Lance Corporal William Percy CLARKE


Regiment/Service:
Sherwood Foresters
(Notts and Derby Regiment)
Unit:
10th Battalion
(Formerly: 4th Battalion)
Service Number:
36724
Date of Death:
20 October 1918 - Killed in Action
Age:
30
Cemetery / Memorial:
Memorial Reference:
Panel 7.

Personal History:
William (known as Percy) was the son of William (Butcher) and Hannah Clarke. He was born in the June quarter 1888 in East Stamford Bridge, Pocklington, Yorkshire. [His Service Papers indicate a birth date of 20th March.] He had an older brother, George James, and a younger sister, Mary Ellen, and a younger brother, John Alfred. (1891 Census RG 12/3899)

In 1901 and 1911 (Censuses RG 13/4050 and RG 14/25893) William's family were living at Raw Gap, Knaresborough, Yorkshire, which is where he gave his residence on joining up (SDGW). His father's occupation in 1911 was listed 'Hostler, Hotel Stables". In 1901 William was living with them and working as a "Draper's Errand Boy".
William had left home by 1911 and was boarding with the Lomas family at 79 Windsor Road, Fairfield, Buxton and working as a 'Shop Assistant (Draper)'. (Census RG 14/21233)

"The Buxton Advertiser", in reporting his death in 1918, suggests that William came to Buxton in about 1903, stating his was "a native of Knaresborough". Also that he was "..in the employ of the late Mr Crabbe, then of Mr Loomes", the former being John  Crabbe, 'Draper', of Spring Gardens, Buxton. (1911 Census). However, the note on the Knaresborough War Memorial website - see below - suggests he had moved back to his hometown by the time of his enlistment in 1915, as does "The Buxton Advertiser", stating William "... had resided in Buxton for about 15 years.". His enlistment papers show that in 1915 William was living at his parents' home at Fairfield, Boroughbridge Road, Knaresborough, and was 5 ft 7 ins (1.71 m.) tall.

Military History:
William enlisted at Buxton, Derbyshire, on the 11th December 1915, although the notes attached to the Knaresborough War Memorial website state that; "William Percy Clarke was living at Fairfield, Boroughbridge Road, Knaresborough when he enlisted on 11th December 1915 at the age of 27 years and 9 months. He was unmarried and working as a draper's assistant. ". His Medal Index Card also gives no indication when he entered the War, which only confirms it was after the end of 1915.

The same source quoted above - the Knaresborough War Memorial website - has William originally enlisting in the 4th (Extra Service) Battalion, Sherwood Foresters but transferred to the 10th Battalion of the same Regiment in March 1917. The 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion was formed in August 1914 in Derby as a depot/training unit. It moved to Sunderland in August 1914 and remained there as part of Tyne Garrison.

The 10th Sherwood Foresters was formed in Derby on 13th September 1914 and allocated to 51st Brigade, 17th (Northern) Division in Kitchener's Second New Army; it remained in that brigade and division for the whole of the war. They trained in England at Lulworth and Wool, and in May 1915 the division moved to the Winchester area for final intensive training.

William's Service Papers show he was initially posted the Reserve before being mobilised on the 29th February 1916. After his medical on the 1st March 1916 he was posted to the 4th Battalion, No. 2 Works Company. On the 29th November 1916 William was posted to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, also a depot/training unit.

"The Buxton Advertiser", in reporting his death, stated that he "..had been in France about 9 months.", indicating a posting in January/February 1918, after his transfer to the 10th Battalion on the 10th March the previous year. However, William's Service Papers show he was posted to France on the 25th February 1917, despite being assessed as short-sighted and: "Not fit for infantry or service abroad", and recommended for the Labour Corps.

Nevertheless, he would have been with his Battalion in time for The First Battle of Passchendaele, 12th October 1917, and The Second Battle of Passchendaele, 26th October - 10th November 1917. The 10th Battalion lost 21 Officers and men killed in the First Battle and 16 in the Second Battle.

In 1918 William would have fought in the First and Second Battles of the Somme, and the Battalion History records William's death as taking place: "whilst attacking the German lines near the River Selle, France". The  Battle of the Selle, 17th - 25th October 1918 was the first phase in what has become known as the final advance in Picardy (17th October - 11th November 1918), becoming one of the last actions prior to the Armistice.

After a period of leave, (20th July - 3rd August 1918) William was appointed Acting Unpaid Lance Corporal on the 20th September and a little over a month later he died of wounds received in the Field on the 30th October 1918.

The War Diary shows that William's 10th Battalion moved forward into the line at 7.30 p.m. on the 19th October, taking up a position on the West side of Neuvilly Ridge, between Neuvilly and Inchy. Zero hour had been set for 2.00 a.m. the following morning and the Battalion crossed the River Selle using temporary bridges. They then attacked the railway and during the advance killed a large number of the enemy, despite coming under fire from isolated machine guns.

At 6.65 a.m. 'D' Company attacked a ridge, the Battalion's 4th objective, but this time came under heavy machine gun fire and were forced to withdraw. 'C' Company took the ridge around 4.00 p.m. and took 50 enemy prisoners. The War Diary reported 2 Officers and 13 Other Ranks killed in action, with 2 Officers and 52 men wounded.

CWGC Records show that William was one of 17 men of the 10th Battalion killed on the 20th October, 15 of whom have a known grave. Many other casualties of the Battle lie in the Amerval Communal Cemetery Extension, made after the 51st Brigade (17th Division) had captured Amerval on the 20th October 1918. In view of the description reported by "The Buxton Advertiser" it seems that William should have been buried there also - maybe he was and his grave was subsequently lost. He is now commemorated on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial.

"The Buxton Advertiser", in reporting his death in November 1918, stated that he ".. was hit in the neck by a machine gun bullet, and died shortly afterwards". His platoon commander wrote to William's mother and paid ".. a tribute to his capability and popularity".

Sources:
· "History of the 10th Battalion: Sherwood Foresters 1914-1918" Clifford Housley (ISBN-10: 0952964821) - Miliquest Publications (Oct 1998)
· I am grateful to Martin McNeela for additional information about the 10th Battalion.
· I am also grateful to Val Stenson ('The Fallen of Fairfield') for the photo of William from 'The Buxton Advertiser' 16th November 1918.
· "The Buxton Advertiser" - 9 & 16 November 1918

Link to CWGC Record
The Vis-en-Artois Memorial
L/Cpl Clarke's name on the Memorial
poppy
L/Cpl William Clarke