Rifleman Edgar Clarke
Y/1648, “C” Company, 2nd Bn., Kings Royal Rifle Corps
who died on 9th May 1915, aged 21
Remembered with honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Le Touret Memorial Panel 32 and 33
EDGAR CLARKE was born in Parkgate, Rotherham in the summer of 1893, the son of John Henry and Florence Clarke. His father, John Henry, had been born in Barrow Hill but had moved to Rotherham as a child. He met and married his wife Florence and their first three children, Florence, Eleanor and Edgar, were born at Parkgate.
Shortly after Edgar was born, the family moved back to Barrow Hill and lived at 205, Railway Terrace, on what was known locally as the Long Row. It was here that Edgar’s younger siblings, Eva, May, Alfred, Muriel and James Henry Jnr were born. John Henry worked as a labourer at the Iron Works.
A local newspaper reported that, “as a lad, Edgar was a scholar in the Barrow Hill Church Sunday School and a member of St Andrews Church.” Aged 17, he worked as a surface labourer at one of the local pits and was later employed at the Devonshire Works. He “was well known at Barrow Hill.”
Edgar was 21 years old when he enlisted at Chesterfield in September 1914 and joined the 2nd Bn., Kings Royal Rifle Corps. The Battalion had landed at Le Havre on 13th August 1914 and had been involved at Ypres by the time that Edgar joined them in France on 29th November 1914. He took part in the Winter Operations of 1914/15 and fought at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915.
Following the British capture of the village of Neuve Chapelle, the Germans greatly strengthened their defences along the ridge, reinforcing their positions with thick barbed wire entanglements, concrete blockhouses and machine gun emplacements. These extra defences frustrated British attempts to break through enemy lines and an offensive was planned to break through the German line north of Arras. The main thrust of the attack was to be made by the 10th French Army on Vimy Ridge and two supporting attacks on the flanks would, it was hoped, secure the heights of Lorette Spur, to the north-west and other high ground to the east of Arras.
The immediate objective of the 1st Division was a line from the Rue de Marais to Lorgies, about two miles in rear of the enemy’s front line. The 2nd and 3rd Brigades were detailed to carry out the attack. Edgar Clarke’s battalion was in the 2nd Brigade of 1st Division.
The British preliminary bombardment started at 5 a.m., the field artillery pounding the barbed wire with shrapnel shells while the howitzers showered the trenches with large-calibre shells. Half an hour later the British infantry left the trenches and went “over the top.” They had to cross a relatively narrow expanse, about 100 metres, but almost immediately they came under heavy machine gun fire. The British front line soon filled with the dead and wounded. Those who set out into no man’s land were cut down as they ran or impaled on the barbed wire, thus becoming an easy target for the German marksmen. In one single day of fighting the British Army had lost 11,000 men (dead, wounded and lost in action) which was, in relative terms, one of the highest casualty rates of the Great War.
In a letter to Edgar’s sister, his friend wrote, “We were advancing towards the German trenches and they opened fire on us with a machine gun. We were forced to stop for a while; then when we were lying on the ground the shells began bursting all round us. One burst quite close, and a piece hit Edgar in the back and killed him. I am glad to say he never suffered.”
“He was quite cheerful, and as cool and brave as any man I have seen. If you had seen him under fire and seen him die you would have felt proud of him. I am sure I do. He and I were the best of chums. I could not possibly get any of his things for you. It was one of the hottest scraps I have been in out here. It was a perfect Hell. My company has lost over 120 men.”
Later reports revealed that 251 soldiers of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps had been killed during the attack. One of them was Edgar Clarke who was killed in action, on 9th May 1915, at the Battle of Aubers Ridge. He has no known grave and is remembered with honour on the Le Touret Memorial. (Panel 32 and 33)
Edgar had arrived in France just one week too late to qualify for the 1914 Star with clasp and roses. He was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War medal and the Victory Medal
© Ann Lucas