b. 06/04/1894 Winsford, Cheshire. d. 10/06/1947 Rochdale, Lancashire.
James Clarke (1894-1947) was born at Greenfield Cottage, 8 High Street, Winsford, Cheshire, on 6th April 1894. He was the son of John Clarke. After leaving St John’s School, Over Winsford, he began his working life as a farm labourer, moving to Rochdale in 1913 where he worked as a carter for Butterworth Brothers in Milnrow and then William Tatham and Sons engineers.
He married in August 1915 and lived in Clyde Street, off Vavasour Street, before, in October of that year, he enlisted into the 6th (Rochdale) Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers. He was posted to the Western Front, where he rose to the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major.
During an attack on Happegarbes, France, on 2nd November 1918, he led his men forward with great determination, and on being held up be heavy machine-gun fire, rushed forward through a thick, strongly held ridge, captured in succession four machine-guns, and single-handed bayoneted the crews. Later he led the remnants of his platoon to the capture of three machine-guns and many prisoners. In the later stages of the attack on the same day, when his platoon was held up by enemy machine-guns, he successfully led a tank against them over very exposed ground. Continuing the attack on 3rd November, after capturing many prisoners and gaining his objective, he organized his line most skillfully and held up the enemy. On 4 Nov., in the attack on the Oise-Sambre Canal, under heavy fire from the canal bank, he rushed forward with a Lewis Gun team in the face on an intense barrage, brought the gun into action, and effectively silenced the enemy’s fire, this enabling his company to advance and gain their objectives.
Throughout the whole of these operations Sergt. Clarke acted with magnificent bravery and total disregard of personal safety, and by his gallantry and high sense of duty set an inspiring example to all ranks.
On 1st February 1919 a large crowd welcomed him home to Rochdale, where he was presented with commemorative gifts including a gold watch. Days later he was presented with the Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace. Mr Clarke went on to attend reunions of VC winners in 1920 and 1929, while working as a stoker in Rochdale, but he lost his job when ill-health overtook him.
With three children to bring up, his wife found work in a cotton mill while Mr Clarke bought a barrel organ, playing it around the streets of Manchester. In 1933 he went to London and was arrested by police for obstructing a footpath. Proudly wearing his medals at his court appearance, Mr Clarke was discharged on probation by the judge after hearing of his impressive war record.
He returned to the family home in Milnrow Road, and was healthy enough to participate in the World War II Victory Parade on June 8th, 1946, but died the next year of pneumonia atBirch Hill Hospital, Rochdale, Lancashire on 10th June 1947. He left a widow and three children. He was buried in Rochdale Cemetery with full military honours. His grave remained marked by only a simple wooden cross until 1994 when the Lancashire Fusiliers Regimental Association spearheaded a drive to replace the cross with a more permanent marker.
In July 1984 his medals came up for auction at Christie’s where they were bought by a private collector for £8,800. They remained in private hands until they came up for sale in 1996 at auction at Spink’s, London. They were purchased by Michael Ashcroft and now form part of the Ashcroft Collection, Imperial War Museum, London.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ROCHDALE CEMETERY, LANCASHIRE. SECTION O/P, GRAVE 14155
Kevin Brazier – Images of Clarke VC’s grave at Rochdale Cemetery and the image of the Cemetery Map
John Patterson – Image of his replica medal group at the Lancashire Fusiliers Museum, Bury
Paul Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Images of the VC Memorial Bench, VC Stone, and James Clarke VC Road all in Winsford, Cheshire.