Can You Help? On the Trail of a WWII Soldier from Leeds

This week we hear from Dirk Paagman, who is searching for a photograph and further details about William George McClelland, a Leeds soldier who died during World War II. Dirk got in touch with us at the Local and Family History department to see if we could find anything in the local newspapers of the time. That search proved fruitless, so we’ve turned the enquiry over to readers of this blog. Dirk’s original e-mail is reprinted below (incorporating some additional information from a second e-mail and some images from our collections)…

Dutch Topographic map of the municipality of Schijndel, June 2015 (from Wikipedia)

My name is Dirk Paagman, I am a teacher of history at Maurick College, in Vught, Holland. I was born in Schijndel where many relatives and friends of mine currently live. I have been writing a book for two years now on the liberation of Schijndel during World War II.

The book consist of two parts. First of all, it is about American paratroopers of the first and third battalion of the 501 Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division who landed on the moorlands of Schijndel during Operation Market Garden, 17 September 1944. The objective of the 501 PIR was to defend the bridges in Veghel and make sure the corridor was safe. The 501 PIR fought very hard in the vicinity of Veghel and they went to Schijndel on 22 and 23 September to fight against the Germans (among which the 59th German division). The second part of the story is about the 51st Highland Division. That division took the American lines over in October 1944 near Veghel and attacked Schijndel on 23 October 1944, during Operation Colin, as a part of Operation Pheasant, with the following objective: to liberate the rest of the South of the Netherlands.

Operation Colin was a part of Operation Pheasant to liberate the area between Veghel, Schijndel and Sint Oedenrode to ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Tilburg and to the river Maas in the South of the Netherlands. One of the fighting units (a regiment of the 51st Highland Division) was the 5th Queen Own Cameron Highlanders.

They were given the task of taking the German positions west of Schijndel from midnight at the small village of Wijbosch. It became a bloody affair. Of the four attacking companies, eleven British troops were killed and 60 men were severely wounded, of whom unfortunately more men died from their injuries within a few days. One of the officers who was attacking the German positions at Schijndel was Lance Corporal William George McClelland , son of G.T. and Margered A. McClelland. He was 33 years old when he died (near the railroad by bullets of a German machine-gun, leading the attack) and he was buried with his 11 friends at a farm near the village of Sint Oedenrode. He received a temporary field grave until 1946. Then he was reburied at the Uden War Cemetery in Uden. In the appendix of my book I have some unique photos of his field grave.

Entry in the Parish Register for Hunslet Parish Church (St. Mary the Virgin), showing William George’s marriage to Emily Silcock in February of 1936
1864. This interior image of St. Mary the Virgin is taken when the Parish Church was newly built in 1864. It replaced the 17th Century Chapel at a cost of £8,000. The architects messrs. Perkins and Backhouse of Leeds, chose the Early Decorated Style for St. Mary’s and it was built in Sandstone. (Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net.)

William George was born in 1910 and killed in action on the 23th of October 1944. He married somewhere between January and March 1936 to Emily Silcock. They lived at 21 Alton Place, off Jack Lane, Hunslet, South Leeds and they had a daughter, Rita, born in October or December 1936. Rita married Maurice Haigh Barker, sometime between October and December of 1957 (he was born 21 April 1934). In turn, Rita and Maurice had a daughter, Michelle, born between October and December of 1962. Maurice died in May 1998 and Rita died on the 10th of December in 2010 (in Brighouse).

Alton Place, Nos. 15-21, 21st December 1960. Image shows four double fronted back-to-back terraced houses with Cross Alton Street on the far right. On the left is the entrance to the shared outside toilet block. Empty spaces have been left in the brick wall to create a vent for smells this is visible at the top of the wall on the far left. (Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net.)
C.1932 OS map showing the area of Hunslet in which William George lived. Alton Place is just to the right of the School that can be seen at the top of the image.

I would like to ask you if you can help me to find a photo of William McClelland. I would really like to know what he looked like. It would be an honor if I could incorporate his photo and his story in my book about the liberation of Schijndel. Can you help me with looking for family members or photos? It would be of a great historical importance to visualize the story by showing the men who actually liberated Schijndel.

*****

If you can contribute to Dirk’s search, please let us know at the Central Library by calling us on 0113 37 86982, or by e-mailing us at localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk. You can also contact Dirk directly at D.Paagman@maurickcollege.nl.  

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