Sergeant Edward Clarke MM was killed in action on 26th August 1918 whilst serving with the 7th Battalion Border Regiment. He died just ten days after returning from two weeks’ home leave, during which time he married Mabel Annie Florence, a widow, at St Alphege Church, Solihull.
Edward was born in Ryton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire to parents John (an agricultural labourer) and Elizabeth (née Chatwin) who had married in 1874. John was living in Bubbenhall, whilst Betsey, as his bride was known, was living in Ryton on Dunsmore. She died in 1899, aged 50.
Edward became a farm labourer before joining the Army as a regular soldier in August 1906, when he was 18 years old. He signed up for seven years with the Colours, followed by five years with the Reserves. He served with the Border Regiment in Gibraltar (1906-7), South Africa (1907), India (1908-1913) before being posted to the Reserves in December 1913, with the rank of Lance Corporal.
After leaving the Colours, he apparently intended to become a postman, for which a certificate of sobriety was requested from the Army. As his service record noted punishments for drunkenness, it’s not clear whether such a certificate was forthcoming. There is also mention of his seeking employment in the cycle trade. It looks as if this was successful, as a report in the Coventry Evening Telegraph 25th September 1918 notes that, prior to his marriage, he lived in Coventry with his sister, Mrs Randle, giving an address of Excelsior Works, Stoney Stanton Road. Excelsior was a manufacturer of bicyles, motorcycles and cars.
There is also a note on Edward’s service record saying that he had been employed for six months with the Regimental Police and three months as Battalion Scout, being described as “An excellent, willing, hardworking man. So steady, reliable, and trustworthy. A man of active habits, A very deserving man…” with exemplary conduct on transfer to the Reserves.
With the outbreak of war, Edward Clarke rejoined the regiment from the Reserves on 13th August 1914. He was posted to France on 5th October 1914. He returned to England in May 1915, suffering from acute nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys). He returned to the Front in October 1915 and was promoted Sergeant two months’ later. He was granted 10 days’ leave to England in April 1917 and the award of a Military Medal was gazetted in January 1918.
He was also on leave in England from 2nd-16th August 1918 and, on 8th August 1918, he married Mrs Mabel Annie Florence (née Tarver) at St Alphege Church, Solihull. Mabel Annie Tarver (listed in some records as Annie Mabel) had married Harry Florence in 1906, and they set up home at Elmdon Heath, where Harry worked as a labourer for the Solihull Gas Company. The couple had two children – Gladys Mary Florence (1906-) and Harry Florence (1909-1988) – before Harry’s death, aged 37, in 1914.
Mrs Florence appealed for work in the Solihull Parish Magazine of December 1914, saying that she was dependent on her own exertions for the support of herself and two small children. Having been in domestic service before her marriage, it was noted that “she will be glad to go out by the day for any kind of housework or needlework.” Mabel Florence was still living in Elmdon Heath at the time of her marriage to Edward Clarke.
Sergeant Edward Clarke was killed by machine gun fire on 26th August 1918. An officer wrote to his widow:
He was doing duty like the brave man he was when he met with his death, but fortunately suffered no pain. I can say very little to console you for your very great loss, but send you the whole-hearted sympathy of the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of this company. It is a bitter loss to the company to lose a man like your husband, whom the men had got to know and trust.
Solihull Parish Magazine, October 1918 also includes an extract from a letter to his widow:
During the attack on Poelcappelle this N.C.O. by his coolness and utter disregard of personal danger, was instrumental in ensuring the working of four guns engaged in very heavy barrage fire. Though under very heavy fire the whole time, he walked from one gun position to another , supervising and cheering on the teams, and set a fine example of coolness and courage to all around him.
Having been twice widowed by the age of 32, Mabel Annie Clarke (1886-1969) married for the third time in 1919. She married Andrew Chambers, a hardware salesman, and the couple initially set up home at The Beeches, Warwick Road, Solihull.
Edward Clarke’s service record shows that his body was exhumed from its initial resting place and reburied at Warlencourt British Cemetery, west-south-west of Bapaume.
Being so recently married, and with his widow moving away from Elmdon Heath by 1919, Edward Clarke’s name is not recorded on a local war memorial.
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