William N Barrie was born on 12th October 1918. He grew up in Hexham in Northumberland where he led a full and enjoyable life pursuing a wide variety of interests and hobbies. A keen Rugby player, he played regularly for Tynedale RFC. He was also an enthusiastic scout and was made a Kings Scout in May 1935. He enlisted in the Territorial Army before the outbreak of war. Upon mobilisation Bill initially served with the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (R.N.F.). Elements of the regiment were soon to see action as the Machine Gun Battalion of the 51st Highland Division in Northern France during the early months of 1940. Bill was fortunate to avoid capture, following his evacuation from France, his unit was deployed in the home defence role at nearby Wylam. Bill was promoted to Lieutenant and subsequently posted from the R.N.F. to another famous north eastern regiment, the Durham Light Infantry.
When the Glider Pilot Regiment was formed in early 1942 Lieutenant Barrie was stationed at Middleton St George near Darlington and was among the first officers to volunteer for flying duties with the new airborne unit. Soon after he joined the regiment he made a good friend in fellow lieutenant, Christopher Dodwell. The first stage of his flying training took place at 21 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at RAF Booker near High Wycombe. Bill and his fellow students were introduced to the delights of flying powered aircraft by the instructors of RAF Training Command. The EFTS at Booker operated the Miles Magister. Unlike its better known and more numerous biplane contemporary the De Havilland Tiger Moth the ‘Maggie’ as it was known was a monoplane trainer.
With the milestone of flying solo behind him at Booker Bill reported for glider training to Number 4 Glider Training School (GTS) at RAF Kidlington near Oxford. He and his colleagues on Number 11 Glider Training Course were taught to fly on the British Army’s standard training glider, the Hotspur. Bill Barrie quickly mastered the Hotspur and gained his Glider Wings. He was now ready for the final hurdle before joining the Glider Pilot Regiment as a fully fledged Glider Pilot and was posted to the Heavy Glider Conversion Unit (HGCU) at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. By late 1942 Bill and his fellow Glider Pilots had made the transition from the light Hotspur training glider to the mainstay of the British glider force the Horsa. Now a fully fledged Glider Pilot the young Lieutenant Bill Barrie was posted to the 1st Battalion the Glider Pilot Regiment at Fargo Camp on Salisbury Plain.
In the spring of 1943 the 1st Battalion GPR was on the move from Bulford. A main body sailed by troop ship from Glasgow out to the port of Oran in French North Africa. Lieutenant Barrie and members of 1 Squadron GPR did not deploy on the troop convoy. They were going to make a faster and more eventful route. The Commanding Officer of the Glider Pilot Regiment Lieutenant Colonel George Chatterton had an urgent need for Horsa gliders to reinforce his battalion. The GPR was about to mount the first ever major British glider operation – Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily. There were no British Horsa gliders in place on the desert airfields of North Africa. In fact the Glider Pilots were busy assembling and test flying American CG4A WACO gliders from crates. They would be using these self built gliders to carry the Airlanding element of the newly formed British Airborne Division (later to be 1st British Airborne Division) to their objectives in Sicily. With little time to deliver the large Horsa gliders by sea, they would have to make the 1300 mile journey under tow by air. Operation BEGGAR was conceived to get the vital Horsas to North Africa.
Lieutenant Bill Barrie was selected to lead one of the three-man crews that were to make the epic flight from England to North Africa. The operation was fraught with risks. The flight path avoided overflying occupied Europe but the glider-tug combinations would still have to run the gauntlet of German fighters and long range Focke Wulf Condor patrol aircraft in the Bay of Biscay. Any German aircraft would make short work of a slow moving Halifax-Horsa combination. The vulnerable combinations had to avoid interception or face the inevitable decision to abandon the tow and ditch the glider in the Atlantic. In good conditions the flight time was projected to be nine hours and thirty minutes. The high risk missions were nicknamed Operation Turkey-Buzzard by the participating crews. After the war Turkey-Buzzard was described by Gerard M. Devlin in his book Silent Wings as:
‘An incredibly courageous undertaking that proved to be the
greatest long distance combat tow by any nation during the war.’
The men of the GPR and the aircrews of 295 Squadron RAF were tasked to ferry forty Horsa gliders from RAF Portreath in Cornwall out to Sale in Morocco. Lieutenant Bill Barrie flew four Turkey Buzzard related flights. The Len Wright papers list Bill Barrie flying the following sorties:
Flight 1 LJ 165 Tug Aircraft – Halifax NO DG384
Horsa Crew Lt Barrie, Sgt Bolais, Sgt Broadhead.
11.6.43 from Hurn – Portreath
13.6.43 Portreath to Sale (1300 miles, 10 hour flight)
Returned to England.
Flight 2 LJ 171 Tug Aircraft – Halifax EB139
Horsa Crew Lt Barrie, Sgt Bolais, Sgt Broadhead
27.6.43 Portreath to Sale
Stayed at Sale.
Flight 3 Glider LH 113 Crew Lt Barrie, Sgt Mackenzie
30.6.43 Sale – Froha 350 miles
Flight 4 Glider HG 976 Crew Lt Barrie, Sgt Mackenzie
2.7.43 Froha – Kairouan 580 mles across Atlas Mountains.
Arrived 3.7.43 – first flight tow had engine problems.
After his final Turkey-Buzzard run Lieutenant Bill Barrie was based at Desert airstrip ‘E’ outside Sousse. He was bivouacked there with Captain Robin Walchi another pioneer GPR Officer. As preparations for the invasion of Sicily now codenamed Operation HUSKY continued the GPR was visited by ‘Monty’. On 8 July 1943 the hero of El Alamein addressed assembled Glider Pilots before what was to be Britain’s first ever major airborne operation. The Airborne phase of the invasion codenamed Operation LADBROKE was planned for the night of 9 July 1943; it was destined to be a terrible night for the new regiment. Luckily for Bill Barrie he did not fly that night, he was scheduled to fly his Horsa on a later airborne operation – Operation FUSTIAN. The majority of the 1st Battalion GPR in the company of thirty USAAF Glider Pilots flew 144 WACO gliders across the Mediterranean Sea from Tunisia to Sicily.
The operation went terribly wrong due to a combination of poor weather, high winds and a lack of combat experience among the USAF tug crews. Casualties were high; the Airlanding Brigade lost over three hundred troops drowned off shore having never made landfall. Many more were recovered by the Royal Navy after the sea borne landings the next morning. Other Glider Pilots including the CO, Lieutenant Colonel George Chatterton swam ashore and joined the battle inland and in spite of the catastrophe out at sea the Airborne Division secured its primary objective – The Ponte Grande Bridge outside Syracuse. The Eighth Army was able to cross the bridge and push north toward the Catania Plain.
Subsequent to Operation LADBROKE the 1st Parachute Brigade was ordered to seize the Primosole Bridge ahead of the advancing Eighth Army. The operation was codenamed FUSTIAN. The initial assault would be a parachute landing. The paratroopers’ heavy equipment, support weapons and vehicles were to be flown in by glider after the initial landing on 13 July 1943. Unfortunately the parachute drop was scattered and inaccurate resulting in only 200 paratroopers reaching the bridge. A total of ten Horsa and eight WACO gliders were to make the 450 mile flight to reinforce the parachute brigade on the objective. The Fustian gliders followed the route Sousse – Malta – Syracuse – Augusta and finally to Catania. In another twist of bad luck the stream of gliders and tugs were dispersed by Allied anti aircraft fire as they passed over friendly shipping.
Lieutenant Bill Barrie and Sergeant Wallace Mackenzie flew one of only four Horsas that managed to land close to their designated Landing Zones and delivered four vital six-pounder anti-tank guns to the bridgehead. The bridge had been prepared for demolition but the defenders were overwhelmed by the assault force that held the bridge against repeated enemy counter-attacks. During the battle around the bridge the Glider Pilots manned the anti-tank guns and fought as infantry. It was during this fierce fighting that the Glider Pilots vindicated the GPR ‘Total Soldier’ training regime. Accounts of the fighting recalled Glider Pilots manning a captured German 88mm gun and turning it against its owners to great effect.
Lieutenant Bill Barrie distinguished himself in the air and on the ground during the battle. His conduct was recognised with the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the citation reads:
Citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross
‘This officer was the pilot of a Horsa Glider carrying a jeep and a six-pounder anti-tank gun.
He showed great courage and skill piloting this glider for five hours in very rough weather. On arriving in the battle area, he had to face flak and searchlights. It was through his skill and coolness that he landed his glider successfully and that his load went into action on the ground.
Lieutenant Barrie was an example and inspiration to all throughout the operation.’
Squadron Leader P.B.N. Davis RAF kept a diary of his experiences with 38 Wing RAF in North Africa. His entry for 20 July 1943 mentions Bill Barrie’s and Wallace Mackenzie’s return from Sicily and captures the mood after the two costly operations:
‘To bed at 0430 last night and slept long and late this morning. Staggered along for lunch, and met Bill Barrie and his second pilot, safely back from Sicily, unharmed. I never thought this would happen. Much hand shaking and congratulations. Most of them did not come back. Bill landed his glider safely but not on the appointed landing field. However, they did get the gun, jeep, ammo and petrol to the bridge and delivered it to our paratroops under Lieutenant Colonel Frost. The gun was not actually used but it did the trick because it was learnt later that the German (or Italian) tanks were diverted another route as a result of the airborne attack. Some of the other Glider Pilots were back as well with amazing stories – fired at from all sides, captured, capturing, released etc. Many were wounded or killed and they came upon many crashes, including Babe Cooper, who was written off in the glider towed by ‘Wilkie’, of whom there is still no news.’
After the Germans had evacuated Sicily the Glider Pilot Regiment were withdrawn to North Africa via Syracuse. In September 1943 Lieutenant Bill Barrie was involved in the British landing and capture of the Italian port of Taranto. A shortage of troops had resulted in the Glider Pilots being deployed in the infantry role for the operation. Thankfully, the Italian garrison surrendered the port without a fight and highly trained pilots were not wasted in street fighting.
The battalion, minus 3 Company GPR sailed back to England in December 1943; Bill Barrie was on board the returning troop ship. One incident recounted to Mike Barrie by Sergeant Bob Cardy typifies the character of Captain Bill Barrie:
‘When we arrived back from Sicily a Sergeant Major called us an idle bunch. An officer stepped forward and asked him to withdraw his remark. It was your father.’
The Sicily operation resulted in a reorganisation of the Glider Pilot Regiment. The pilots of 3 Company remained in the Mediterranean theatre to form an Independent Squadron whilst the sub units of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the GPR were renamed and reorganised. For Lieutenant Bill Barrie this involved reporting to Leicester Forest where he joined G Squadron. His new squadron was a sub unit of 1 Wing GPR under the command of Lieutenant Ian Murray. The Officer Commanding the squadron was Major Bob Croot an infantry officer from the Devonshire Regiment, the newly promoted Captain Bill Barrie was appointed as the squadron second in command. The flight commanders of G Squadron were Maurice Priest, Mike Corrie and Bill’s tent partner from North Africa Robin Walchi. The squadron Adjutant was Lieutenant Mike Dauncey who had recently arrived from the Cheshire Regiment.
In spring 1944 the squadron moved to its new home at RAF Fairford. On 19th February 1944 Bill married his fiancée ‘Peggy’ Margaret Pigg, their best man was Captain E. J. Thomas a fellow GPR officer. As the imminent invasion drew nearer the squadron took part in a series of pre invasion training exercises.
The men of G Squadron were finally given their orders for D Day. They would carry the main body of 6th Airlanding Brigade to Normandy as part of the 6th Airborne Division landings on 6 June 1944. Captain Barrie was given command of half of G Squadron. The G Squadron pilots were part of a force of eighty-one gliders that were to take part in Operation MALLARD. Their initial objective was Landing Zone W outside the small Norman village of Ranville. The G Squadron Horsas were carrying the anti-tank guns and support weapons of the 7th Parachute Battalion. The arrival of the Op MALLARD gliders followed on after the dramatic capture of Pegasus and Horsa Bridges and the neutralisation of the Merville Battery. With the 6th Airborne Division perimeter well established on the eastern flank of the Allied landings the Glider Pilot Regiment’s mission was complete. On 7 June 1944 they were regrouped and withdrawn via the beaches to England. The GPR squadrons were quickly reorganised and prepared to carry out reinforcement landings in Normandy with 1st British Airborne Division.
The weeks and months after D Day were frustrating for the men of 1st British Airborne Division as a series of airborne operations failed to come to fruition. Captain Bill Barrie and his comrades were briefed for consecutive operations that were cancelled due to the rapid advance of Allied ground forces. On 15 August 1944 G Squadron deployed forty-two crews under command of Captain Bill Barrie to the USAF airfield at Welford near Newbury. Here they waited to launch on Operation TRANSFIGURE. On 22 August the Horsas returned to their home airfield at RAF Fairford. Another operation had been called off as Allied tanks overran the planned airborne objectives. This was to be a long summer of sixteen cancelled operations that were to culminate in a plan for a seventeenth operation – Operation MARKET GARDEN.
Operation Market Garden
The pilots of G Squadron were earmarked to carry a variety of loads into Arnhem. The majority of their Horsa gliders carried the Light Guns, Jeeps and gunners of the 1st Airlanding Regiment Royal Artillery. These guns packed the heaviest punch that would be directly available to the 1st Airborne Division; and as such, their successful delivery to the Dutch Landing Zones was critical to the success of the Market- Garden plan.
Captain Bill Barrie’s Chalk Number is not known, however, surviving veterans believe that in his role as the squadrons Second in Command he commanded the G Squadron element of the second lift on 18 September 1944. This is a logical assumption as the Officer Commanding G Squadron; Major Bob Croot led the first lift accompanied by his Adjutant Lieutenant Mike Dauncey. The squadron was a sub unit of Lieutenant Colonel Iain Murray’s 1 Wing GPR. After landing the Wing regrouped and deployed as the divisional reserve, eventually taking up positions in the vicinity of Roy Urquhart’s headquarters in the Hartenstein Hotel. The pilots of G Squadron were given the task of providing local protection to the gun batteries of the Airlanding Regiment RA.
The story of Arnhem is well known, the men of 1st Airborne Division had expected to seize and hold the main highway bridge in Arnhem for a maximum of forty-eight hours. In fact for a wide range of reasons this did not happen and the hard-pressed Airborne Division held on way beyond the originally intended two days against increasing odds. Captain Bill Barrie was at the centre of G Squadron’s battle as German pressure mounted. His presence in the vicinity of the Hartenstein is referred to in Major Ian Toler’s (OC B Sqn GPR) diary. This was published in ‘The Harvest of Ten Years’ – available from the Hartenstein Airborne Museum. An extract from the entry for the morning of 20 Sept 1944 reads:
‘Later Bill Barrie and Tony Murray appear; the latter very white and shaken as he had heavy casualties by mortaring.’
This is further confirmed in an account of the battle also published in The Harvest of Ten Years, written by Flying Officer Reginald Lawton, a downed airman from 190 Squadron RAF. His entry for 20 September 1944 reads:
‘Things quietened down later and Cullen and I decided to move our quarters. We went and found a line of trenches over to the left of the house, commanded by two officers we knew, Captain (Maurice) Priest and Captain Bill Barrie of the Glider Pilot Regiment.’
As the tempo and ferocity of the battle continued to increase and the men of the Glider Pilot Regiment could no longer be held in a reserve role. Both 1 & 2 wings of the GPR became embroiled in the battle in and around the Oosterbeek perimeter.
The events of 20 September 1944 are detailed on page 130 of Alan Lloyd’s book ‘The Gliders’:
‘At night British patrols looked for German guns. Derrick Shingleton was in a party of Glider Pilots led by Captain W N Barrie nearing their objective; they heard the tramp of boots and dived for the concealment of a garden. Derrick Shingleton recalls the moment vividly.
‘The Germans, a large squad halted and fell out on a grassy bank. They were so close we could have touched them. I was lying full stretch, a flower of some kind in one nostril. How long we lay there without twitching I don’t know. It seemed like hours, all the time; I thought I was going to sneeze.’
Beside him was Staff Sergeant Reading who shared the trench they had dug overlooking allotments near the Hartenstein. Now, as the Germans move on the pilots tried to locate the gun. It stood, they knew in a small copse near the town hall. Ghosting forward they went to ground again by a burst of fire. Their only cover said Derrick Shingleton was piles of sawn logs:
‘Captain Barrie said he’d throw a hand grenade but was killed in the action of throwing the grenade. There was a screen of German infantry around the gun. We never could have got to it. Instead we scrambled sideways through the trees and somehow found our way back along a lane.’
Captain Bill Barrie DFC is buried alongside many of his fellow Glider Pilots and other Airborne Soldiers in the Commonwealth War Grave Commission Cemetery at Oosterbeek. Official confirmation of Bill Barrie’s death in battle on 20 Sep 1944 was not given to his wife and family until a letter dated 5 Nov 1945. Previous War Office correspondence gave the date of his death as 2 Oct 1944. The uncertainty over dates raised troubling doubts over whether Bill had been captured or had lain wounded for days on the battlefield. With their fears allayed the Barrie family later received some good news from the GPR Padre George Pare. He informed them that Captain Bill Barrie’s grave was being tended by local Dutch girl Annie Bookhurst from Oosterbeek.
Glider Pilots at Arnhem - by Mike Peters & Luuk Buist (Pen & Sword Ltd)
Glider Pilots on Sicily – by Mike Peters (Pen & Sword Ltd)
The Gliders – by Alan Lloyd (Arrow Books Ltd)
Diary of Sqn Ldr Davis RAF – by permission of The Eagle
Operations Turkey Buzzard & Elaborate by Len Wright DFM GPR
The Harvest of Ten Years - published by Hartenstein Airborne Museum.
Written by Mike Peters with the support and consent of Mike Barrie (son of Capt Bill Barrie DFC)