What this is about

To mark the centenary of the Great War, I am researching the WW1 histories of my ancestors. This blog documents my progress.
To read a summary of what I've discovered so far, select an ancestor/family member from the list on the right-hand side.

William Thomas Clark

William Thomas 'Billy' Clark was the husband of my great aunt, Lily Emily Jones (an older sister of my paternal grandmother, Ellen Elizabeth).

Thanks to my second cousin Maureen, who has carried out extensive research on my maternal grandmother's side of the family tree, I have a copy of a newspaper clipping that states that William and Lily met while he was in the Australian Imperial Force, making him a great candidate for this blog! Once again I am indebted to the fine folk at the Great War Forum (thread link here), who have helped me in my research.

Royal Military College, Dontroon

William was born in 1891 in Yass, New South Wales, Australia, to Edward H. Clark and Ellen (nee Webster). He attended Weetangera School, Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and by the outbreak of the Great War was living with his parents in the Home Affairs camp at Duntroon, ACT, where his father was caretaker. He worked as a groom at the nearby Royal Military College (thanks to the ACT Memorial website for the above information).

William's attestation record

Private Clark, WT enlisted in the 1st Australian Light Horse Regiment on 19/08/1914, aged 23, (being the first civilian from Duntroon to volunteer according to a later article in the Queanbeyan Age newspaper) and was issued with service number 30. He was appointed to the regimental headquarters as an officer's batman.

1st Light Horse Regiment Routine Order No 1, 28 August 1914

Happily, his service and medical records still exist and are available to download online, courtesy of the National Archives of Australia. As shown on the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre website, the 1st Light Horse Regiment, after their formation, trained at Rosebery Park, Sydney, before embarking from Albany on the HMAT A16 Star of Victoria on 19/10/1914 for Egypt. They landed on 08/12/1914 as part of the 1st Light Horse Brigade, Australian Imperial Force.

Trooper Clark (batman) on the left, at Rosebery

On 09/05/1915, William and the 1st Light Horse Regiment embarked for the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, landing at 'Fisherman's Hut' near ANZAC cove four days later. Here, operating as infantry and thus without their horses, they helped defend the beachheads so recently, and at great cost, carved out by their comrades.

The 1st Light Horse in Egypt

The regimental war diary of the 1st Light Horse details their duties throughout this time - alternating between manning the defences at Pope's Post, fending off Turkish attacks, and bivouacking in the inner defence line at Monash Valley. Soon the 1st Light Horse would be called upon to take offensive action, but by then, William had left the regiment, having being evacuated from Gallipoli after suffering from appendicitis.

In the summer of 1915, William embarked on the hospital ship HS Gascon, where he was operated on before landing at Malta on 18/07/1915 and being admitted to Tigne Hospital with a stitch abscess.

A letter to William's mother

On 18/08/1915 William's condition was such that he embarked on the hospital ship HS Asturias, bound for England, where on 26/08/1915 he was admitted to Bethnal Green Military Hospital. He was discharged on 11/09/1915 after 17 days' treatment.

A portion of William's service record

Later that year William's next brush with the medical profession was, embarrassingly, at Rochester Row Hospital, a unit specialising in venereal diseases. 'Periods of VD' as they were known, were meticulously recorded as soldiers were docked their pay when having to take leave for treatment!

In March 1916 William's service record lists him as being at the Australian Base Depot, having attended a 'Mch gun course on instruct.' after travelling from Weymouth. Now Gunner Clark, he had been transferred to an artillery detail as part of the 27th draft of reinforcements to the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, then based in Egypt. He was soon sent to Egypt to join the MEF.

On 28/05/1916 William once again headed for England, from Alexandria, disembarking at at Plymouth in June. He was destined to depart for France, but it is possible that he had some artillery training and in the process fell in love, before heading to the Western Front...

A newspaper article from the Queanbeyan Age (dated 09/03/1917) may well reference this:-

This is interesting as according to a copy of a letter I have from his nephew to second cousin Maureen, William met his future wife, my great aunt Lily, on Salisbury plain. 'Salisbury Camp' is probably Larkhill Camp, which received large contingents of soldiers from Australia and Canada for training before being sent to France.

From the Reserve Brigade Australian Artillery, William proceeded overseas from Folkestone on 08/01/1917, and soon was with the Australian General Base Depot at the notorious camp at Etaples; scene of the Etaples Mutiny later that year. By the beginning of February he was attached to the 4th Australian Divisional Ammunition Column under the rank of Temporary Driver.

A wagon of the 4th DAC

Ammunition columns were responsible for hauling ammunition, usually by wagon (each division ammunition column having 1,040 horses) for the 4th Australian Division. William remained with the 4th DAC for he rest of his time on the Western Front, driving wagons laden with live ammunition to artillery batteries near the front line. These large, ponderous columns, struggling through the mud, were easy targets for German long range artillery, often being spotted, or even bombed, by enemy aircraft.

In October, the Queanbeyan Age featured an article about a letter written home by a fellow Duntroonian, who mentions that he saw 'Billy' Clark on horseback 'near Ypres'. The 4th Australian Divisional Ammunition Column war diaries gives a detailed account of their activities. Intriguingly, the entry for 24/10/1917, when the 4th DAC was based at Kruisstraat, includes a report from a certain Bombadier Clark...

Report from Bdr Clark

At the time this entry was written, William had been promoted to Temporary Bombardier, becoming a Bombardier proper in February 1918. By now the 4th DAC was based in Locre, Belgium. On 17/02/1918, he was admitted to the 3rd Australian General Hospital after being wounded in the neck and was again in hospital in March. He survived his injuries however, and by June 1918 was promoted to Corporal.

By September, William was eligible for '1914 leave', where Australian personnel who enlisted in 1914 were granted extended leave back home. On 08/10/1918 he embarked from Taranto for Australia. By now a sergeant, William's homecoming was celebrated on the 10th December, when a large crowd assembled at the Military College at Duntroon to welcome him home. The Camp Commandant presented him with a set of razors and a 'suitably inscribed' gold medal. He would also be eligible for the British Medal, Victory Medal and 1914/15 Star.

He recounted his experiences of the war; the Queanbeyan Age recording his words for posterity:

In recognition of his service, his name was listed on the Weetangera School Honor Roll, the Roll of Honour at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Lowe Street, Queanbeyan and the Queanbeyan RSL Wall of Remembrance (unveiled 30th January 1988)

Honour rolls (L-R Weetangerra School, Queanbeyan Presbyterian Church and Wall of Remembrance

It would be a couple of years before Lily, who he first met on active service while training on Salisbury Plain, arrived in Australia, but eventually on 02/03/1921 they were married:

They had a son, Marsden Bloomfield Clark, and settled in their new home at Anthill Street, Eden Monaro, Queanbeyan. William worked in a truck haulage business with his brothers; in 1930 working on the Mount Darragh road construction project.

Sadly it was during this time that he met an untimely end while he was filling his lorry with benzine from a 45 gallon drum. According to contemporary newspaper reports, benzine fumes came into contact with the flame from a hurricane lamp William was using and he was very badly burnt in the resultant explosion. He died the next day, 20/02/1930, at Bombala Hospital, age 39.

William's Grave

William Thomas Clark is buried in Grave N27, in the Presbyterian section of Queanbeyan Riverside Cemetery.

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