William John Parkes

Content warning: This article contains a graphic image of the dead body of Staff Sergeant Major William John Parkes, which some readers may find upsetting.

Staff Sergeant Major

William John Parkes

2717391

Staff Sergeant Major William John Parkes was one the first men of the Irish Guards to die in the Operation Market Garden advance into the Netherlands in September 1944.

Staff Sergeant Major William John Parkes (2717391) served in No. 3 Squadron, 2nd (Armoured) Irish Guards during World War Two. Born in 1911, he was the son of Joseph Parkes and Esther W Parkes of Belfast, Co. Antrim.

He died in Valkenswaard, Netherlands on 17th September 1944. His unit was on an advance towards Eindhoven as part of Operation Market Garden. The tank gunner from Belfast, Co. Antrim was 33 years old. Fire from a German tank took out Parkes’ Sherman.

Tanks of the Irish Guards

Imperial War Museum Photo: BU 925 (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection). Sherman tanks of the Irish Guards Group advance past others previously knocked out on the advance to Eindhoven as part of Operation Market Garden. Photo taken on 17th September 1944 by Sergeant Carpenter - No. 5 Army Film and Photographic Unit.

William John Parkes may have been one of the first Irish Guards killed in the Netherlands advance. The Guards themselves were the first to cross the Dutch border at around 1435hrs on 17th September 1944.

A leading group of 16 tanks commanded by Lieutenant Keith Heathcote drove in from Neerpelt, Belgium. They came up against an ambush from German paratroopers of two kampfgruppen that had taken over a farmhouse.

Body of William John Parkes

Imperial War Museum Photo: BU 927 (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection). Staff Sergeant Major William John Parkes of No. 3 Squadron, 2nd Irish Guards killed when his Sherman tank was knocked out during the advance towards Eindhoven as part of Operation Market Garden. Photo taken on 17th September 1944 by Sergeant Carpenter - No. 5 Army Film and Photographic Unit.

Many of the tankmen died in this initial assault. 9 British Shermans fell to German Panzers. Parkes died trying to escape the turret of his stricken tank. Sergeant Carpenter of No. 5 Army Film and Photographic Unit photographed the Staff Sergeant Major’s body slumped in the turret. Later in the day, William’s brother passed down the same road with 3rd Battalion Irish Guards past his brother’s body.

Staff Sergeant Major William John Parkes’ grave is in Section II, Row B, Grave 8 of the Valkenswaard, War Cemetery, Netherlands. His headstone bears the inscription:

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

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