Edward Rupert Clarke

The son of Canon Clarke of Killead Vicarage, County Antrim, EDWARD RUPERT CLARKE (always known as Ned) had been privately taught at home before he became a Boarder in School House at King Edward VI School in September 1905 and remained until April 1911. Being a boarder gave him the opportunity to participate enthusiastically in several activities. Becoming first noticed in the autumn of 1910, he was taken into the 1st XV and was considered to be ‘A forward who has come on during the term. Works hard and is sometimes conspicuous in rushes. Very useful in falling on the ball, an occupation he appears to find congenial.’ The following year he gained his 1st XV colours. During the Lent of 1910 he was elected the Games Secretary, became Captain of School House, the Headmaster chose him to be a Prefect (becoming joint editor of The Stratfordian), and he was elected to the committee of the Scientific Society. As a member of the Debating Society the school magazine reported his regular contributions, and when he proposed the motion: ‘That in the opinion of this House the conquest of the air would benefit England,’ it was carried by 16-5. The Society also held regular readings of Shakespeare’s plays, and in one of these Ned played Bottom the weaver in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

He broke the School record for the 7 1/8 mile steeplechase in 1910 and then his own record in 1911 (that year ‘against a strong Arctic wind.’)

From the autumn of 1911 he studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and became an ardent opponent of Home Rule for Ireland. Following graduation he moved to Belfast and joined the Ulster Volunteer Force, a paramilitary organisation that had been established to resist it, if necessary by force. Initially a private he became a Company officer with the special responsibility as drill instructor. When the UVF was incorporated into the British army, mainly forming the battalions of the newly- raised Ulster Division, he went his own way and on February 20 1915 he enlisted in the Territorial Army for ‘the great game’ and for the duration of the war.

On March 1 Ned was allocated to the Army Services Corps as a clerk, but only three weeks later he became an acting corporal, and by May 15 he was an acting sergeant at 57 DNS (Supply Depot). Two weeks later he crossed from Southampton to Le Havre with 12 (Eastern) Division to join the British Expeditionary Force. His unit of the Army Service Corps was responsible for the operation of the 12 Division train. The functions of the train were much as may be imagined – the transportation of men and supplies between the Channel ports and the dropping points near the training areas or the front. The many complications of administration and liaison were infinite, especially when combined with the hazards of countries at war.

Battle of the Scarpe, 1917

Battle of the Scarpe, 1917

On December 21 Clarke was confirmed in the rank of sergeant and on January 27 1916 he was interviewed for a commission by the Commandant of Boulogne. Remaining in France, he moved to Boulogne on March 9 but by March 30 he had returned to England.

Commissioned in the rank of Second Lieutenant in 3/4 Battalion of the London Regiment he was sent to No. 5 Officer Cadet Unit at Trinity College, Cambridge on October 19. The standard course at OCU usually lasted four months, but Ned Clarke already had considerable military experience and responsibilities.

It is not clear on what date he returned to France as an infantry officer, but on February 19 1917 he was detached from 3/4 City of London Battalion (The Royal Fusiliers) to join a reinforcement draft to 9th Battalion The King’s Royal Rifle Corps in 42 Brigade of 14 (Light) Division in the field at Agny, on the outskirts of Arras. Although both January and February were relatively quiet, the weather was bitingly cold and the time was spent repairing the trenches, very often under enemy artillery fire. Some time was spent in reserve. March brought a quickening of activity with preparations for a raid on enemy trenches, again under fire, and Ned Clarke led out two good patrols, although on one they found themselves unintentionally behind occupied enemy saps. ‘It was no picnic and they had some ugly bits of scrapping.’

Throughout July and August, training was now under way for the next ‘big push.’ German artillery launched a heavy bombardment of the battalion headquarters, and although the kitchens, the mess and houses around were hit, there were still the sports day and lively concert party given by the entertainment troupe ‘The Small Box Respirators.’

Then April brought the first phase of the Arras offensive. On the night of April 4/5, the British troops began to assemble in their dug-outs in the old reserve line. An offensive completed the next day without casualties, followed by a further move under fire to billets in the Arras Caves. Called ‘boves’, these were certainly not popular with the troops who claimed that ‘the atmosphere was thick like a Turkish bath,’ with water continually dripping from the roof and walls.

The battalion remained in the caves until the night of April 8/9 when it moved up to the assembly trenches in readiness for the attack at 5:30am in what came to be known as the first battle of the Scarpe – an offensive planned to distract the Germans from noticing the preparations elsewhere. With snow on the ground, it was exceptionally cold. The advance began at 7:34am with artillery cover, with two companies in front of two more, a line of ‘moppers-up’ and with a support company in the rear.

The moment they left their trenches the men were met with intensive machine gun fire, and Ned Clarke in A Company was amongst those killed in the very first phase. The regiment war diary refers to ‘the abject failure of the tanks’ supposed to be in support. They remained uselessly stuck in the mud behind the start line. Nevertheless, the German wire was generally well cut, and for once the attack was a success. Main objectives were gained, the battalion headquarters moved up, and more than 200 prisoners were taken.

But the cost was very high – six officers, and 69 men killed, four officers and 118men wounded, with 17 missing. Then ‘the old story was repeated,’ wrote A.J.P Taylor, ‘the offensive was pushed on too long at the same place.’

Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy-les-Mofflaines

Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy-les-Mofflaines

Ned Clarke was buried close to where he fell. He was later buried in the British Cemetery designed by Sir Edward Lutyens at Tilloy-les-Mofflaines, two miles south- east of Arras. He is commemorated in the Memorial Library at King Edward VI School. His younger brother Jack Moore Clarke, who attended K.E.S between 1903 and 1907, served as a Second Lieutenant in the 17th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles.