Derek McCardie

Lieutenant-Colonel W. Derek H. McCardie


Unit : Headquarters, 2nd Battalion The South Staffordshire Regiment

Army No. : 62214


Having served in the Territorial Army before the War, Derek McCardie was given command of the 2nd South Staffordshires on the 7th April 1943, shortly before the Battalion left for North Africa. The subsequent invasion of Sicily on the 9th July was a disaster for the Airborne troops, with more than half of the gliders landing in the sea; the South Staffords suffering particularly harshly in terms of the number of men drowned. Lieutenant-Colonel McCardie's glider, carrying various other officers and men of Battalion HQ, landed approximately two miles short of the shoreline. McCardie ordered the six men who could swim to make their way ashore, whilst the remainder clung to the wreckage of the glider and were picked up several hours later. McCardie's party, tired and barefoot, reached land and spent much of the night wandering the area, involving themselves in several minor actions and gathering in similarly strayed members of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, before they were able to reach the Battalion objective on the following day.


In Operation Market Garden, due to the involvement of 1st British Airborne Corps HQ at Nijmegen, only half of the 2nd South Staffords was transported to Arnhem on the First Lift. Lieutenant-Colonel McCardie's glider, flown by Major Toler of "B" Squadron, landed on LZ-S, just fifty yards from the Battalion rendezvous at the Reijers Camp farm.


The Staffords were assigned the task of clearing Wolfheze of enemy troops and then securing LZ-S by digging in around the north-eastern area of the zone. On the following morning, however, it became clear that the 1st Parachute Brigade was in trouble and in need of reinforcement. Although all of his infantry strength was fully committed to the defence of the drop zones until the Second Lift arrived, Brigadier Hicks nevertheless took a risk and ordered the 2nd South Staffords to leave their positions and proceed to Arnhem. In so doing, LZ-S was left vulnerable to attack, but fortunately the Germans did not discover and exploit this gap. The new task assigned to the Battalion was a particularly difficult one. Not only were their orders vague, having being told little more than to march in the direction of where it was assumed the 1st Parachute Brigade was fighting, but only half of the Battalion had been brought in on the First Lift; "A", "C" and the remaining half of Support Company were to be sent after them when they landed later in the day.


The four hundred and twenty men of the Battalion moved off along the Utrechtseweg, or the "Tiger" Route, at 10:30. Resistance was encountered on the way to Arnhem, but nothing as serious as that suffered by the 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalions on the previous day. Shortly after they left Wolfheze the column was strafed by several German aircraft, though this intervention owed more to spectacle than to effectiveness as only a few men were wounded as a result. The limited numbers available to the Battalion was felt after they had passed through Oosterbeek and were fired on by several machine-guns as they attempted to pass beneath the railway bridge to the east of the town. With insufficient strength to commit a company to deal with this menace, McCardie decided to seek an alternative route and led "B" Company south to the lower Oosterbeek Laag station, where the 1st Battalion had been fighting in the morning, whilst "D" Company was left behind for a time to secure their rear. As they drew near to Arnhem, the Staffords met with the 1st Parachute Battalion's "R" Company, which had been trying to rejoin its unit since being delayed in fighting early on the first day. McCardie had their much depleted supplies of ammunition replenished and gladly took them under command until he met up with the 1st Battalion.


This link-up took place at 18:00 on Monday 18th September, the advance thus far having cost the Battalion a mere two killed and a tolerable number of wounded. The commander of the 1st Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie, was keen to press on immediately, however given the level of resistance McCardie felt it prudent to wait at least until the remainder of his Battalion had caught up. Despite the fact that he was the more senior of the two officers, McCardie allowed Dobie, being more in touch with the situation than he, to assume command of the troops that were gathering for the 1st Parachute Brigade's final attack into Arnhem. They planned to advance towards Arnhem Bridge with their two Battalions at 21:00, however a false report filtered through to them from Divisional Headquarters that resistance at the Bridge had been overwhelmed and their attack was cancelled.


McCardie and Dobie, however, were aware that this report was false, confirmation of which finally arrived at 02:30, and they both made use of the time to further plan their attack. The delay, however, had lost them a great deal of time as well as the crucial hours of darkness, which would certainly have aided the assault. On the positive side, the remaining South Staffords of the Second Lift had caught up, and with them had come the 11th Parachute Battalion. At about 02:00, the commanders of these units met in the rather dramatic environment of a dark, bullet-ridden house, gathered around a table lit by a single candle, and agreed on a plan of attack for the following morning. Dobie was to lead the way with his 1st Battalion advancing along the Onderlangs road closest to the river, whilst the South Staffords supported his left flank by moving along the parallel Utrechtseweg, and the 11th Battalion followed behind both in reserve.


The attack met heavy opposition and as daylight grew the South Staffords found themselves stuck in an exposed position between the Museum and the St Elizabeth Hospital. Tanks continually probed the defences throughout the morning and were able to roam wherever they pleased when the defenders ran out of PIAT ammunition. Unable to contemplate an advance with the level of opposition, particularly that which was troubling their left flank, Lieutenant-Colonel McCardie requested that the 11th Battalion attack around their left in the hope that they could get moving again. The paratroopers were preparing to obliged when they received a message from Divisional Headquarters ordering them to make no attempt to intervene and waste themselves in what Major-General Urquhart had concluded was a futile situation. McCardie was unaware of this cancellation, but nevertheless his men were under such pressure that he began to look at means of withdrawing the Staffords from the terrible trap in which they had become ensnared. "A" Company, to the fore, were almost hopelessly cut off from the remainder of the Battalion, and they were ordered to lay down fire to cover HQ, "B" and "D" Companies,  as they pulled back; "C" Company being in the rear. As they were about to do so, however, "A" Company were heavily attacked and were eventually wiped out.


The new position to which the Battalion had moved was scarcely an improvement as they were still cruelly exposed to enemy fire from several directions, and their only means of escape was a wide expanse of open ground to their rear; a dash across which would have resulted in severe casualties. By noon, the Staffords had been overcome, although "C" Company had managed to escape largely intact and in so doing had gathered numerous stragglers from other units. Shortly before this collapse, McCardie had observed that "A" Company did not seem to be challenging the armour coming their way, and so he went forward to discover the reason for this, not realising that "A" Company, who had been particularly staunch in their defence, were not firing on the tanks simply because they had nothing left to challenge them with. Urging and cheering his men on as he went, McCardie was wounded and captured before he could reach them. In a letter to Major Cain, wrote after McCardie had returned home from a POW camp in 1945, he said "I still can't believe that I was taken prisoner. It was a thing that I vowed should never happen. I was trying to get to A Company, to find out why the hell they weren't shooting at those tanks, and I suppose that something must have fired at me. In any rate, I found myself under two feet of earth with two Germans pointing Schmeissers at me". 


Upon his release from captivity, Derek McCardie joined the Parachute Regiment and was given command of the 17th Parachute Battalion in Palestine. He died on the 3rd April 1977.


See also: S/Sgt Black.


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