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Vincent Charles Clarke (1894-1916)

Second Lieutenant, 10th Battalion Durham Light Infantry

Vincent Charles Clarke was the youngest of three children; he had a brother Albert James (1884-1964) and a sister Golde Teresa Maud Kahl (1890-1977). His father, the Honorable Sir Charles Pitcher Clarke, was the son of a Plantation owner James Samuel Clarke, and was born on Apes Hill Plantation in Barbados. Vincent’s mother was the daughter of a steamship agent, Albert Christian Fredrich Kahl, who emigrated to London from the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg Schwerin in the 1850s and was naturalised on 28 March 1871. Charles Clarke studied at Cambridge and was a barrister in London before returning to Barbados with his family in 1893.

In November 1914, Vincent Charles Clarke travelled from his home in Barbados, via Niagara Falls, to enlist on 29 December 1914 as a private in a territorial battalion, 28th London Regiment, Artists’ Rifles. Perhaps not as well-known as the African Rifles, the Artists’ Rifles was formed in 1859 by Royal Academy artists. When Vincent joined, the intake had been widened in 1908 to public schools and universities, it was principally a training ground for officers who went on to serve in other regiments. Recruitment was later altered to recommendation by serving members only; after the Second World War it became part of the SAS [21st Special Air Service Regiment (Artists) (Reserve).]

As the son of the Hon Sir Charles Pitcher Clarke KC, Attorney General of Barbados and Lady Theresa Matilda Kahl, Vincent would have been an eminently suitable recruit; his Medical Inspection Report shows that he was 20 years and 5 months old, 6ft 1/2in, and his physical development was “V Good”.

He embarked for France from Southampton on 11 August 1915. Within one month of enlisting as a private in the Artists’ Rifles, Vincent was promoted to lance corporal and one month later to corporal. However, less than two months later, he reverted, at his own request, to lance corporal. Then, on 6 October 1915 he reverted, again at his own request, to private. On 6 November 1915, after a total engagement in the Territorial Force of 313 days, he was discharged in consequence of his commission to second lieutenant, 10th Durham Light Infantry (DLI) on 7 November 1915.

Vincent was appointed acting captain on 27 September 1916. On the 10 October 1916, he was shot in the chest and died two days later of his wounds in Number 106 Field Ambulance, France, on 12 October 1916. The telegram that his father received on 14 October 1916 in Barbados advised that his son had ‘Died of Wounds’. The death certificate gives the cause of death as wounds received in action. Neither document gives any indication that Vincent’s death was a tragic accident.

However, there was a Court of Enquiry held to investigate the circumstances of his death. On 10 October 1916 Vincent Clarke had gone on patrol with a sergeant and a lance corporal. They had been advised of a point where they should re-enter the line along the Sunken Road. The patrol found several German bombs on the wire and collected them. Vincent Clarke went searching for more beyond the pre-arranged point of re-entry.

There was conflicting testimony as to the shooting, which occurred at about 4.30am. The sentry claimed that he challenged two men, and fired after receiving no reply, shooting the man who turned out to be Second Lieutenant Clarke. The sentry’s relief testified that after the challenges went unanswered, he fired at the second figure, the sergeant, who had been wearing a German helmet lining. However, the sergeant and lance corporal testified that shots were fired before they were challenged. Having placed the collected bombs on the parapet, they heard shots and Vincent Clarke had called for the lance corporal. Clarke was conscious and cool, despite having been wounded in the chest. The sergeant was challenged by the sentry as he made his way over, and was stood with his hands up in front of the parapet.

Lieutenant Colonel HHS Morant, the commanding officer of 10 DLI, concluded on 15 October 1916 that:
‘1. The Patrol did not return to our Trench exactly where it originally intended.
2. The Sentry appears to have challenged before shooting – though this is doubtful.
3. The Sentry was very young and inexperienced having only joined the Battalion a little over a month – and does not appear to have acted very intelligently. I do not under the circumstances consider he is to blame.’
No action was taken against the sentry.

Charles Vincent Clarke was buried in Habarcq Communal Cemetery Extension, Plot 8, Row F, Grave 5. He left £152 in his will.

This information was derived from the officers service records, held at The National Archives, Kew, London: WO 339/48485

Photograph of Roll of Honour, Saint Anne’s Fort, Barbados on The National Archives Flickr account:

Birth date: 1894

Death date: 12-Oct-1916

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: Verosa, Bridgetown, Barbados
86 Lewin Road, Streatham

Family: Parents: The Honorable Sir Charles Pitcher Clarke, Lady Theresa Matilda Clarke, nee Kahl
Siblings: Albert James Clarke, Golde Teresa Maud Kahl Clarke

Military service:

Private 3078
Territorial 28th London Regiment, Artists' Rifles
Lance Corporal 21 January 1915
Corporal 27 February 1915
L/Corp reverted at own request 17 April 1915
Embarked for France 11 August 1915
Private reverted at own request 6 October 1915

Transferred to 10th DLI, 7 November 1915
Second Lieutenant 18344
Acting Captain 27 September 1916

Memorial(s): Habarcq Communal Cemetery Extension, Plot 8, Row F, Grave 5
DLI Book of Remembrance, Durham Cathedral
Roll of Honour, Drill Hall, Saint Anne’s Fort, Barbados

Gender: Male

Contributed by MJE, Darlington