People on board
BLACK, John Balmer
John Balmer Black was born on the 6th of June 1896 in Port Kennedy, Pennsylvania to Daniel Black and Eliza J Balmer. Eliza was born in Ireland before her parents brought the family to the US in 1870, while Daniel had been born in Pennsylvania of Irish parents, both from the Belfast area. According to the 1910 census Daniel and Eliza had seventeen children but only four survived. John was the third of these four. The family moved several times within Pennsylvania, around Philadelphia, being at Upper Merion, Montgomery in 1900 and in Delaware in 1911. Daniel was a Labourer while in 1911 Eliza worked as a ‘Janitress in Lady’s Rooms’ and their daughter Elizabeth worked in a Cotton Mill.
When John enlisted in the US Navy in December 1914 in Philadelphia the family address was 29 South Seven Street, Darby. He began as an ‘Apprentice Seaman’, becoming a ‘Gunners Mate Class 3’ and later Class 2. He served on USS Utah from the 4th of June 1917. From April 1917 when the US entered the war the Utah operated as an engineering and gunnery training ship in Chesapeake Bay until the 30th of August 1918 when it sailed for the British Isles.
A coal-burning battleship, with a crew of 1000 men, the Utah arrived in Berehaven in County Cork on the 10th of September. Its task would be to provide escort cover for the Atlantic convoys entering the English Channel. On the 21st of September the Senior Naval Officer at Berehaven reported that influenza was rife on board the American ships.
It seems likely that leave was granted to sailors who had been on the ship for several months and that John Balmer Black was one of these. It is not known if he attempted to visit relatives in Belfast or was simply travelling to England. He travelled on RMS Leinster on the 10th of October 1918 but he did not survive the sinking, nor was his body recovered. His name is recordedin Brookwood American Cemetery in Surrey in the chapel memorial for the 563 missing US servicemen.
John’s mother Elizabeth, known as Lydia, died of Spanish Flu on the 14th of October 1918, possibly not knowing that her son was missing. The Reading Times recorded both their deaths on the 29th of November.