Rear-Admiral John Lee Barber DSO CB (1905 - 1995)

About John Lee-Barber who spent the last 15 years of his life living in Wivenhoe

Peter Hill

Rear-Admiral John Lee Barber

Rear-Admiral John Lee-Barber, who was one of the most successful and aggressive destroyer captains of the Second World War, lived the last 14 years of his life at Wivenhoe, on the Quay, in Ferry House.

He was born 16th April, 1905 and joined the Navy as a cadet in 1919. His first destroyer command came in 1937 with Witch, followed by Ardent. From 1939 to 1942, he distinguished himself in charge of Griffin in the Norwegian campaign during which the Griffin captured the German trawler Polaris, disguised in Dutch colours and carrying much intelligence material that proved invaluable to later naval efforts.

Later, the Griffin was to evacuate Polish troops from France, for which Lee-Barber was awarded the Polish Cross of Valour. He received the DSO in 1940 for his efforts in anti-invasion patrols along the English Channel.

In the autumn of 1940, the Griffin was sent to the Mediterranean where she was involved with much action, including escort duty for convoys going to Malta in 1941.

When he left the Griffin early in 1942, Lee-Barber was naval advisor to Southern Command Army Headquarters Home Forces, but in September he took command of Opportune in the 17th destroyer flotilla, escorting convoys to and from Russia. On 23rd December 23rd, Opportune took part in the high-speed chase of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst by ships of the Home Fleet in the Arctic. He was mentioned in despatches for two torpedo hits on the German boat.

From 1944-46, Lee-Barber was executive officer of HMS King Alfred, the RNVR officers training establishment in Hove. Subsequently he went back into commanding destroyers, first St James and then Agincourt.

From 1950 to 1952 he was naval attache in Santiago, Lima, Bogata, and Quito, and from 1954 to 1957 Commodore in Harwich, in command of the inshore flotilla. His last appointment, in 1957, was as Admiral Superintendent, Malta, at a time of unrest there, returning in 1959, the year he was appointed CB.

John Lee-Barber disregarded every rule of good health, smoking 40 cigarettes a day and drinking copious glasses of gin. Like all successful wartime destroyer captains, he had tremendous physical stamina, and was able to stand on bridge for hours on end and go for days without proper sleep.

He married Suzanne Le Gallais in 1939 who died in 1976. He is buried with her at St. Brelades on the island of Jersey. He died in 1995.

In the Old Wivenhoe Quay development, Wivenhoe Town Council named a road  ‘Admiral’s Walk’ after Rear-Admiral John Lee-Barber who was a well-known character in lower Wivenhoe, known affectionately as simply ‘the Admiral’.

Note: This short biography was first published in the Wivenhoe Encyclopedia

For pictures of John-Lee Barber in his younger days – click here

This page was added on 16/06/2016.

Comments about this page

  • My dad served under Captain Lee-Barber (as he was at that time) aboard Agincourt. The Agincourt was one of Dad’s favourite ships. It’s also the ship that lost most of its cutlery. Captain Lee-Barber is believed to have told the Admiralty that this was due to a very localised storm at sea. Coincidentally this happened on a blank pay week when they’d unexpectedly docked at port.

    By Kay Wilson (13/12/2021)
  • Hello.
    I am wondering if the Admiral kept any any war time diaries that are available to the public, or that the family would share. I am particularly interested in his time on board HMS Opportune as I believe my great-grandfather was his personal Steward at the time.

    By Rob Cable (21/02/2021)
  • Hello Rob
    I have forwarded your request to the family and asked they respond to your request.
    Peter Hill, Chairman Wivenhoe History Group

    By Peter Hill (25/02/2021)
  • I am the person that has lived in a property in St Brelades, Jersey.

    We have a large garden shed with Admiral Lee Barber’s name inside and I understand that he and his family lived in the property for many years.

    Just out of interest, I have also found an old footpath (with a gate he made) that I understand was created by the Admiral to help him get to the St Brelades Bay Beach,

    Regards Frank Laine

    By Frank Laine (11/09/2018)
  • Dear Frank. Thank you for getting in touch and letting us know about this. It is good to know that the Admiral’s name lives on. I think his family will be chuffed.

    By Peter Hill (17/09/2018)
  • Hi all,
    If either of you are after any of John’s descendants, I’m his Great grandson and I have links to all his living descendants. Please feel free to get in contact if you want any more information.

    By Hal Wollocombe (13/12/2017)
  • Peter, good day.
    Indeed l shall be happy to share my pictures.
    I have some of them on my instagram account under my name “courcoison”.
    Please send me your email address so l can forward the photograph.

    By Ralph de Butler (27/11/2017)
  • Hello Ralph
    My email address is

    By Peter Hill (01/12/2017)
  • Good Day: I have pictures of rear-admiral John Lee Barber when in served on the HMS Revenge back in 1925 and I would like to share them with his family if he has any.
    Thank you for your help.

    By Ralph de Butler (19/11/2017)
  • Hello Ralph.
    I am not aware of any family. Would you be able to share the photograph of the Admiral as we affectionately knew he as so that we could add it to the page about him. Full credit to you as the owner of the photograph of course.
    Let me know
    Peter Hill

    By Peter Hill (21/11/2017)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.