Major Thomas Hubert Barclay

Thomas Hubert Barclay © Westcott Local History Group

Thank you to Westcott Local History Group for allowing Dorking Museum to publish their First World War research.

Thomas Hubert Barclay was born in 1884, the second son of Laura Barclay and the late Robert Barclay of Bury Hill. Known as Tom, he grew up at Bury Hill. Educated at Harrow and Cambridge he joined the Surrey (Queen Mary’s Regiment) Yeomanry and was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant on 17 July 1908. He landed in France with 1st/1st Surrey Yeomanry on 22 December 1914 and his Squadron saw service with the 27th Division in France, Belgium and Salonika.

In April 1917 Tom Barclay, by then a Major, came home on leave and was returning to Salonika on the troopship SS Transylvania, escorted by the Japanese destroyers Matsu and Sakaki. The ship left Marseilles on 3rd May and at 10.00 am the following day was hit by a torpedo fired by the German U-boat U-63. At the time the ship was about 21/2 miles south of Cape Vado near Savona, in the Gulf of Genoa. The Matsu came alongside the Transylvania and was able to take on a substantial number of troops while the Sakaki circled to force the submarine to stay submerged. Twenty minutes later a second torpedo was seen coming towards the Matsu which saved herself by going astern at full speed. The torpedo hit the Transylvania which sank very quickly.

Major Barclay got clear of the ship. He was a good swimmer and could have saved himself but chose to stay in the water to help others. He and Captain R.A. Hill swam alongside a raft bearing three men who could not swim. They tried to support the men; twice the raft capsized in the very rough sea and they were able to right it, but it capsized again and this time the men disappeared. Capt. Hill was picked up unconscious. Major Barclay was rescued by an Italian tug after being in the water for 3 1/2 hours, but died from exhaustion. He was posthumously awarded the Board of Trade Silver Medal for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea.

The Transylvania was carrying some 3000 officers and men at the time of the incident; 29 officers and 373 men were lost. Major Barclay was buried with full military honours at Savona. His grave is inside the church next to that of the Captain of the Transylvania. The cemetery has a special plot containing the graves of 82 other victims whose bodies were recovered and a memorial to 275 others who were lost but have no grave.

Born Bury Hill, Westcott, Surrey
Lived Bury Hill, Westcott, Surrey
Son of Laura Charlotte Rachel Barclay of ‘Hurst Lea’, Albury Heath, Surrey,
and the late Robert Barclay of Bury Hill, Westcott
Brother of George Eric Barclay
Regiment 1st/1st Battalion. Queen Mary’s Regiment. Surrey Yeomanry
Date of Death 24th May 1917
Place of Death At sea near Savona, Gulf of Genoa
Cause of Death Died of exhaustion after saving fellow soldiers off the coast of Italy
Age 33
Cemetery Savona Town Cemetery, Italy

The following article appeared in The Dorking Advertiser on 11th January 1918

Dorking Advertiser 11th January 2018 Pt. 1

Dorking Advertiser 11th January 2018 Pt. 2

Dorking Advertiser 11th January 2018 Pt. 3

Dorking Advertiser 11th January 2018 Pt. 4

 
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