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Clarke, Charles James (1894–1973)

by R. D. Manley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Charles James Clarke (1894-1973), soldier and farmer, was born on 1 October 1894 at Launceston, Tasmania, son of John Clarke, labourer, and his wife Rebecca, née Wright. When he was in his early teens his family began farming at Kialla, Victoria, and he was shearing at Euroa when he enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force on 15 October 1914.

Clarke was allotted to the 14th Battalion and sailed for Egypt in December. They reached Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and served throughout the Peninsula campaign, including several major actions, among them Courtney's Post and Hill 60. Clarke was wounded at Durrant's Post on 12 November, was evacuated and rejoined his unit in Egypt on 19 January 1916. He was promoted lance corporal on 26 May and five days later embarked for France as a signaller. The battalion moved into the line near Armentières in mid-June and in August fought in the battle of Pozières Ridge. Clarke was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry: as a runner he delivered a message from the front line to reinforcements and, under heavy fire, guided them to their position. Later that year he served at Mouquet Farm and, after a brief period in Flanders, spent the winter of 1916-17 on the Somme.

In 1917 the 14th Battalion fought at Bullecourt, Messines and Polygon Wood. Clarke was promoted corporal on 27 February 1918 and was made acting sergeant in June. For 'conspicuous gallantry' in the battle of Amiens he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The citation praised his assistance in maintaining communication lines 'over bare ground swept by field-gun fire'. He 'worked for 48 hours mending breaks and remained four hours after the unit was relieved' helping the incoming unit 'under shell fire of all calibres'. He was made a lance sergeant in August and from then until November fought in the battle of the Hindenburg Outpost-Line, receiving a Bar to his Military Medal for distinguished service as a signaller. He was made a temporary sergeant in January 1919.

Clarke returned to Australia in November and was demobilized in June 1920. Soon afterwards he began farming at Barmah East in Victoria and on 20 December, at St John's Anglican Church, Narioka, married Elizabeth Schier. He remained on the same farm for the rest of his life. Between the wars he helped to raise and train a local light horse squadron and was commissioned lieutenant in the 20th Light Horse Regiment in 1928; by 1938 he was a major. During World War II he served with the second A.I.F. in several training and administrative posts until failing health caused his retirement in 1942. Survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, he died on 10 November 1973 at Mooroopna and was buried in Nathalia Anglican cemetery.

Clarke, known throughout the Nathalia district as 'Nobby', was a popular and colourful personality with a lively sense of humour and a reputation for spinning yarns. Though proud of his military awards he was modest about his achievements and is known to have used his medals on occasion to weight his fishing lines. His estate was sworn for probate at $59,210.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Wanliss, The History of the Fourteenth Battalion, A.I.F. (Melb, 1929)
  • London Gazette, 14 Nov 1916, 5 Dec 1918
  • Nathalia Herald, 3 June 1970
  • Southern Riverina News, 9 Nov 1976
  • private information.

Citation details

R. D. Manley, 'Clarke, Charles James (1894–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/clarke-charles-james-5668/text9571, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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