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War Memorials

In Memory of
Gunner 203497
'A' Battery/86th Brigade Royal Field Artillery
Who was Killed in Action on Tuesday 13th November 1917
Age 25

No Known Grave Panel 4 to 6 & 162
Memorial to the "Missing", Tyne Cot Cemetery, Passchendaele, West Flanders, Belgium

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Remembered with Honour

Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium1

Arthur Ernest Clarke was born in Selston, Nottinghamshire in 18923, the seventh of eight children and youngest son of William and Emma (née Foxall) Clarke2. The family had lived in Codnor Park, Derbyshire and, for a short time, in Stapleford, Notts. They moved to Beeston after the death of Emma during or immediately following the birth of a daughter, Emma Stanley Clarke, in 18953. By 1901, the family was living at 12 Humber Road South, Beeston with William working as an engine fitter4. His eldest daughter, Mary Elizabeth Clarke was keeping house for the family and continued to do so after William died shortly after5. By 1911, the remaining family of five siblings, with Mary Elizabeth as its head, was living at 12 Imperial Road, Beeston6. Arthur Ernest, then aged 18, was working as a window cleaner.

Although Arthur's Army Service Record has not survived, it appears the he enlisted towards the end of 1916 with the Royal Field Artillery7. After basic and specialist training, he would have joined 86th Brigade, which had become an Army Brigade in January 1917, in Belgium in time for the Third Battle of Ypres - known as 'Passchendaele'. In preparation for the major infantry attack on 31 July, the artillery was called on - as it had so many times in earlier battles - to prepare the ground by saturation shelling. The sobering experiences of the earlier Somme battles, had led to the realisation that the tactic of saturation shelling the trenches was not the complete solution that had been expected. Tragically, attacking infantry had found the enemy and barbed wire still in place despite extensive shelling. That realisation had led to much more effective use of the 'creeping barrage' - a wall of shellfire, aimed just in front of the advancing Allied infantry - and the development of much more accurate targeting of enemy artillery positions - which were often hidden from direct sight. It was these new tactics, together with improved guns and shells that were now deployed that meant that the Artillery units played a major part in the battles during 1917 and were to continue to do so during the remainder of the war and in the eventual allied victory8.

For 10 days prior to the initial attack, 3000 artillery guns fired over four million shells and it would have been no surprise to the enemy when the attack was launched on 31 July. It was another tragedy with only small gains, made unbelievably worse by the deteriorating weather. Thick mud was everywhere and the shell craters were full of water giving no shelter to the advance in impassable and unimaginable conditions. While the later phases of the three month series of battles were more successful, there was little let-up in the terrible conditions and losses were high. It would have been a terrible initiation for Arthur and he was present on the Front for just a few months before he was killed on the 13th November, apparently during residual action following the capture of Passchendaele Ridge on the 6th.

As Gunner Clarke's body was never identified he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing within the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery of that name. The cemetery grounds were assigned to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by King Albert I of Belgium in recognition of the sacrifices made by the British Empire in the defence and liberation of Belgium during the war. On the forward slope of the Passchendaele Ridge is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world, for any war. The cemetery and its surrounding memorial are located outside of Passchendaele, near Zonnebeke in Belgium. The Cross of Sacrifice is to be found in a central position in the cemetery, at the base of the cross a small patch of the original German Block House can still be seen, contained within a bronze wreath, while on the far side, between it and the memorial wall, is a collection of some 300 graves. These are the original battle-field burials left where they were found after the Armistice. The other some nearly 12,000 graves which stand in parade ground order, were brought in from the surrounding area after the Armistice. The stone wall surrounding the cemetery makes up the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing. On completion of the Menin Gate memorial to the missing in Ypres, it was discovered that it was too small to contain all the names that were originally planned. An arbitrary cut-off point of 15th August was chosen and the names of the UK missing after this date were inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial instead. The memorial contains the names of 33,783 soldiers of the UK forces and a further 1,176 New Zealanders.9.

Gunner Clarke was posthumously awaited the Victory Medal and the British Medal10. His Army financial effects of 5 0 5d were split equally between his surviving brothers, Herbert and George Henry and sisters Mary Elizabeth, Rose, Emma Stanley & Eileen (then Mrs Everley), in May/June 1918. His Gratuity of 5 10s was paid to his sister Mary on 8 December 191911.

Whilst some of the Arthur's siblings married and moved away from the family home, and others died relatively young, some remained single and lived out their lives together at 12 Imperial Road, Beeston. By the time of the Registration in September 1939, three remained there - Mary Elizabeth, Rose Annie and George Henry12 - and they were to stay together for the remainder of their respective lives.

1The photograph of the Tyne Cot Memorial is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
2His birth was registered in Basford Registration District (of which Selston was then part) in Q3 1885 (Ref 7b 330). He was baptised at Ironville, Derbyshire on 24 July 1892.
3The birth of Emma Stanley Clarke was registered in Q3/1895 (ref 7b 519) in Shardlow Registration District (of which Stapleford was then part) and her mother's death was registered in the same quarter and Registration Distinct (ref 7b 119).
His siblings were : George Henry (1875-1963), William Edward (1877-1905), Mary Elizabeth (b. 1879), Rosanna (1882-1958), John James b. 1884), Herbert (1889-1955) and Emma Stanley (1895-1920).
41901 Census, Piece 3153 Folio 162.
5His death, aged 50, appears to be that registered in Basford Registered District (of which Beeston was then part) in Q4/1901 (ref 7b 111. The certificate has not been seen.
61911 Census - Piece 20428 RD429 SD3 ED3 Sched 22
7The date of his enlistment has been calculated based on the amount of his War Gratuity which indicates that he has served for not more than 12 months up to the date of his death. It is likely that he enlisted earlier in 1916 under the conscription law then applicable and was called up later in that year - the date from when service entitlement would apply.
8This summary of the development of artillery warfare during World War 1 is based on a fuller account on The Long Long Trail website (www.longlongtrail.co.uk/how-the-british-artillery-developed-and-became-a-war-winning-factor-in-1914-1918/)
9The description of the Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial is based on that on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
10Gunner Clarke's medal awards are recorded in the Medal Rolls and on his Medal Card, available on ancestry.com.
11Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929, available on ancestry.com.
121939 Register of the population of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on 29 September 1939, available on findmypast.co.uk.

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