Today we remember local man Arthur Clarke of Bourne, who died of wounds on the 9th May 1915, serving with the 2nd Bn East Surrey Regiment.
Arthur was born in 1893 in Drakelow near Burton-on-Trent, Derbyshire, to Joseph Clark, a shepherd born 1861 in Mickleover and his wife Hannah Hall, born 1868 in Coton Park.
The couple were married in 1887 in Stapenhall and had 4 children all born in Derbyshire,
Joseph Edward Clarke, 1889, Stapenhill
William Clarke, 1892, Stapenhill
Arthur Edwin Clarke, 1893, Drakelow
Sarah Clarke, 1896, Drakelow
Hannah passed away in 1898 leaving Joseph looking after the 4 children.
In 1901 Arthur is living with his father at 7 Robinsons Road, Newhall, Derbyshire. Joseph was working as a pipe yard worker (earth).
Arthur left home and can be found 10 years later working as a Horseman on a farm in Yaxley near Peterborough and living with Leonard Slate and his wife Martha.
At this time his father Joseph had gone back to working as a shepherd and looks to have remarried, to his former Housekeeper Harriet. They were living with his Daughter Sarah in Warmington near Oundle. Although it is possible that they did not get married until 1930 in Bourne as this is the only marriage certificate on record for the couple.
Both Arthur Edwin Clarke and his brother Joseph Edward Clarke joined the Army. Joseph served in the Leicestershire Regiment as a lance corporal and was killed in action on 24th November 1914.
After the end of the war father Joseph can be found living in Bourne. The CWGC records state Son of “Joseph and Hannah Clarke of 23 Eastgate” but we believe this is a mistake and he is living at this address with Harriet.
Arthur’s full army service cannot be found and it is most likely it, along with 60% of all WW1 service records, was part of the records destroyed in the warehouse fire in London caused by the Blitz.
In this case it is difficult to track Arthur’s exact movements in the Army but using other records it is possible to put together some basic information and then follow his final movements through the Battalion Diary.
The regimental number given to Arthur on enlistment is 3100, this does not help work out when he enlisted because this number, when referenced to the 2nd East Surrey Regiment would indicate an enlistment date of 1890 which was before Arthur was born, indication that maybe he enlisted with a different regiment.
The soldier’s effects form shows that Arthur’s father Joseph received £3/-/- war gratuity which is a standard minimum sum. The payment of the minimum sum means that it is not possible to calculate an enlistment date from this record.
All we can really say is that he enlisted into possibly the East Surrey Regiment and definitely in Peterborough.
This is not so strange as prior to the 1881 reformation of the British army regiments, the 1st Battalion East Surrey Regiment had been the 31st (The Huntingdonshire) Regiment of Foot, so it may be likely that they still had a recruiting presence in the area or the recruiting officer favoured his old regiment.
We believe that this enlistment was on the outbreak of war in August as hospital documents from March 1915 would indicate that he had been serving for 6 months.
The 2nd Battalion East Surrey Regiment had previously arrived in Harve, France on the 19th January 1915. Up to the time of reorganising for the war the Battalion had been stationed in Chaubattia India, only arriving in Devonport on the 23rd December. The Battalion saw its first action around Ypres where they sustained their first casualty of the war on the 4th February.
Arthur was posted to join them, arriving in France on the 23rd February 1915 according to the medal roles. The reason for his delay was not known although it is still possible that this was because he was still training and was then assigned to the Battalion.
He would have arrived in the Ypres area to join the Battalion, who had been moved just south to Kemmel. They were in trenches until he 26th February when they were relived and moved to billets in Locre.
The Battalion Diary reports that on the 1st March 1915 they received a draft of three officers and three hundred and thirty men and Three days later 46 sick and wounded men from base also returned to the Battalion. Then on the 4th March two companies of the Battalion took up a line in trenches between Lindenhoek and Scotch Farm which would have been Arthur’s first taste of front line duty. The next day the two remaining companies took over the line relieving the first two. In these two days the Battalion suffered two killed and one wounded. This exchange of companies went on and during this time the Battalion Headquarters moved from Lindenhoek to Scotch Farm and then a second move of 200 yards West to Pond farm.
On the 12th March the Battalion was ordered to attack Spanbroek Molen in the early hours but heavy mist postponed this to 4.10pm and then E1 trench was heavily bombarded by our own artillery. It was fair to say that the attack was unsuccessful.
This tour of the trenches was meant to have ended on the 14th March however an enemy attack at St Eloi occurred and all planned reliefs were cancelled. Arthur and the Battalion eventually were relieved on the 16th and made it back to Billets at Locre at 11.30pm after 13 days in the trenches.
The next day the diary reports the losses for that tour:-
Officers: 7 killed, 3 wounded.
Other ranks: 42 killed, 84 wounded, 7 missing.
Draft of 117 men arrived.
Arthur had only been with the Battalion in the field for three weeks when he fell ill on the 20th March in Locre. He was admitted from a sick convoy into the 4th Stationary Hospital at St Omer on the 21st March. After initial treatment for diarrhoea, he was transferred to Ambulance train no 9, according to the hospital register. This ambulance train arrived in St Omer at 3.45pm on the 25th March and was loaded with evacuation cases. The train then proceeded to Boulogne, where it unloaded some of the cases before heading off to Le Treport with the remaining cases.
Any other hospital documents have yet to be found and so we are not sure if Arthur was an evacuation case or if the ended up in hospital at Boulogne or more likely at Le Treport.
Eventually Arthur must have re-joined his Battalion, although as the date is not known we will then look at Arthur’s movements through the Battalion diaries for the week leading up to his death.
3rd May 1915 –
85th Brigade withdrawn from Trenches on new line through Frazenberg being taken up. Brigade operation order no 30 attached. Battalion Headquarters and A company left Verlorenhoek at 8pm and reached bivouac S.E. of Brielen at 10.30pm. B and C companies arrived about 2am and D company about 4am. Casualties 4 wounded. Draft 77 men arrived
4th May 1915 –
At 10am Battalion left for billets one mile East of Poperinghe.
5th May 1915 – Poperinghe
Battalion in billets. Inspected by Divisional Commander Maj Gen E.S. Bulfin C.V.O. C.B.
6th May 1915 – Poperinghe
Battalion in billets. Inspected by Corps Commander Lieut Gen Sir H Plummer K.C.B
7th May 1915 – Poperinghe
Battalion in billets. 2nd Lieut F Watson reported his arrival. Battalion standing to owing to enemy’s activity on 28th Divisional Front.
8th May 1915 – Poperinghe – Potijze – Verlorenhoek
Battalion left at 11am and prceeded to Headquarters 83rd Brigade East of Ypres and received orders to move astride the Ypres-Zonnebeke road and retake the 83rd Brigade trenches at Frazenberg moving on left of York and Lancaster Regiment with one company South and three companies North of the road. The Battalion moved forward through the G H Q line East of Potijze and deployed after passing through gap in entanglement in front line.
At 4pm Battalion advanced. On reaching road running South East from Weltje machine gun fire from farm on left front caused many casualties. The enemy shelling was also severe.
A Company south of the road advanced and reinforced East Yorkshires in trench West of Verlorenhoek but could not advance further. The companies on the north of the road advanced and were held up by the enemy entrenched on line running N and S through Verlorenhoek.
At 7.15pm information was received that Warwicks and Dublins were deploying for attack and should advance about 7.30pm.
About 8.30pm Warwicks advanced but did not go beyond line held by Battalion.
9th May 1915 – Verlorenhoek
A further advance by whole line was arranged for 12.45am. All arrangements were made for this and 5/Kings Own advanced to Verlorenhoek but retired on heavy rifle and machine gun fire being opened. As no movement appeared to be taking place on our left no advance was made and it was eventually reported that the advance had been cancelled and that Battalion would hold the line they were then holding. On proceeding to Brigade Office this was confirmed.
The Battalion remained on the same line throughout ninth May although heavily bombarded during the afternoon.
Casualties during the 8th to noon 9th,
Killed: 2nd Lieut Hon R.H.P. Howard, 2nd Lieut Watson and 12 other ranks.
Wounded: Capt R.E. North, Capt M.J.A Jourdier Lieut C.S. Lonegran and 2nd Lieut F.C Walliker and 89 other ranks.
During the night A Company moved to North of road.
10th May 1915 – Verlorenhoek
Casualties to noon 10th
Killed: Capt H de B Riordan and 17 other ranks
Wounded: 2nd Lieut H Lonegran and 40 other ranks
Missing 44 other ranks.
During the night Battalion took up line S of road on left of 85th Brigade which reached from railway to Ypres-Zonnebeke road. Our line taken by 83rd Brigade.
It was during the 9th May that Private Arthur Clarke was reported as having died of wounds. The exact point time and date of his wound will probably never be known but is most likely to have been on the afternoon of the 8th when the Battalion were trying to make an advance.
The Casualty list of the 24th July 1915 lists Arthur as being wounded or missing as reported from Base on the 9th July. We are aware that sometimes these reports took some time to compile and that it is typical to appear on reports 6 weeks after the death.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
In memory of Private Arthur Edwin Clarke, 3100, 2nd Bn., East Surrey Regiment who died on 9 May 1915 Age 21. Son of Joseph and Hannah Clarke, of 23, Eastgate, Bourne, Lincs. Remembered with honour, Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
Arthur Clarke is also remembered on the Bourne, Roll of Honour in Bourne Abbey Church and the Bourne War Memorial in the Memorial Gardens.