b. 01/12/1892 Waterdown, Ontario, Canada. d. 19/10/1916 Etretat, France.
Lionel Beaumaurice “Leo” Clarke (1892-1916) was born on 1st December 1892 at Waterdown, near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He was known as “Nobby” as a child and later as Leo. His father was Henry Trevelyan Clarke, who originally came from Essex. His mother was Rosetta Caroline Nona nee Bodily, also from Essex. They had emigrated to Canada and married in Manhattan, New York on 20th February 1892. They did return to England for a time, before settling back in Canada in 1904. They eventually settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Leo had five siblings, four brothers and a sister.
Leo’s education began in England and continued at Argyle and Gladstone Schools, Winnipeg. He then worked as an engineer and was engaged in a survey for the Canadian Northern Railway in the north of the country in 1914. Leo enlisted with 27th Battalion (City of Winnipeg), Canadian Expeditionary Force, on 25th February 1915. The Battalion embarked for Britian on SS Carpathian on 17th May, where it underwent training. He then transferred to 2nd Battalion to be with his younger brother Charles. He went to France on 13th October 1915.
Leo received a gunshot wound to the right side and was takeeen to No 2 Canadian Field Ambulance on 8th December. He was transferred to No 2 Casualty Clearing Station before being discharged on 11th December. He contracted influenza and was admitted to No 3 Canadian Field Ambulance on 10th April 1916, to the North Midland Division Casualty Clearing Station on 25th April and rejoined his unit on 2nd May. Leo was appointed acting Corporal on 6th August.
On September 9th, 1916, near Pozieres, France, the first three companies of Clarke’s battalion went over the top, leaving the fourth in reserve. Clarke, an Acting Corporal at the time, was assigned to take a section to clear the enemy on the left flank to allow his company sergeant to build a fortified dugout that would secure the Canadian position once the salient was overrun. When his section reached the trench, it was so heavily defended that they had to battle their way through with hand grenades, bayonets and their rifles as clubs. Clarke was the only man left standing; the rest had either been killed or wounded.
At that time, about 20 Germans, including two officers, counter-attacked. Clarke advanced, emptying his revolver into them. He then picked up two enemy rifles and fired those too. One of the officers attacked with a bayonet, wounding Clarke in the leg, but Clarke shot him dead. The Germans retreated, but Clarke pursued, shooting four more and capturing a fifth. In all, Clarke killed 19 of the enemy, capturing one.
Leo was appointed acting Sergeant and admitted to hospital on 18th September, rejoining his unit on 24th September. He was in the newly captured Regina Trench, between Pys and Courcelette, on 18th October 1916, which was still under heavy artillery fire. A shell exploded nearby and he was buried, but his brother Charles was close by and rushed to dig him out. Charles’ shovel struck Leo’s helmet and he then scooped the earth out with his hands. Leo was seriously injured, as the explosion had crushed his back and he was paralysed from the waist down. The enemy barrage forced him to not be moved until evening. He was taken to No 22 Ambulance Train at 8pm and moved to No 1 General Hospital at Etretat, north of Le Havre, arriving at 11pm. Leo died at 11am on 19th October. He was buried in Etretat Churchyard, Seine-Maritime, near Le Havre, France.
As Leo never married, the VC was presented to his father by the Governor-General of Canada, the 9th Duke of Devonshire, at the corner of Portage and Main Streets, Winnipeg on 7th March 1917 before of a crowd of 30,000. This was the first VC presented in Canada. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. As he died on operational duty, his next of kin was eligible for the Canadian Memorial Cross. His medals were donated by his family to the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa in December 2009, where they are held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM, OTTAWA, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: ETRETAT CEMETERY, LE HAVRE, FRANCE.
Plot II, ROW C GRAVE 3A
Stewart May – Clarke VC’s grave in Etretat, France.
Kevin Brazier – Churchyard Map.
Canadian War Museum – Image of his Medal Group.