Friends of the Somme - Mid Ulster Branch  
6986237   Private Thomas James (Tot) Barker
Save as PDF
Dated added: 30/12/2015   Last updated: 13/10/2020
Personal Details
Regiment/Service: Special Air Service Regiment (British Army)
Died: 08/08/1944 (Prisoner of War)
Age: 20
Private Tot Barker was born in 1924 and the son of John & Florence Barker, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. Prior to enlistment Tot worked with Messrs David Anderson & Son Grocers, Cookstown. At the age of 17 he joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. A month before his 18th birthday he transferred to the Royal Ulster Rifles. He later became a paratrooper with the 6th Airborne Division and finally joined the Special Air Service. On the night of 4th July 1944 a unit of paratroopers was taken prisoner and executed on the 8th.
Private Thomas James (Tot) Barker
Further Information
Thomas James Barker was the son of John and Florence Barker of Cookstown, County Tyrone. Thomas was born about 1924.
Known family: John Barker, Florence Barker, Florence Reace Barker (born 28th June 1919), Evelyn Barker, Louis Barker, Thomas James Barker (born about 1924).
Thomas’ father, John Barker, died on 31st July 1925. Thomas would have been a baby.
Prior to enlistment Thomas worked with David Anderson & Son who were grocers in Cookstown. The 1910 Street Directory describes Andersons as provision dealers and agricultural seed merchants based in William Street.
At the age of 17, around 1941, he joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
Photo of Thomas James Barker
A month before his 18th birthday he transferred to the Royal Ulster Rifles.
The following letter was written by Tot whilst serving with the Royal Ulster Rifles addressed to his sister, Mrs Evelyn Nelson and her husband Lowry. It refers to the death of their daughter, Avril Nelson.
‘To my dear sister Evelyn, and Lowry, I got your telegram on Thursday evening and honestly I am very sorry for your trouble. I still can’t believe it. Lowry if you are reading this letter will you write and let me know how Evelyn is doing. I know Evelyn and you are in a very bad state but I know you are a man and that you will be better than Evelyn so you can let me know about you and Evelyn. I hope you got my telegram all right. I had to get a fellow to send it, as I was out on a school and didn’t get back until Saturday evening. I tried to get home but the adjutant wouldn’t let me as we are all going home in January on leave. I can’t believe that wee Avril is away. The last time I saw her was in our house when I was going back the last time and she was laughing and I feel like crying when I’m writing this letter. Will you give me a photo of wee Avril when I go home Lowry because I never liked a kid as much as I liked wee Avril. I’m getting on fine. So dear Evelyn and Lowry, I’ll close now wishing that you are well and hope that you will soon be happy again. From your ever loving brother, and brother in law Tot. P.S. Write soon and let me know how you’re getting on.’
Private Thomas Barker later became a paratrooper with the 6th Airborne Division and finally joined the Special Air Service where he was under the command of Colonel Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne.
On the night of 4/5th July 1944, a unit of paratroopers commanded by Captain Pat Garstin were dropped south of Paris behind the German lines. Their mission was to damage German aircraft on French airfields and to blow up ammunition dumps. Somewhere along the line a wrong signal was given and the Germans were ready and waiting for them. It was later revealed that they were betrayed by some locals.
The party of soldiers were taken prisoner. Tot Barker and Captain Garstin were wounded and taken to hospital. The five remaining soldiers were taken to Gestapo Headquarters in Paris. All were horribly tortured prior to Tot Barker and Captain Garstin being reunited with their colleagues on the night of 7th/8th August.
On the 8th August they were told they were going to be exchanged for German agents and were being transferred to Switzerland. After midnight they were taken to a field of the roadside near the village of Noailles. The soldiers were dressed in civilian clothes and all were handcuffed. Just outside Beauvais they were taken to a wood and put before a firing squad. Captain Garstin whispered to his comrades that when he shouted they were to make their dash for freedom. When the Gestapo stated that they had been condemned to death and were to be shot, French soldier Serge Vaculik escaped as Captain Garstin gave the command. They all started running except for Captain Garstin.
Private Thomas Barker was serving with the 1st Special Air Service Regiment, part of the Army Air Corps (A.A.C.) when he was killed on 9th August near Beauvais in France.
Two men escaped but Trooper Thomas (Tot) Barker and four others were killed. The five men who were killed were:
bullet 6986237 Private Thomas James ‘Tot’ Barker, Cookstown
bullet 95531 Captain Patrick Bannister Garstin, Cork
bullet 7019954 Private Joseph Walker, Moira
bullet 7018947 Private William Pearson Young, Randalstown
bullet 811752 Sergeant Thomas Varey, York, England
Those who escaped were taken into care by the French Resistance and eventually sent back to British lines.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 30th September 1944: Reported Missing
BARKER – Reported missing 5th July 1944. Trooper Thomas James (Tot) Barker, S.A.S., youngest son of the late John Barker and Mrs Barker, Oldtown Street, Cookstown.
The French people from the nearby village later erected a memorial near the spot where they were murdered.
In February 1947, at the War Crimes at Wuppertal, Germany, six S.S. men were found guilty of murder, the two witnesses were Serge Vaculik and Ginger Jones. Four were hanged and two imprisoned.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated Saturday 11th August 1945: Roll of Honour
BARKER – In loving memory of my dear son and our dear brother, Trooper Thomas James (Tot) Barker, 1st S.A.S. Regiment, killed in action 9th August 1944, and buried in Marrissel, Beauvais, France.
‘He was one of the fearless, one of the brave
And he slumbers now in a hero’s grave
His voice keeps whispering softly
Dear mother be brave and true
At the end of the lane of shadows
I will be waiting there for you.’
Deeply regretted by his sorrowing mother, brothers and sister. Oldtown Street, Cookstown and Castlewellan.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated Saturday 11th August 1945:
BARKER – In loving memory of my dear brother Tot, 1st S.A.S. Regiment, killed in action 9th August 1944, and buried in Marrissel, Beauvais, France. Beautiful memories cherished forever. Ever remembered by his sister and brother-in-law, 4 Sandhurst, Cookstown.
Private Thomas James ‘Tot’ Barker is buried at Marissel French National Cemetery, Oise, France. His grave inscription reads: UNTIL THE DAY BREAK AND THE SHADOWS FLEE AWAY.
Tot Barker's Grave
Serge Vaculik later wrote a number of books detailing his experiences with the S.A.S., two of them being ‘Air Commando’ and ‘Beret Rouge’.
Beret rouge by Serge Vaculik
Private Thomas James Barker is commemorated locally on Cookstown Cenotaph.
Thomas Barker is also commemorated on the family headstone in the grounds of Lissan Church of Ireland. The headstone reads:
BARKER – In loving memory of John Barker died 31st July 1925. His wife Mary Florence, died 11th February 1968. And their son Thomas James, killed in action 9th August 1944. Buried at Beauvais, France. And their daughter Florence Reace Colvin 28th June 1919 – 23rd November 2007 (tbc)
Tot’s brother Louis served with the Royal Ulster Constabulary as a Sergeant at Comber R.U.C. Station for many years. In September 1964 he travelled to France with his wife Eileen and their nephew Thomas (Tot) joined them there to take part in a memorial service commemorating the death of this group of soldiers. The Barker family met one of the survivors, Serge Vaculik.
The CWGC record Private Thomas James Barker as the son of John and Florence Barker, of Cookstown, County Tyrone.
Read more
Relevant Cookstown Area Locations
No Location Region Location Notes Longtitude Latitude
1 William Street Cookstown Central Worked for David Anderson, William Street 54.647450 -6.745131
2 Oldtown Street Cookstown North Newspaper lists parents at Oldtown St 54.649444 -6.745455
3 Lissan COI Churchyard Lissan Listed on family headstone in Lissan COI 54.687902 -6.751599
References and Links
No Link Reference Map Doc
1 1910 Ulster Towns Directory Anderson, D., & Son, grocers, provision dealers, and agricultural seed merchants, William street
2 2nd World War in NI Full details of Private Barker's death
3 Amazon books Air Commando by Serge Vaculik can be purchased here
4 Forum discussion Details of Private Barker's death
5 Serge Vaculik Special Forces Roll Of Honour : Serge Vaculik
6 War Graves Photographic Project Photo of Private Thomas James Barker's grave can be purchased here
7 Wartime NI Details of Grodon Reid and Tot Barker
Cookstown District's War Dead Acknowledgements 2010-2023