The value of finding a relative of one of the Summerstown182, who can shed some light on the life of one of our number has never been more perfectly illustrated than by Lesley Martin’s poignant and very moving story about her great uncle, Albert Charles Clarke. In fact she possibly owes her existence to the fact that he didn’t come home from the war but her grandfather, his brother David did. The story centres around The Corner Pin pub, a hostelry which has stood at the north end of Summerstown since at least the 1830s. It has had several reincarnations in that time, the current model dating from 1924. Bob Sadler, born in the cottage next door was the guvnor in 1869. A forebear of Lesley’s called Henry Washington ran the pub for at least thirty years from about 1882 and in 1914 his granddaughter, Daisy Drew worked behind the bar. Somewhere along the line she caught the eye of a lad from 30 Bellew Street called Albert Clarke. Along with his father and brother, he worked at the nearby cardboard box factory and they might have all wandered past or stopped on their way home for a drink. One of four pubs in very close proximity, The Corner Pin’s position would have made it a popular and pivotal location. As it does today, it sits on the edge of an industrial enclave which sprouted up alongside the River Wandle. In 1914-1918 it was surrounded by the homes of the Summerstown182; Henry Wright next door, John Barbary across the road, George Hope and Cecil Passingham just a little further down, the homes of the Bakers, Miltons and Carrigans not much further along. The evocative photograph shown above was taken around 1916 shows a mixed group of soldiers and civilians, some larking about, some very serious. A woman wears a soldier’s cap. One group of men have their faces turned away from the camera. The young man on the right is Albert Clarke. Some things never change, there’s even a puddle full of water in the foreground.
Albert was born on 25th July 1897 in the Holborn district. By 1901 the Clarke family had joined the city centre exodus to southwest London and lived at 12 Sirdar Terrace, 46 Foss Road, an address they shared with his grandparents, the Olivers. Albert’s mother Maud was born in Clonmel in Tipperary and must have been amused at the plaque bearing the name of her home town adorning a house in nearby Franche Court Road. She had eight children, David born in 1895 was the eldest. Her husband also David worked as a box cutter. His oldest son had the same job and they worked at Hugh Stevenson’s cardboard box factory on Riverside Road. Hugh’s son Robert went on to become a Hollywood director and amongst many other films made Mary Poppins and The Love Bug. By 1911 the family were at 30 Bellew Street on the other side of Garratt Lane. Like a lot of houses round here at the moment, it is currently swathed in scaffolding and appears to have a helicopter landing-pad on the roof. Having worked as a machinist and a packer, Albert had joined the East Surreys as a reservist aged 17 in July 1913. David joined the 8th East Kents – The Buffs in September 1914 and was swiftly promoted to the rank of sergeant. A third brother Henry was fortunately young enough to miss the war but still managed to enlist in the tank corps aged sixteen in 1919. His records indicate that Albert had a chequered start to military life. In September 1914 he fell asleep on sentry duty and received 28 days detention and there were a couple of other minor misconduct offences. Maybe as the reality of war kicked in, he was regretting his early enthusiasm and pining for a stroll along the Wandle with Daisy. Some time around April 1916, David arranged for Albert to get a transfer to The Buffs so he could keep an eye on him. The paperwork for this survives and Albert’s transfer from 1st East Surreys to 8th Buffs contains the information that he was a first-class shot. There is also a scrawled note from the 8th Buffs Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Lucas, stating that ‘Sergeant Clarke is desirous of claiming his younger brother to serve with him’. It is quite touching that at the height of battle, normally rigid army procedures had permitted this act of fraternal solidarity.
But David wasn’t able to look after his younger brother because he had been sent home wounded before Albert got started with The Buffs. By June 1916 he was back in England and a patient at Eden Hall Hospital in Edenbridge, Kent. It is noted in his papers that he had scars to his thigh and knee cap and a photograph shows him using a stick. He was finally honourably discharged in January 1917 as being ‘no longer physically fit to serve’. Very sadly, after a summer of intense warfare on the Somme, in which he very likely took part in the horrific fighting at Delville Wood and Guillemont, Albert was killed on 21st October 1916. Unusually, mention of this is made in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine. One of his officers wrote to Albert’s mother ‘expressing the sympathy of all the officers, NCOs and men, not only of his platoon but of the whole company. We miss him very much, for always cheery and ready to do his duty he was a great favourite. If ever a British soldier died at his post your son did’. Ironically, the first-class shot had been killed by a sniper.
Back in Summerstown, the injured David, walking with difficulty, had the painful task of going to The Corner Pin to tell Daisy that her sweetheart had been killed. Its impossible to imagine how terrible he must have felt, that his attempt to protect his younger brother had inadvertently lead to his early death. Henry Washington died in December and Daisy’s father needed help, so work was found for David at the pub. Whatever happened over the following months, somehow amidst the bottles of beer and the barrels, the limping guilt-ridden soldier and broken-hearted barmaid found consolation in each other. On 8th November 1917 in St Mary’s Church, David Henry Clarke and Daisy Harriet Drew were married, just over a year after Albert’s death. His final discharge papers indicate that his home was now 10 Summerstown, The Corner Pin. Their first child Joan was born in 1919. He was able to return to light duties at the cardboard box factory which was now working at full tilt to support the war effort including Prisoner-of-War supplies.
Meanwhile Maud Clarke made a trip from Bellew Street to Albert’s grave near Arras shortly after the war. It is close to the huge Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge and he shares his resting place with many from that country who died six months later in taking the ridge. An extraordinary photo of Maud holding a wreath with her son’s name on it survives in Lesley’s collection. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website documentation indicates that Maud chose the inscription for the headstone at Villers Station Cemetery, Villers-au-Bois, ‘Not lost but gone before’.
Four generations on from Henry Washington, we are indebted to Lesley Martin, the granddaughter of David Clarke, for sharing her family’s history and allowing us to publish these wonderful photographs. Also Marion Gower for locating her and sourcing the Clarke brothers service records. If anyone recognises any of the 182 names on the St Mary’s Church war memorial as a relative and has any information about them, or perhaps even a photograph, we would love to hear from them.