JOHN BARCLAY 1889-1918

24313 Serjeant John Barclay, C Company, 50th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps [Infantry] died from sickness 14 December 1918.[1]  He was 29 years old, buried in Penrith Cemetery, Cumbria[2] and recorded on the West Auckland War Memorial and the Roll of Honour in West Auckland Memorial Hall.

Family Details

John was the oldest son of William and Barbara Barclay, born at Penrith, Cumberland.  There were at least 4 children, all born at Penrith:[3]

  • John bc.1889
  • Thomas bc.1894
  • Frederick bc.1896
  • Francis bc.1904

In 1891 the family lived at Albert Street, in 1901 and 1911 at 4 William Street and after the war at 15 William Street, Penrith.  William worked as a watch and clock maker and repairer. John attended the Boys’ National School, Penrith then Penrith Grammar School and was a Pupil Teacher at the Boys’ National School.[4]  In 1911, John Barclay was recorded as a student at Bede College, Durham.[5]  In 1918, John Barclay was absent from Eden Crescent, West Auckland.[6]  It is believed that he was employed as a school master at Millbank County Mixed School, West Auckland prior to the war.[7]

Service Details

John Barclay served in the Territorial Force, the 8th Battalion the Durham Light Infantry and was given the regimental number 2961.  He entered France 20 April 1915 with the battalion and was promoted to acting Serjeant.  Later, he was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps given the regimental number 24313 [8] serving with “C” Company, 50th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps.[9]  His service record has not been traced therefore the dates of his promotions and transfer to the Machine Gun Company [and/or Corps] remain unknown.  After, serving throughout the war, he died 14 December 1918.[10]

The 1/8th Battalion was formed at Durham in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division and in May 1915 were under the orders of the 151st Brigade 50th (Northumbrian) Division. [11] 16 April 1915 the Division moved to France and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war.  Other battalions were:

  • 1/7th Battalion, DLI
  • 1/8th Battalion, DLI
  • 1/9th Battalion, DLI
  • 1/5th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancs. joined June 1915

By 23 April 1915, the 50th Division was concentrated in the Steenvoorde area.  It arrived on the Western Front just as the German army attacked at nearby Ypres using poison gas for the first time.  The Division was rushed into battle and took part in the following engagements known as the Second Battle of Ypres: [12]

  • 24 April – 4 May: The Battle of Julien
  • 8 – 13 May: The Battle of Frezenburg Ridge
  • 24 – 25 May: The Battle of Bellewaarde Ridge

Following heavy casualties, in June 1915 the battalion merged with the 1/6th to become the 6/8th then it returned to its original identity 11 August 1915.  During this time, the Division was involved in another action, 16 June at Bellewaarde before moving south to the Messines area, then to Armentieres sector and then was posted back to the Ypres Salient.

The 151st Brigade was joined by:

  • 1/5th (Cumberland) Battalion, the Border Regiment joined December 1915
  • 151st Machine Gun Company [MGC] formed 6 February 1916
  • 150th Trench Mortar Battery formed 18 June 1916 [13]

Private J. Barclay may have been transferred to the MGC in February 1916. [14]

In 1916, the 50th Division was involved in the 6th 7th and 8th phases of the Battle of the Somme:

  • 15 – 22 September: The Battle of Flers-Courcelette
  • 25 – 28 September: The Battle of Morval,
  • 1 – 18 October: The Battle of Le Transloy.

In 1917, it was involved in the 1st and 2nd phases of the Arras Offensive: 

  • 9 – 14 April 1917: The First Battle of the Scarpe,
  • 23 – 24 April 1917:  The Second Battle of the Scarpe

And the 8th phase of the Third Battle of Ypres:

  • 26 October – 10 November 1917: The Second Battle of Passchendeale.

In the Spring of 1918, the Division was heavily involved in action against the German Offensive:

  • 21 – 23 March: The Battle of St. Quentin
  • 25 March: The Actions at the Somme Crossing
  • 26 – 27 March: The Battle of Rosieres

And the 2 battles, known as the Battle of the Lys:

  • 9 – 11 April: The Battle of Estaires
  • 12 – 15 April: The Battle of Hazelbrouck

Following a most trying time on the Somme and the Lys battlefields, the Division was withdrawn and sent to IX Corps then on the Aisne, believed to be a much quieter area.  Unfortunately, this was not to be the case and the Division was hit hard by another German attack.

  • 27 May – 6 June: The Battle of the Aisne [15]

After suffering particularly heavy casualties while on the Aisne, the Division was substantially reorganised. Other units joined in 1918:

  • 1/5th Battalion, DLI joined February 1918
  • 6th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers joined July 1918
  • 1st Battalion, the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, joined July 1918
  • 4th Battalion, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps joined July 1918

Following the German Spring Offensive, it was reduced to cadre strength in July 1918 and transferred to Lines of Communication. [16]

The exact service history of Serjeant J. Barclay is unknown.  The above is an indication of engagements of his division and it is assumed that he took part in many, if not all, of these events unless he was wounded for any significant period of time.  It is remarkable that he came through these events.  Sjt. J. Barclay arrived home on leave 1 December 1918. [17] Further research will take place to clarify his service history.

Serjeant John Barclay, MGC was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, the British War and Victory medals.[18]

Death and Burial

24313 Serjeant John Barclay, 50th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps [Infantry] died 14 December 1918 at 15 William Street, Penrith.  The cause of death was influenza, pneumonia, acute delirium and exhaustion.  His father William Barclay was present at his death.[19] He was 29 years old, buried in his home town of Penrith, Cumbria in the town cemetery. [20] The epidemic of pneumonia known as “Spanish Flu” ravaged the country, Europe and the world during 1918 and 1919.


24313 Serjeant John Barclay is recorded on the West Auckland War Memorial and the Roll of Honour in West Auckland Memorial Hall and commemorated on the Penrith War Memorial [to check] and the Roll of Honour, Queen Elizabeth Grammar School.


[1] Death certificate dated 14 December 1918 signed by Dr H. Walter Walton. RCP

[2] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[3] 1891, 1901 & 1911 census

[4] Harry Moses email dated 11 March 2018

[5] 1911 census Bede Training College for School Masters, Durham

[6] Absent Voters List: Bishop Auckland Division Parish of West Auckland

[7] Death certificate dated 14 December 1918 signed by Dr H. Walter Walton. RCP and Harry Moses email dated 11 March 2018.

[8] Medal Roll card index

[9] AVL Bishop Auckland Division Parish of West Auckland

[10] CWGC



[13] http://www.1914-1918.net50div.htm

[14] He could have been promoted by this time


[16] http://www.1914-1918.net50div.htm

[17] Harry Moses email dated 11 March 2018

[18] Medal Roll card index

[19] Death certificate dated 14 December 1918 signed by Dr H. Walter Walton. RCP

[20] Commonwealth War Graves Commission