the Diaries inventory at the RIHS for more complete descriptions of the diaries written by John Rowland Barker and Mary Barker.
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These papers were purchased in two lots in 2002, from dealers Priscilla Bureau and Dennis Irvine.
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B.1, F.1 J. Rowland Barker to June Lang March 5, 1935
B.1, F.2 J. Rowland Barker to parents March 1941-July 1941
B.1, F.3 J. Rowland Barker to parents August 1941-December 1941
B.1, F.4 J. Rowland Barker to parents January 1942-June 1942
B.1, F.5 J. Rowland Barker to parents July 1942-December 1942
B.1, F.6 J. Rowland Barker to parents January 1943-August 1943
B.1, F.7 J. Rowland Barker to parents September 1943-December 1943
B.1, F.8 J. Rowland Barker to parents January 1944-May 1944
B.1, F.9 J. Rowland Barker to parents June 1944-December 1944
B.1, F.10 J. Rowland Barker to parents January 1945-June 1945
B.1, F.11 J. Rowland Barker to Bodell Lace Company January 12, 1943
B.1, F.12 J. Rowland Barker, sampling of envelopes 1941-1945
B.1, F.13 Kenneth G. Barker to parents 1942-1945
B.1, F.14 Correspondence from Barker family relatives in
England, Australia and Bahamas 1942-1945
B.1, F.15 PAC News Dispatch for SS Cape Henlopen
at sea October 16, 1945
B.1, F.16 J. Rowland Barker - Diaries 1936-1939, 1946
B.1, F.17 Modern Woodmen of America - premiums paid 1961-1965
B.1, F.18 Mary Barker - Diary and Address book 1935 and no date
[two entries written in J. Rowland Barker's handwriting]
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Australia - Description and travel
Barker, John Godber
Barker, Kenneth G. (1912-2000)
Barker, Mary Henchliffe (Riley)
Japan - History, Military - 1868-1945
Modern Woodmen of America
President Coolidge (Ship)
South Pacific Ocean - Description and travel, 1942-1945
United States. Air Force - Ground support
United States. Air Force. Air Force, 13th
United States. Air Force. Fighter Control Squadron, 319th
United States. Army. Infantry, 43d
United States. Army. Infantry, 172d
United States. Army - Military life, 1941-1945
World War, 1939-1945 - Campaigns - Pacific Ocean
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