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Clarke, W., Pte., 1918

Medal Index Card

Shot at Dawn Memorial

In Bancourt British Cemetery is the Commonwealth War Grave of 11606 Private Wilfred Clarke, serving with the 2nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry, who died 09/02/1918.

Wilfred Clarke was born in November 1895, at North Shields, the son of William Henry Clarke, (born Adelaide, Australia in 1860, a sailor), and his wife Elizabeth Louisa Clarke, born 1864, North Shields. They were married about 1889 at North Shields. They had ten children: William Henry, born 1890, North Shields; John S., born 1891, South Shields; Elizabeth Young, born 1894, North Shields; Eleanor May, born 1898, South Shields; Ester Annie, born 1903, and George, born 1909 both at South Shields. Three other children died.

Wilfrid's grandfather Henry Clarke was a Master Mariner originally from Norfolk, born about 1821. The grandparents resided at 6 Sidney Street, North Shields in about 1871.

By 1901, Wilfrid and his family were residing at 20 Garrick Street, South Shields, Esther Annie and George were not born yet.

Wilfrid was employed by the North Eastern Railway as a Railway engine cleaner. He attested into the 3rd Battalion Durham Light Infantry at Sunderland on the 17th February 1913 as a volunteer in to the Special Reserve, with the service number 9685. He was 18 years and 3 months and signed up for 7 years with the colours and 5 years in the reserves. He was 5 feet 2 1/2 inches tall, (1.5785m), weighed 105 lbs, and had grey eyes and with brown hair.

On the 16th June 1913, he was admitted to a Newcastle Hospital for Pemphigus, (a skin disorder which produces blisters) and discharged on the 29th June 1913.

Whilst with the 3rd Battalion, he attended a Recruit and Musketry course between the 9th May 1913 and 8th June 1913.

Wilfrid then attested into the Regular Army on the 14th July 1913, after putting on an extra 3 lb of weight. He was now aged 18 years and 6 months. His service number became 11606, and he was in 'A' Company, the 2nd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. He was then sent to Colchester on the 17th July 1913 to join the Durham Light Infantry who had been based there since 1911. Wilfrid was recommended to join the 2nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry, the reference at the time came from the 3rd Battalion Durham Light Infantry recruiting official, then based at Sunderland, and was recorded as being Suitable, a smart keen lad.

On the 8th of August whilst at Colchester, he was admitted to hospital for Synovitis in his right knee, and discharged on the 14th August 1913.

In his statement Wilfrid wrote I was on Recruits parade, when turning, I fell, twisted my {crossed out} right leg, I do not consider the army was to blame. The accident happened on the 1st August 1913 on the parade ground, Hyderabad Barracks, Colchester dated August 27th 1913.

By September 1913, the 2nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry had moved to Whittington Barracks, Lichfield, Staffordshire. Wilfrid was now based at Lichfield, and whilst there on the 14th January he destroyed a sheet, caused by Drunkenness. On the following day, whilst on parade Wilfrid was found to have a rusty bolt in his rifle, and was confined to Barracks for 30 days. In March he committed two more offences, i) Having a dirty rifle at Company's Officers inspection and ii) Breaking out of the Barracks and remaining absent until 11.45 pm, resulting in another 50 days being confined to Barracks. On 11th May, Wilfrid was admitted to Hospital at Lichfield for Boils, spending 22 days there before being discharged on the 22nd May 1914.

On the 8th June 1914, he was accused of overstaying his pass by 3 hours 40 minutes. This time was confined to Barracks for 3 days.

On the 13th June whilst at camp, he was absent from 10pm until 11.45pm, resulting in another three days confined to barracks. On 18th June 1914, he was again confined to camp for 2 days, for refusing to clean Cooking Utensils. Also, at camp, he made an improper remark to Lance Corporal Olney, and was confined to Barracks for another 2 days!

Now back at Lichfield, on the 27th June he broke out of the Barracks, when he was a defaulter, and was absent until 5pm on the 1st July; he was also deficient in Regiment clothing and necessaries. He was punished with 10 days confined to Barracks and pay deducted.

On 7th July, Wilfrid allowed himself to be in a verminous condition, as witnessed by a Mrs Robinson, and was confined to Barracks another 10 days. On 10th July he failed to salute an officer, Captain Northey, resulting in another 3 days being confined to camp.

Wilfrid was posted on the 10th August 1914, to the 3rd Battalion Durham Light Infantry but went absent from the 12th September 1914 to the 21st September, with the result of losing 10 days service from his accumulated service towards his pension entitlement. On the 8th October, still at Whitburn, following insubordinate conduct on 7 am parade, day after, he broke away from his billet. In December 1914 also, whilst at Whitburn, other offences occurred including losing his Field Service Hat.

Wilfrid then was posted back to the 2nd Battalion on the 26th January 1915.

On the 27th March, Wilfrid reported deafness, at the 6 General Hospital at Rouen. His father was notified on the 7th April. Wilfrid was then taken to the 4th General Hospital at Lincoln.

Wilfrid was the posted back to the Depot. At Whitburn, he went missing from the 27th April 1915 to 8.25pm absent from Tattoo, till the 18th May 1915, which resulted in 20 days' pay deprived from him and another 20 days' service lost off his accumulated service towards his pension entitlement. 22 days absent. Again, on the 5th June 1915, still at Whitburn, he went absent again. The details are unclear.

On the 30th August 1915, now at South Shields, he was absent from the tattoo until he was found in bed at Reveille on the 31st August. On the 7th September, multiple offences this time, he fell out of parade without permission, and was found about 10.45am. He broke out of his billet and was absent until 10pm. He also told a falsehood to one of the NCO's.

He was posted again to the 2nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry on the 21st January 1915 (one of three occasions of being posted to this Battalion), in the field. He was sent to France on the 26th January. Wilfrid was admitted to a field ambulance on the 26th February 1916, then taken to a Hospital at Boulogne, prior to being transferred to the 9th Stationary Hospital at Le Havre two days later. He was discharged on the 2nd March 1916, to 6 Infantry Base Depot at Rouen. He remained in France until the 30th March 1915.

He returned to France on the 2nd January 1916.

By this time he was in 'W' Company. On the 31st May 1916, he deserted. The Court was made up of three people: Captain W. Frith, Lieutenant P.B. Reynolds and 2nd Lieutenant S. Dalziel. There were two witnesses, Corporal D. Harrington, (8472) and Private W.G. Simm (27868}.Corporal Harrington stated under oath On the 31st May 1916, at about 8pm. I marched the men reporting sick to the Medical Officer at the Canal Bank. Private Clark(sic} was marked "M" and "D" (Medicine and Duty}. He was among those paraded to march back to the company. I saw him march off and have not seen him since.

Private Simms stated: On the night of the 31st May, 1916. I was one of the men marked "Medicine & Duty" by the Medical Officer. We were marching back to the company and had arrived at the bridge when Pte Clarke said he had forgotten something. He ? out to go back and I have not seen him since.

He was apprehended in Rouen on the 20th October and arrested by the Military Police on the 22nd October 1916. In his statement, Wilfrid had mentioned some remark about the Poor Law Authorities in Newcastle allegedly stating that he had been staying there. The Army wrote to the Poor Law Institution at Westgate Road, and the reply was as follows:- I received your letter of the 31st, ulto concerning 11607 Private Wilfred (sic} Clarke. I have to inform you that I cannot trace anyone by that name as having been admitted here either to Hospital or Workhouse. Yours Faithfully. W. Moseley.

The Court of Inquiry found him guilty and referred the decision up to the next chain of command.

He was found guilty of "Deserting His Majesty's Service" all prior service on conviction of Desertion, service to reckon from 8th November 1916.

He was sentenced to 10 years' Penal Servitude suspended, and his death sentence commuted by the F.G.C.M., dated 8th November 1916.

Wilfrid returned to the Battalion on the 15th November 1916.

On the 23rd January 1917, whilst in the field he left a working party without permission. Field Punishment No 1 was his sentence.

On the 23rd April 1917, whilst in the field he quit his post.11th of May 1917, he was again absent.

He then deserted from the field around the 17th October 1917, about 2 hours before departure for the trenches. He was found by Military Police at Calais and arrested. Field Marshal Lord Haig signed with his green inked fountain pen approving the death sentence.

He was shot by Firing squad at 6.42am, for desertion on the 9th February 1918.

By 1918, the majority of soldiers shot in 1918 were already under suspended sentences for previous offences: Wilfrid Clarke was one of these.

The Shields Gazette 01/03/1918, reported that he died in service, the War Office at this time were using the new 'War Cabinet's ' cover-up form, [B104-109, different phraseology was used], which was sent to Wilfrid's parents. His family were apparently unaware that he had been shot - they had been told he died from wounds.

Private Wilfrid Clarke was pardoned though belated, along with the other 305 soldiers.

Sources: Shot at Dawn. Julian Putkowski and Julian Sykes; new and revised edition; 1989; Leo Cooper 0 85052 295 1.

Blindfold and Alone: British Military Executions in the Great War. Cathryn Corns and John Hughes-Wilson; Cassell; 2001; ISBN 0 304 36449 5

Wilfred Clarke is remembered at South Shields on S86.51 and in the D.L.I. Book of Remembrance page 23.

He is also remembered at Staffordshire on the National Arboretum in the "Shot At Dawn" memorial.

Shot at Dawn Memorial History
Durham County Record Office
The CWGC entry for Private Clarke

If you know more about this person, please send the details to janet@newmp.org.uk