Lance-Corporal William John Joseph Barclay

 

Unit : No.3 Platoon, 21st Independent Parachute Company

Army No. : 6298748

Awards : Military Medal

 

Lance-Corporal Barclay fought with the 21st Independent Parachute Company throughout the battle, and for his conduct in the Oosterbeek Perimeter he was awarded the Military Medal:

 

On the 23rd September 1944, Private Barclay assumed command of his section when all his N.C.O.s had become casualties. Soon after taking command he saw that his bren gunner occupying a position in his right flank had been killed. He immediately left his trench and under heavy Machine Gun fire rescued the gun which he proceeded to operate. As at this time his platoon only had one other gun capable of firing, his action undoubtedly enabled them to repel increasingly strong enemy attacks.

 

Barclay insists, however, that the above is not an entirely accurate description of events, and he has provided the following report which details what happened to himself and No.3 Platoon during the fighting at Oosterbeek:

 

"On Wednesday 20 September the Company took up a defensive position in the grounds of a big house 'Ommershof' with 1 Pl on the west side, 2 Pl on the north overlooking the wooded grounds of 'White House' on other side of Graf Van Rechtenweg, and 3 Pl forming the east flank with outpost LMG in hut overlooking open ground. Sustained attacks from 'White House' area were made uphill against 2 Pl, repulsed with casualties moving to east, regrouping on open ground and returning through woods to resume attacks on 2 Pl position. Lt Ashmore and Sgt Joe Smith (Pl Sgt 3 Pl) noticing this quickly told Barclay to get some men to reinforce LMG in hut overlooking open ground. Barclay did so accompanied by one of the Jewish chaps (name eludes writer). Finding gunner dead, Barclay manned LMG and put fire onto German troops. Relinquishing LMG on return after attacks died down."

 

"Subsequently Company moved from Omershof to join the Divisional perimeter in Oosterbeck taking up positions in houses in Paasberg and Piersberg Roads and in Station Weg north of the main Utrechtweg. This was during the night 21/22 September. On 23 September 3 Pl was ordered to relieve remnant of 10 Para Bn occupying a salient position some 4/500 yards in front of perimeter along Utrechtweg. The relief took place around 0300hrs on Saturday 23 September. Boy Wilson had strongly recommended against this action but was overruled. 3 Pl duly took up positions in 3 houses. 1 Sect (Sgt Jerry Thompson) on left of road, 2 Sect (Sgt Paddy Cockings) in front of Pl HQ with remnant of 3 Sect on right of road. At barely first light, Germans attacked with a hundred or more Panzer-Grenadiers supported by a Mk IV tank and two 88mm SP guns."

 

"Barclay was dozing in a slit trench on ground floor of house occupied by Pl HQ, woke as shells ripped through house. Joe Smith, sitting a few yards away, suddenly realised our only LMG (Bren) was on the first floor (upstairs) with no-one up there. Called out to Barclay "Slip upstairs, old chap, and bring down the bren and box of magazines" which Barclay duly did - this was the bren gun he refused to let anyone else get their hands on. Hugh Ashmore having been in radio contact with Boy Wilson was ordered to withdraw from this exposed position. Too late for Paddy Cockings section which was overrun. Jerry Thompson despite casualties withdrew to 1 Pl area where he was finally killed. Ashmore got Pl HQ and 3 Sect to move back with withdrawal covered by Sgt Joe Smith and Barclay with his Bren. Returning eventually to perimeter, 3 Pl occupied position in house and small school along Paasbergweg."

 

"3 Pl remained in school area through Saturday 23 September. Joe Smith went on the scrounge and returned with a couple of Piat bombs. Barclay helped Frank Dixon, the Pl cook, who was now the PIAT gunner No 1 to reassemble the Piat which had been stripped and hidden under pile of coal as all bombs had been expended. Now we had two bombs. As assembly was being completed, Joe Smith came along and told Barclay and Dixon to hurry up as two Mk IV tanks were approaching through gardens on the left flank. Smith and Barclay accompanied Dixon and crept through bushes up to about 50 yards from tanks. Dixon prepared Piat to fire while Smith and Barclay (still with Bren) took up covering position. Dixon's first shot hit tank on rear - at first it appeared as if nothing happened, then explosion, fire broke out, crew tried to leave, shot down by Barclay and Smith. Second tank rapidly withdrew before Dixon could fire again. This incident resulted in Dixon being awarded the Military Medal."

 

 

Diary of Key Events - 3 Platoon

 

Sunday 17 Sep 44

Dropped onto LZs - Reijers Camp to bring in part of 1 Air Landing Brigade & Div HQ. Night stop with Coy HQ.

 

Monday 18 Sep 44

3 Pl Moved some 3-4 miles to set up DZ 'Y' on Grootheide to bring in 4 Para Bde. 4 hours late, so it was late afternoon when the Pl returned to rejoin Coy at Reijers Camp. 1900hrs moved to a new position in the area of Oosterbeek Hoig halt. In position 2000hrs in grounds of large house 'St Paulastichting' (Wolfheze)

 

Tuesday 19 Sep 44

Took up positions along railway embankment while 1 Pl and 2 Pl were bringing in Polish gliders and a supply drop on LZ 'L'. Late afternoon, once these platoons re-joined, company moved onto high ground around house 'Omershof'. 1 Pl on west flank, 2 Pl north, 3 Pl on east flank with some 30 odd 4 Para Fd Sqn RE and some 60 glider pilots linking rear with 1 Pl.

 

Wednesday 20 Sep 44

Enemy PZ-Grenadiers of 9th SS Panzer Division attacks from white house across Graf van Riecher Weg on 2 Pl position. Attacks repulsed with enemy moving east onto open ground flanking 3 Pl position - advanced LMG post in hut on edge of open ground. Sgt 'Rape' Martin on patrol, missing KIA.

 

Thursday 21 Sep 44

Maintain position 'Omershof' - KOSB withdrawing into Coy area - redirected to new position adjacent. Late night prepare for withdrawal to new position within divisional perimeter Oosterbeck. Afternoon visit by Div Comd.

 

Friday 22 Sep 44

3 Pl occupy houses area Paasberg and Pieterberg Roads with 1 Pl across Utrechtweg in Stationweg, 2 Pl further south of 3 Pl in Dr Van Naamen house. Coy ordered to send Pl to relieve 10 Para Bn remnants from salient position in 3 houses some 500 yds in front of perimeter along Utrechtweg. 3 Pl nominated - CO objected but overruled. To move out late night.

 

Saturday 23 Sep 44

0300hrs - 3 Pl relieves remnants of 10 Para Bn in 3 houses 1 Sect left of road, 2 Sect right front with Pl HQ & remnant 3 Sect right rear. Attack by 9 SS DZ Troops Mk IV tank and 50 guns. 2 Sect overrun, Sgt Cockings missing believed KIA. 1 Sect withdraws towards 1 Pl in Stationweg where Sgt Thompson killed. Pl HQ withdraw to new position in small school Passbergweg with balance 3 Sect.

 

Sunday 24 Sep 44

Pl HQ patrol kill Mk IV tank with PIAT (Dixon - Pl cook). Move from school further south occupy 2 houses. Relieved by 1 Pl who handed over original house in Stationweg to Poles. Some probing attacks.

 

Monday 25 Sep 44

Beat off number of probing attacks during morning. Afternoon quiet. 2230hrs Coy acts as rearguard on withdrawal across river. Boy Wilson wounded. Lt John Horsley killed during withdrawal.

 

Tuesday 26 Sep 44

Members of Coy acting to control queues for assault boats for evacuation. Finally cross at end of night to Driel then start marching to Nijmegen, finally getting lift.

 

Wednesday 27 Sep 44

Afternoon by RASC transport to Louvain. Rest overnight.

 

Thursday 28 Sep 44

From Louvain to Brussels then by air to Saltby Airfield near Grantham, finally home to Newark.

 

****

 

Though he had started the Battle of Arnhem as a Private, Bill Barclay ended it as a Lance-Corporal and rapidly progressed through the ranks. Eighteen months later he was a Lieutenant serving in India with the 1st Battalion The South Staffordshire Regiment.

 

Back to 21st Independent Parachute Company

Back to Biographies Menu