Sgt. William Beattie
William "Willie" Beattie began his footballing career with Rutherglen Glencairn in the late 1930s. He joined Clyde FC on the eve of WWII and, in 1944, took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy in the days following D-Day.
Here, Clyde FC historians Gordon Sydney and Gordon Mason, inspired by the discovery of a long-forgotten memorial plaque, trace the footballing and wartime history of the only Clyde player to lose his life in WWII.
Above, photograph of the Rutherglen Glencairn team which won the Scottish Junior Cup in 1939. William Beattie is second from the right in the front row.
Photo is from the Sunday Post, 21st May 1939.
William Beattie is a name largely forgotten amongst Clyde supporters, but he deserves to be held up amongst the most significant players to have played for the famous white jersey. Born and brought up in Glasgow, his football abilities were noted by Rutherglen Glencairn, and he went on to be part of the Glencairn team that won the Scottish Junior Cup in 1939. Meanwhile Scottish Cup holders Clyde had their eyes on him, as had Tranmere Rovers amongst others, but William Beattie duly signed for the Bully Wee on the 12th of June 1939.
From a footballing perspective his appearances in the first team were sporadic, but for a reason, as we shall see. Anyway, he started with a cracking debut at inside right against Celtic at Celtic Park on the 2nd of September 1939. Clyde were on top for the first half, during which time “Martin, Beattie and Robertson throughout kept the Celtic defence on the stretch”. Just after the break Celtic scored what was to be the winning goal, but in his summing up the Glasgow Herald reporter mentioned three Celtic players – Kelly, O’Neill and Telford – and one Clyde player. Beattie, he says, showed “coolness, skill and judgement”.
However, less than 24 hours after William’s debut, as the nation listened in on the wireless, Neville Chamberlain gravely announced that the German nation, under Herr Hitler, had not responded to his ultimatum, “and consequently this country is at war with Germany.”
Left, plaque erected at Shawfield Stadium to the memory of Sgt. William Beattie.
Image courtesy of Gordon Sydney
Football reacted by abandoning season 1939-40, so the five league matches or so each team had played in August and September – the Celtic game highlighted above was Clyde’s fifth league match - were declared null and void. Clyde were second bottom of the league. A new regionalised set-up was created and sanctioned, thus it was the 21st of October before anything approaching league competition was underway again, although Glasgow Cup ties were played in the interim.
By this time, though, recruits were flooding into the armed services, and William Beattie was one such recruit. By the 15th of September, less than two weeks after his Clyde debut, William was in an enlistment office being posted to the Highland Light Infantry (City of Glasgow Regiment). His enlistment documents furnish us with some details. He was 5'7", a slim 9st 8lbs, with dark hair and brown eyes, and he had a number of scars around his ankles and fingers, possibly showing that he was on the end of some rough treatment during his playing days.
Four months training followed, during which he may have been based at the training camp on Dechmont Hill in Cambuslang. During this initial training period opportunities for playing senior football were scarce, however William did manage to squeeze a few games in.
On the 18th of November he played his second game for the Bully Wee. Clyde were in what was termed the Western Division, thus it was that we journeyed down to Somerset Park to play Ayr United, however the net result this time was the same as the Celtic match in that we lost by a single goal.
Above, Gordon Sydney (L) and Gordon Mason with William Beattie's memorial plaque.
Image courtesy of Gordon Mason
Whilst William Beattie lined up at inside left, it was Willie Martin - who was also to take an active part in the war, this time in the Navy – that gave us the lead at half time. Despite Martin scoring a second goal, we went down by the odd goal in five.
Two days before Christmas 1939 William played his next match for the Clyde first team, this time it was his home debut at Shawfield against Queen of the South. The match finished level, with Ralph Agnew and Willie Martin scoring for the Clyde.
Next up was a match against Kilmarnock on the 13th of January 1940, where William Beattie finally played for a winning Clyde team. The match was played down at Rugby Park, which itself was soon to be part of the war effort – as a munitions dump. The Bully Wee won by two goals to one that day, with Malcolm McLaren and Dougie Wallace scoring our goals.
This victory wasn’t the only significant event to impact William in that cold month of January, as he found himself posted to the newly formed 2nd Battalion Glasgow Highlanders. The battalion initially saw service at home, serving on the anti-aircraft batteries of 'Bomb Alley', the route over south east England taken by German bombers and V1 rockets during the Blitz of London. His battalion was later moved to postings in Felixstowe and then Northumberland. Finally on the 6th June 1944, the D-Day invasion brought an opportunity to turn the tables in the war with Germany
Born into a mining family in Moodiesburn in 1918, William Beattie married Jean Siberry and they lived at 138 Farmeloan Road, Rutherglen, circled in red on the 1955 Ordnance Survey map below. The tenement flats at that address are no longer there. Where those flats were is now the landscaped area across the road from the premises of Reface Scotland.
Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
However, between January 1940 and June 1944 William was still a Clyde player, and a couple of times, when he was home on leave, opportunities arose for him to play for the first team again.
Friday the 12th of April 1940 afforded one such opportunity, and it was local, with Clyde meeting Third Lanark at Cathkin Park. Two first half goals from Alex Taylor and Harry Beaton, this one from the spot, gave us a good platform to build on in the second half. Despite a resurgence from Third’s, where they themselves scored a couple, another goal from Taylor and an own goal from Jimmy Carabine gave the Bully Wee a 4-2 victory.
William’s footballing abilities were also noted by the Army on at least one occasion, when he was included in an Army XI to play Southend United in mid-September 1940.
A gap of over eighteen months ensued before William was back in Rutherglen, for his marriage to Jean Siberry, and maybe less significantly, he was able to play his sixth game for Clyde. The date [for the game] was the 13th of December 1941, and Motherwell provided the opposition at Shawfield in this Southern League fixture.
Again there was another significant gap between William’s appearances for the Bully Wee, this time we have to move forward to the 28th of August 1943 for William’s final appearance for the Bully Wee. Where William had made his Clyde debut at Celtic Park, his final match was at Ibrox. Between these games he had played for Clyde at Cathkin Park and of course Shawfield, and since he had played at Hampden for Rutherglen Glencairn in the Scottish Junior Cup Final, this match gave him the complete set of Glasgow senior grounds.
The match was a close-run thing, with Rangers unbeaten run seeming in danger from a very good Clyde side. Clyde’s Alex Taylor scored the first goal conceded by Rangers thus far in the season, and Dougie Wallace doubled our lead. Rangers. though, came back to equalise, then a penalty three minutes from time won the game for them. Sadly, William Beattie had played his seventh and last match for Clyde.
D-Day was the 2nd of June 1944, and the 2nd Glasgow were part of a larger force assigned to go in and capture the port of Caen once the beach-head had been established.
Right, John McMahon, JP, Chairman of Clyde FC and Nicol McLaren of the Clyde Supporters Association at the unveiling of the William Beattie memorial plaque at Shawfield in November 1946.
Image credit: Rutherglen Reformer
The force left England on the 17th, but they were unable to land until the 24th, having spent a traumatic week aboard ship during a channel storm. They were sent into action on the morning of June 26th when the opening manoeuvre was to take the village of Cheux.
The 2nd Glasgow were centre stage. Flanked by the Cameronians on their right, and the Seaforths on their left, William and his comrades were up against the crack German 12th Panzer Division. Following up on a heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of the German positions then taking out several sniper positions, they began their advance at 7.30am supported by tanks and a few armoured troop carriers. One of these was destroyed as they progressed through an orchard laid out as a minefield.
This item appeared in a 1946 edition of the Rutherglen Reformer
SUPPORTERS'S CLUBS GET TOGETHER
An interesting benefit match between the supporters clubs of both Celtic and Clyde is to be staged at Shawfield Park on Tuesday 27th. August on behalf of the William Beattie Memorial Fund. Beattie, a former Glencairn and Clyde player, made the supreme sacrifice during the war, and in honour of his memory the Clyde Supporters' Club with the kind consent of the Clyde directors and widow of William Beattie, hope to place a plaque in the players' quarters. Both supporters' associations, we are assured by Mr. J. C. Gillan of the Clyde Association "are putting all they have into this game to make it the success that such a worthy cause deserves."
Under heavy mortar and machine gun fire, they broke through to the village before fighting house to house. By 9.30am they had taken the village, but at a cost - 3 officers and 19 other ranks were killed, whilst 6 officers and 178 other men were either wounded or missing. William was one of the 'high percentage' who succumbed to their wounds. He died later that day (26th June 1944) and is buried in Bayeux War Cemetery.
Back home, he is named is on the War Memorial in Rutherglen. Both follow convention by crediting him to the regiment with which he enlisted.
Above, Sgt. William Beattie's name appears on Rutherglen's War Memorial (inset). He was one of ten local men who died in WWII while serving with the Highland Light Infantry.
Photo: Carrick McDonald
Our plaque associates him with the 2nd Glasgow, with whom he had the bulk of his service. He was issued with a number of campaign medals, The War Medal, Defence Medal, the France and Germany Star, and the 1939-45 Star.
He was the only Clyde player to lose his life in World War II and as a result the Clyde Supporters Association held a fund raising match against Celtic fans at Shawfield to provide a memorial. On Sunday 11th November 1946, a short service was held in the boardroom at Shawfield.
The memorial plaque was unveiled by club Chairman John McMahon with William’s friends and family in attendance.
NB. As far as we know there is no relationship between the William Beattie we write about in this article to the Billy Beattie that played with Clyde in the late sixties and early seventies.
© 2023 Gordon Sydney and Gordon Mason/Rutherglen Heritage Society.
Many thanks to Gordon Sydney and Gordon Mason for sharing with us the story of William Beattie and for providing the images included in the article.
Links and further information
History of Clyde FC from the club's website. Click here
Rutherglen Reformer article from 2013 about the discovery of the William Beattie memorial plaque. Click here
Associated articles on this website
Blog: Commonwealth War Graves Commission tour of Rutherglen Cemetery, November 2021. Click here
Rutherglen Old Parish Church: see section about Pte. James Richardson VC. Click here
Cpl. Robert H. Robertson's 'Dead Man's Penny'. Click here
Sgt. John Brown Wishart, DCM. Click here
The Burgh Cup. Click here