Staff-Sergeant Geoffrey Sidney Barkway

 

Unit : "B" Squadron, No.1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment

Awards : Distinguished Flying Medal

 

Geoff Barkway was the pilot of one of the six Horsa gliders, chalk no.93, which delivered Major Howard's Coup de Main Force to the bridges. Flying alongside Sergeant Peter Boyle and carrying Lieutenant Smith's No.14 Platoon, his glider was to be the third to land alongside Bénouville Bridge. Barkway describes the approach to the landing zone and subsequent events in the following interview:

 

"We settled down to fly the courses and looked for signs. I think we saw the wood, the Bois de Bavent. The water was where it should be - the river and the canal. That was on the right hand side and Peter had his lamp and he was giving me the courses and the times. Then I suppose it was as we turned into the last leg that almost simultaneously we both saw the bridge and the landing zone. We then set about getting it down. I don't remember seeing Oliver Boland, although he saw me. [Boland was the pilot of the 2nd glider, landing in front of Barkway's Horsa. The two gliders came close to colliding as they came in to land, Boland saw the danger and swerved out of Barkway's path]"


"We touched down and whether we hit right away... I've a sort of idea that we didn't. We touched down and whipped along a bit, then this blooming thing - looked like a ditch or something - suddenly appeared and crash! That was it, out through the front! [Barkway was catapulted through the cockpit screen when the glider was brought to an abrupt halt] I remember laying there in the water [the pond alongside the landing zone] thinking after two or three seconds, now come on this is not right! You've got to do something about this! So I sort of struggled up. Fortunately the front had disintegrated so that the harness wasn't attached to anything, so there was no problem in getting free, but everything's a bit blurred after that, except that I have this thought that I got back into the glider for a stretcher. I don't know why I think that, but I do. Then at some time - this must have been all very quickly after we landed - a pain in the wrist. I remember seeing the poor fellow spread over the undercart, one of the chaps that was killed when we landed, his body straddled across the port undercarriage strut."

 

"The body on the undercarriage was the only fatality in the crash, but Lieutenant Smith, OC [Officer Commanding] 14 Platoon cut his head and the OBLI [Ox and Bucks Light Infantry] medical officer, Captain John Vaughan, RAMC, who was also in the glider, was badly concussed. Dr Vaughan had been seated just behind the cockpit bulkhead and when the glider hit, he was catapulted through the bulkhead door, barely slowed by the perspex windscreen, to land unconscious on the ground fifteen yards in front of the glider."

 

The co-pilot, Peter Boyle, was snared amongst the remnants of the glider by his equipment. Geoff Barkway helped him free and thereafter Boyle, with the glider illuminated by a German flare, carried PIAT guns and grenades from the glider to the bridge. It was during one of these trips that he heard Barkway calling him. He returned to the glider to find that Barkway had been shot in the wrist and his arm was close to severed. He became unconscious for a time and woke to find himself in the aid post.

 

"I was surrounded by everybody. I remember being very thirsty and being put on a stretcher across the bonnet of a jeep and being driven off somewhere. I can remember being on the beach. These were short little flashes and I must have been unconscious most of the time, because I think that the chaps on the beach had formed the opinion that that was the end of me when I went off to the aid post. They didn't give that much for my chances. On the beach we seemed to be under the frame of a lorry with a tarpaulin over it. Then I remember the tank landing ship, coming back in that and the incident of a petty officer getting a couple of sailors to lift me onto a bunk and tidying me up a bit."

 

"About the next thing I remember is the Sunday morning, being in Haslar Hospital. Well I didn't know till that Monday that I'd actually lost my arm because I had this feeling that I could move my fingers - a ghost limb. Patch it up, put it in a sling and suppose I'd be all right, only the Monday morning when I suppose they came round to see how I was, I looked down and no arm! That caused quite a panic! I remember they doped me and knocked me out and on the Tuesday I had this haemorrhage and was whipped back down into the casualty ward. Being the only one in there I was surrounded by all these sick berth attendants and nursing sisters. There must have been about a dozen people and rather a luscious nurse was feeding me fish and chips and the left arm had the drop going into it when Eileen [Barkway's girlfriend] appeared."

 

Geoff Barkway died on the 8th June 2006. The following is his obituary as printed in the Daily Telegraph on the 17th June:

 

Staff Sergeant Geoff Barkway, who has died aged 84, played an important part in the capture of Pegasus bridge, landing his glider only 100 yards from the bridge over the Caen Canal in Normandy on D-Day. Barkway was the pilot of one of six gliders which carried 180 men of the 2nd Battalion, Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Their mission - codenamed "Operation Deadstick" - was to capture the Pegasus and Horsa bridges (the latter spanning the River Orne), both of which had been wired for demolition by the Germans. Their capture was crucial to the success of General Montgomery's plans.

 

The Horsa gliders were towed from RAF Tarrant Rushton, in Dorset, by Halifax tugs. They were released at 6,000 ft when they were 15 miles from their targets. Descending steeply, with the aid of a compass and stopwatch but no ground assistance, the three gliders assigned to Pegasus Bridge landed within minutes of each other. As Barkway's Horsa touched down between the other two it hit a mound and broke in half, catapulting him through the canopy; he landed, concussed, in a small pond. But once on his feet he returned to release his co-pilot, who was trapped in the wrecked cockpit. They then helped release others who were entangled in the remains of the glider.

 

Barkway was unloading ammunition when he was shot in the right arm. When he came round in the café alongside the bridge, his arm was in a sling and he had lost a lot of blood. Both of the bridges had been seized intact, and were held until the 7th Parachute Regiment arrived a few hours later to secure the area. Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, Commander of the Allied Air Forces, described the glider pilots' skill as "one of the finest bits of precision flying and navigational accomplishments of the war".

 

In order that they could return to England within 24 hours to fly a second sortie, the pilots had been issued with a chit authorising beach masters to take them home on a landing craft. But it was some time before Barkway's headquarters located him in a Portsmouth hospital, where he was to lose his arm as a result of gangrene.

 

Within a few weeks it was announced that all the first pilots of the gliders had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal, but Barkway's name was missing. His colleagues were surprised, but he himself made no comment. Some time later it was discovered that the award had been mistakenly made to a pilot with a similar name, who had not flown on the operation and had since been killed. Once the error had been identified it was announced that Barkway had received the DFM "for carrying out his task with great accuracy, skill and courage", but it was too late for him to join his fellow pilots at the investiture at Buckingham Palace.

 

Geoffrey Sidney Barkway was born in London on September 18 1921, and educated at Leyton Technical College. He became an apprentice fitter and turner at London and North Eastern Railways, then joined the Royal Signals Territorial Army in February 1939. Mobilised at 17, he transferred to the railways branch of the Royal Engineers. In 1942 he volunteered for training as a glider pilot, and, after completing a rigorous infantry training course, learned to fly powered aircraft and then gliders.

 

During the build-up to D-Day, the training included long-distance flights behind tug aircraft with increasingly heavy loads. For precision landing practice, white tapes were laid out on the grass airfield at Netheravon; every pilot selected for Operation Deadstick carried out 42 "spot landings", although they were unaware of their role until shortly before the event. As the training became more advanced, the height of the flights was increased to 5,000 ft, while landings were practised at night alongside a Bailey bridge in a field of similar dimensions to their target. A few days before the operation they studied colour cine films taken from a simulated flying height over a model which was an exact replica of the landing area.

 

Barkway was invalided from the Army in 1945 and, after a year's rehabilitation, obtained an Engineering degree at Kingston Technical College. He then had a long career with London Transport, which included responsibility for the operation of tests on Stages Two and Three of the Victoria Line. In 1973 he became a divisional engineer. He retired in 1981, then became a consultant in underground transport systems in New York and Singapore.

 

Barkway retained close links with the Glider Pilot Regimental Association and took an active interest in today's Army pilots. He was invited to open an exhibition at the Museum of Army Flying at Middle Wallop to celebrate the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Ten years later he attended the 60th anniversary events in Normandy, and was introduced to the Prince of Wales. Over the past 15 years Barkway had been in constant demand for commemorative reunions, at which he related his experiences with great modesty and wit.

 

He had a keen sense of humour, and was known to hang his false arm from the boot of his car when driving. On one occasion he was cycling along a cobbled road and fell off, sending his false arm shooting towards a lady pedestrian who was somewhat shocked by what she saw. Barkway strolled over to her, apologised, re-fitted his arm and cycled off.

 

Geoff Barkway, who died on June 8, married, in 1945, Eileen Underwood, whom he had met two years earlier when she was serving with the ATS. She survives him with their two sons and two daughters.

 

Offsite Links: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5JXhIFA0bQ, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jujhAkOijAs, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3XzCJBFi5M

 

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