John Barnes

John Barnes

From a strong military career, to forming new workers' unions, John discovers the lives of his ancestors...

Nick Thorne, Writer at TheGenealogist

Nick Thorne

Writer at TheGenealogist

The penultimate episode of this year’s Who Do You Think You Are series features Jamaican born footballer John Barnes.

After finishing his schooling in his home country of Jamaica, John moved to England where he started his football career with non-league team Sudbury Court. John went on to have a successful football career appearing for Watford, Liverpool, Newcastle United and Charlton Athletic where he ended his time as a player in 1999.

He was awarded the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award, and twice awarded the Footballer of the Year award by the Football Writers Association.

John later moved into a managerial role and worked with Kenny Dalglish at Celtic before managing Jamaica’s national side, and finally Tranmere Rovers. John was awarded an MBE for services to the game.

John has also appeared on our TV screens, whether it’s as a football pundit with ITV, ESPN or Supersport; a guest appearance in Waterloo Road or Russell Howard’s Good News; or swapping football boots for dancing shoes for Strictly Come Dancing back in 2007 when he finished 7th with dance partner Nicole Cutler.

John (John Charles Bryan Barnes) was born on the 7th November 1963 in Kingston Jamaica, to Colonel Roderick Kenrick Barnes (known as ‘Ken Barnes’, born 23rd August 1935) and Frances Jeanne Hill.

John’s father Ken Barnes was born in the Port of Spain, Trinidad, and was the son of Sylvester Barnes, a Civil Servant, and Ena Phipps. Ken was educated at St Mary’s College in Trinidad but also spent time at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst here in the UK. In 1956 he enlisted with the Jamaican Army and moved swiftly through the ranks to become Colonel by 1973. During that time he married John’s mother, Frances Hill, in July 1960.

Ken went to Jamaica as a member of the West India Regiment and later joined the Jamaica Defence Force following the island’s independence in 1962. Ken also acted as Defence adviser for the Jamaican High Commission (London) from 1976-1981 and led the combined Caribbean Security Forces to restore democracy in Grenada. He retired from the Army in 1989.

As well as a strong Military career, Ken also expressed a great interest in sport and was president of the Jamaica Amateur Swimming Association. He also enjoyed Squash and Soccer, and set up Jamaica’s first bobsleigh team, which was the inspiration for the 1993 comedy ‘Cool Runnings’.

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John’s maternal Grandfather Frank Hill was a journalist and politician in Kingston but his career was far from smooth running. He was involved in the People’s National Party alongside his brother Ken and two friends Richard Hart and Arthur Henry who were known as ‘the four H’s’.

The four of them had previously left the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union in 1939 as they did not like the way it was being run by Alexander Bustamante. They went on to form new unions of Government workers in 1942. Due to these unions the Government workers were showing signs of being much more organised than before this alarmed the Government, and so they passed a law making the unions illegal.

The four H’s were imprisoned by the Governor Sir Arthur Richards in November 1942 under wartime emergency powers, after being accused of trying to overthrow the Government. They spent four and a half months tending vegetables for the British Army. There are documents held by The National Archives in relation to Frank and Ken’s imprisonment and release by the Governor.

After their release they again campaigned for improvement in worker’s conditions they were successful in obtaining wage increases within the year. This was considered a great victory.

Ken, Frank, Richard and Arthur were later expelled from the People’s National Party in 1952 for Communist beliefs. Ken Hill then went on to set up the National Labour Party, which ran until the 1960s with Frank’s help.

John’s mother Jeanne was also involved in the politics of the era when she demonstrated in the JBC (Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation) strikes in 1964. The journalists working for the corporation were accused of favouring the old People’s National Party after a change of Government in 1962 to the Jamaica Labour Party. Jeanne was arrested for taking part but was released later that day.

John’s episode is to be shown on BBC 1, 9pm on 17th October.

It will be interesting to find out which records are available to those of you who are also researching Caribbean ancestry.

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