The Summerstown182 Walk is always a joy, but some really do go down as very special occasions, to be savoured in the memory. Such was the Walk of 28th February 2015 which was attended by three families with Summerstown182 connections. There were a large group of relatives of the family of Albert Clarke with his Corner Pin associations. That was mad enough, but it was on Franche Court Road that things got particularly hectic. On this street, two houses were of particular significance. Not only that, but it happened to be the anniversary of the death of Samuel Ambrose Tickner so I called for a minute’s silence as we placed a poppy tribute outside his front door at No7. He is just a few doors away from Gallipoli casualty, Phillip Chapman, visited on that day by his Great Nephew, Colin. A little further up the road outside No45, I told what little I knew about the young man who had once lived there and is on our war memorial, Arthur George Clarke. That’s him holding the dog in the old black and white photograph above. It was a privilege to have three members of his family there that day to hear it. His nieces, Helene and Margaret and his great-niece Becky. You can tell from the look on their faces what it meant to them. Helene knew that the family were great friends of the Pickworths, their neighbours at No43. She was able to point us in the direction of some information about Lieutenant Arthur Pickworth, another of the Summerstown182 and the only commissioned officer among them. However, its all gone a bit quiet on Arthur George and the centenary of his death this year seemed like a good time to get Chris Burge on the case.
In the list he kept in the St Mary’s parish magazine of those who had joined up, Reverend Robinson indicated in 1915 that Arthur George Clarke was in something called ‘25th London Regiment Cyclists’. I ride past his house every morning so I feel an affinity. He was 18 when he was killed in the Battle of High Wood on 15th September 1916. One of the most notorious of all the Somme battles. His death is reported in the November 1916 issue as follows. ‘The chaplain of the division in which A G Clarke was has written most sympathetically to his people, saying that he was killed on September 15th in the great battle of High Wood. This was a great victory for us. It was only brought about by the fearless determination of men like him. He was very brave and calm. I can only thank you all for giving us so brave a comrade.’ The chaplain would have only known him for a week and to have written such words indicates something of the measure of the young man from Franche Court Road. His ‘people’ should indeed be proud of him.
Arthur’s Dad, David Arthur Clarke from Paddington married Joan McArthur from Strontian, Argyllshire at the old St Mary’s Church, Summerstown on 1st August 1892. Census records show her as Johanna but the family have a theory about that. She apparently had a very thick Scottish accent and pronounced every syllable precisely. They speculate that when questioned by the census filler-in, she might have said ‘Jo-an’ and then breathed ‘ah’ which was heard and noted down as Jo-ann-ah. A very special link to her only son may be ‘The Strontian War Memorial’, a granite obelisk high above the road, overlooking Loch Sunart, Ardnamurchan. On it are 36 names of men who lost their lives in the First World War, one of which is a Private Arthur G Clarke of a London regiment. A local historian considers that many of the names did not live locally but had some connection with the area. Given Joan’s Scottish roots were nearby, I think there is a very good chance he is our man, high on the hill above the Loch. If anyone is up there, please visit. For the time being I’ve taken the liberty of posting a couple of photos taken by Martin Briscoe who I hope won’t mind me using them when he reads this.
David Clarke’s father had been a messenger at the Bank of England and he himself also had a job there as a porter. They were first at 10 Turtle Road in Earlsfield and started raising their family at 7 Alice Terrace. I’d never heard of this address, but a quick google indicated it was off Garratt Lane and in 1902, No2 was the premises of a company called E Wall who built the underground sanitary conveniences at Tooting Broadway. I was always a big fan of those facilities, so that’s very good to know. Their first child Jessie was born in 1894, followed two years later by Mary. Arthur George was born on 1st December 1897. A fourth child Hilda May Clarke arrived in 1904, possibly in time to be baptised in the new church. In 1901 they were at 45 Franche Court Road and would have a connection there for over 30 years. They were still on the electoral roll at No45 in 1933, though it seems between 1902 and 1904 they may have shuffled a few houses along to No35. By 1911, Arthur was 13 and still at school. His two older sisters were working, 16 year old Jessie as a pianoforte teacher and Mary now 15 was a dressmaker’s apprentice. Nine years later Mary Clarke married Edward Warner on 3rd April 1920 and the family have this stunning wedding day photograph. Joan and David are at the back on the left, Hilda is fourth along. Jessie is on the left at the front beside the bride. In 1935, the couple were living with younger sister Hilda at 25 Gateside Road in Tooting. Edward Warner died in 1979. Mary had two children, one of whom Peter is the father of Becky. Hilda also had two children, Helene and Margaret, the sisters pictured outside the house on the Walk. Jessie Christina Clarke never married and died in Sutton in 1987.
Arthur George Clarke was killed at a place called High Wood on the Somme, on 15th September 1916. He was serving at that point with 19th London Regiment with whom he had been with for less than a week. It would appear from the documentation Chris has been able to find, that he joined the Army Cyclist Corps in the spring of 1915 at Putney Bridge. The ‘25th (County of London) Cyclists, The London Regiment’, were based at Fulham House, Putney Bridge, once the home of Thomas Cromwell no less. Some of the buildings still exist as part of a modern TA centre and it appears there is a hall with a war memorial. A visit to see if Arthur is included is on the agenda. The 25th Cyclists battalion was formed in 1908 with the intention that they would be used as mobile home defence troops. Its hard to imagine a bicycle being much use amidst the mud and the barbed wire of the western front. Their primary role there was reconnaissance and carrying messages. They were armed as infantry and could provide mobile firepower if required. In his research, Chris Burge came across a website which appears to originate from the 25th London (Cyclist) Old Comrades’ Association established in 1932. Thanks to his representations, they agreed to add Arthur George Clarke and some other names to their list: http://www.25thlondon.com/agc.htm
Arthur was seventeen and now part of 47th Division. It would appear that he first went abroad on 14th February 1916 and was fortunate to miss the combat at Loos. The War Diary of 14th February mentions three ‘ORs’ being added to the fighting strength at a place called Hurionville. On the day he joined, 2nd Lt Hubert Granville Carpenter from Ealing was killed whilst on patrol – he is buried in St Omer. Throughout the spring while preparations for the offensive on the Somme was starting, the cyclists trained, laid cables and boarded trenches in the area around Lens. Quite a few days are marked as ‘nothing to report’ and on one day there is a lecture given on ‘field sketching’. As casualties mounted on the frontline, it was clear that the cyclists would be needed for other duties. It was now September 1916 and another major attack was being planned on the prized German high-ground defensive at High Wood. This area had already seem much fighting that summer and, The History of the 47th (London) Division puts it thus, ‘As for the wood, it was a wood only in name, ragged stumps sticking out of churned up earth, poisoned with the fumes of high explosives, the whole a mass of corruption’. On 9th September Arthur George Clarke was transfered to the 19th London Regiment. On the morning of 15th September they moved into an offensive position at 3am. Arthur Clarke and his comrades was preceeded by four ineffectual tanks, on this date making their first appearance in a battle. One of them became entangled in a tree stump and its rusted hulk remained there for about fifty years. These were followed by the 17th and 18th Battalion. At 7am the 19th went into action. By 11am the wood was reported ‘clear of the enemy’. The War Diary records 10 officers and 66 men killed that day, another seven died of their wounds. 230 were wounded or missing. There were appalling casualties at High Wood in these days, an estimated 4,500 in the 47th Division. The London Irish Rifles, the Post Office Rifles, the Civil Service Rifles and the Stepney and Poplar Rifles all paid a heavy price. These were territorials, ordinary pen-pushing men and office boys thrust into the heat of a deadly battle, the like of which they must never have imagined they would have to face. Major-General Charles Barter, commanding the 47th Division, was very promptly dismissed for ‘wastage of men’. He was later knighted.
Among so many Londoners who died at High Wood were Arthur Clarke and George Collyer. Their graves are almost as close to each other as were their homes, Franche Court Road and Headworth Road, separated by the width of Garratt Lane. When we visited the Cemetery last year we noted that both graves had flowers in bloom, George Collyer a burst of michaelmas daisies, Arthur Clarke a pale yellow rose. They are in the ‘Extension’ part of the London Cemetery at Longueval, directly facing the Wood itself. Their presence here suggests they were among the wave of 47 men who died taking the wood. All from the 47th Division, they were initially buried in a large shell hole between 18-21st September. This is the third largest cemetery on the Somme with 3,873 First World War burials, 3,114 of them unidentified.
The cycling boy from Franche Court Road with three sisters was killed in the act of driving the enemy out of High Wood. He can truly be seen as a hero, leading the charge in what was viewed as a great victory. It’s no wonder his chaplain felt obliged to write a letter to his family. On his grave the personal inscription along the bottom, placed by his father says simply ‘Never Forgotten’. One hundred years later he is remembered by Margaret, Helene, Becky and their families. He is not forgotten on Franche Court Road or St Mary’s church in Summerstown where his name is one of 182 on the war memorial. There is a large memorial to 19th Battalion London Regiment at St.Pancras Church near Euston Station. On it are 1,100 names and two of them should be Arthur George Clarke and George Collyer. I went in last week to try and find them but the area where the memorial is was locked. You can be sure we’ll be back.
Thanks again to Chris Burge for his research on the military career of Arthur George Clarke. We are also indebted to his family and in particular Becky Tanner and Helene Steggals for supporting our Summerstown182 project so wholeheartedly, sharing photos and allowing us to tell his story.