Ernest Harold William (Sonny) Barnes: A Life Well Lived

5th March 1927 - 4th November 2022

The Eulogy
EHW Barnes - E for Ernest after his father, H for Harold after his uncle-by-marriage (and not Horatio after Horatio Nelson as he once told me) and W for William after his uncle (also known as Uncle Bub). Known as Ernie to others but as 'Sonny' to the family after the 1928 Al Jolson song 'Sonny Boy'. Sonny grew up in Chetwode Road, Tooting, where apart from scrumping apples he played cricket and football in the street and was blamed (sometimes wrongly) for the breaking of his neighbours windows!  Young Sonny was always keen to help his classmates with their work, however this often earned him a whack across the backside with the cane. As did an unfortunate event with one of those noise making balloon toys that accidentally went BURP BURP in class. Sonny didn't wait to be told, he went straight to the Headmasters office for the punishment book and cane.

On the 1st September 1939, Sonny, aged 12 and his two sisters, Kathleen and Doris and his younger brother Dennis were evacuated from their home at 41 Chetwode Road, Tooting to Littlehampton. Being the oldest of the four, he was given the job of keeping the family together. He worked as the butchers boy delivering meat and spent time on the fishing boats that sailed from the River Arun in Littlehampton. By 1941, the family had been relocated to 20 Stocks Lane, Bracklesham Bay, where he joined the 1st (Chichester) Battalion, Sussex Home Guard, receiving a commendation on the 4th March 1941 from the Officer Commanding Number 1 Battalion. He had discovered items that "may very easily belonged to the enemy". The commendation goes on to say "it is work of the nature that you have performed in finding these articles, which makes you so very useful in the defence of your country".

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After leaving school and returning home but not to Chetwode Road (his parents house had been bombed in 1940) but to 28 Oakmead Road, Balham. He joined Merx Mclennan as a trainee draughtsman, cycling to Esher every day and one evening a week at night school. This lasted until June 1944, when Sonny, now aged 17 joined the Royal Navy with a letter of recommendation from Merx Mclennan and a request the he could be assigned a role that would compliment his work as a trainee draughtsman. Sonny's Royal Navy training took place in Scotland (his service record has only just been discovered - August 2023) during which time he was confirmed in the Church of Scotland. Was he particularly religious? Maybe - he did attend Sunday School as a lad - but maybe it was because he saw that 'other denominations' were excused from the Sunday Church Parade.

After completing his naval training, Sonny joined HMS Pheasant, a Modified Black Swan sloop; a convoy defence vessel designed to attack German submarines. Sonny was a stoker, working in the engine room as a member of "9 Mess". The Royal Navy taught Sonny to be self-reliant in cooking and other skills such as sewing. This lead to him and another ship mate setting up in business onboard ship washing uniforms and sewing on medal ribbons! This entrepreneurial spirit would show itself again in civvy street.  More about that later.

As a boy sailor Sonny should have been restricted to home waters but he found himself on the Gibraltar run when the Pheasant was a convoy escort; then out in the Far East as a member of the 'Forgotten Fleet' - the war in Europe having been concluded. The Pheasant, being a sloop didn't have canteen messing - there wasn't the centralised preparation of meals - as a member of 9 Mess, all manner of food stuffs would be put into a pot and cooked - "Pot Mess".

His service in the Royal Navy took him out the Far East, he was in Tokyo Bay when the surrender was signed. He was taken ill with malaria in Australia and spent Christmas 1945 in the 101st Evac Hospital and woke on Christmas Day to find two bottles of beer on the nightstand by his bed. It was during his time in Australia that he went 'adrift' - he failed to return from leave at the appointed time, finding himself up before the commanding officer, where he managed somehow to talk himself out of a disciplinary charge!  Whilst in hospital the Pheasant returned to the UK and Sonny made his way back home to be demobbed at HMS Victory (being a Portsmouth rating) in the April of 1946.

Sonny was a proud member of the HMS Pheasant old ship mates association, the U49'ers which took its name from the pennant number of the Pheasant.
This did cause the postman to ask when he was delivering the newsletter from the "U49 Association" whether Sonny had served on German Navy U-Boats!

 
 
He joined the Merchant Service (click link for more information) and served for a time on the S.S. Mahana -  famous for a 'small strike' that took place in New Plymouth, New Zealand over bad food. On the Shaw Saville cargo liner 'Matoroa' he had his own quarters and enjoyed food as served to the fare paying passengers. The 'Matoroa', was a refrigerated cargo ship that travelled between the UK and New Zealand via the Panama Canal.

It was in Panama City in  May 1948 that he became a member of the 'Dog House Bar'. It was at this time he had the opportunity to sit the Sixth Engineer's exam. In between trips (in the Merchant Service, you would sign on for a given journey), Sonny would find work at the dockyard sheds at the same time as signing on the dole! He may have even put in for overtime he didn't actually work!
 
After leaving the Merchant Service in the June of 1954, Sonny started work for Monroe's at the Covent Garden Flower Market. He was a packer, basically packing floral sundries in tea chests for transport. When his friend George Heath was emigrating to Australia, Sonny packed up George's (and his family's) possessions and refused to take the money George offered, he even turned down the offer of George's jeep. I think this shows that Sonny was always prepared to help a friend and not take anything in return. At the market, fruit and vegetables were sold and Sonny would buy damaged boxes of fruit, oranges, for example and sell off the undamaged ones to his work mates - covering his costs - and be able to take oranges home for the family basically free of charge!  He left Monroe's and joined another floral sundries company, Cocqueral's.

Cocqueral's had a warehouse of the Walworth Road, in a disused school building - St Paul's Old School - the school was next to a railway viaduct and the arches beneath were used as packing bays and storage. The main school building housed several offices on the ground floor, the rest of the building being used as a warehouse. Each floor was 'L-shaped' with a large fireplace in the corner of the 'L', each leg of the 'L' would have been used as class room areas. I do remember there being small rusting coat pegs. The toilets were in the back of one of the railway arches. When the old Covent Garden Market closed and the new building open over at Nine Elms, the warehouse was transferred over to the new market where Cocqueral's now had a shop that sold floral sundries to florists. When Cocqueral's were taken over by George Smalley, Sonny became the manager and this was where he really excelled. Not only did he have an eye for what would sell, he also enjoyed meeting and joking with his customers.  

In a strange quirk of history, the New Covent Garden Market at Nine Elms was build over the street where his grandfather, Charles John Barnes was born in 1871.



 He knew a thousand and one jokes, some of them so old they had been translated from Egyptian hieroglyphics. He could take a snappy one-liner and turn it into an epic worthy of a Norse Saga. But every now and again he would produce a real side-splitting rib-tickler. He was a fan of the Goons and Monty Python and he really did look on the bright side of life, although if something went wrong, usually minor, he would often be heard to say "it's just one thing after another".

That said, his humour crept into everything including his cooking. On his notice board was how to cook sausages. It read - "RICHMOND SAUSAGES, Gas Mark 5, 17 - 22 minutes. Place on tray middle of oven. Turn occasionally, the sausages, not you."
 How To Cook Sausages!
He enjoyed doing the 'Codeword' in the Daily Mail - this is the last one he worked on from the 21st October 2022, just two weeks before he passed away.


Certificate of Membership
Cutting from the Flower Trades Journal January 1986
Cutting from the Flower Trades Journal January 1986
Sonny was very much for family; he often spoke of his Gran and Grandad and he never forgot his sister Jean, who died in 1933 just one year old. When evacuated on the 1st September 1939 Sonny made sure that he and his brother and sisters were all kept together, not an easy thing when there are four young children to be accommodated.
 
Sonny married Maureen on the 1st January 1955; they had two children, Michael and Lynn, five grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Sonny cared for Maureen after her stroke in 2014 right up to her death in 2017. They had been married for 62 years and were very much a couple; Sonny never got over the loss of Maureen.

Five years and two days after Maureenís death they were reunited.

There is so much more - but as you can see from this brief look at his life - his was truly a life well lived.
17th March 2008
 
7th February 200721st February 201917th March 200817th March 20086th February 2016 
And as a special treat, recorded on a mobile phone at the Angmering Manor Hotel and featuring Sonny Barnes on vocals - Volare   Click on the link to download the video and open with a media player.
 
And finally, to quote one of his favourite sayings; "This is a ESB Miracle Production - if it's good it's a miracle!"