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Clarence Smith Jeffries (1894–1917)

by J. B. Hopley

This article was published:

Clarence Smith Jeffries (1894-1917), by unknown photographer, c1916

Clarence Smith Jeffries (1894-1917), by unknown photographer, c1916

Australian War Memorial, P01920.028

Clarence Smith Jeffries (1894-1917), soldier and mining surveyor, was born on 26 October 1894 at Wallsend, New South Wales, only child of Joshua Jeffries, colliery manager, and his wife Barbara, née Steel, both born at Wallsend. After attending Dudley Primary School, where he excelled at cricket, and the Newcastle Collegiate and High schools, he was apprenticed to his father as a mining engineer. A young man of high standards and ideals, he strove to excel in all he did. Jeffries had a particular interest in the study of breeding thoroughbreds, although not in racing them, and always kept fine horses.

His military service began in the militia when he was 14. He joined the 14th (Hunter River) Infantry Regiment as a private in July 1912 under the compulsory training scheme, and was promoted sergeant a year later. Commissioned second lieutenant on 22 August 1914, he was mobilized for home defence duties and instructed volunteers for the Australian Imperial Force at Newcastle and Liverpool camps. He was promoted lieutenant in July 1915. On 1 February 1916 Jeffries, then in charge of the Abermain Collieries surveying department, was appointed second lieutenant in the 34th Battalion, A.I.F., and three months later embarked for England. In August he was promoted lieutenant and in November his battalion moved to the Western Front where he spent the early months of 1917 on front-line service in the Armentières sector, France. Highly respected by those serving under him and by his superiors, his first major action was at Messines where, on 9 June, he was wounded in the thigh while leading a reconnaissance patrol. Promoted captain on 26 June, Jeffries rejoined his unit in September.

On 12 October, in the attack on Passchendaele during the third phase of the battle of Ypres, his company's advance towards its first objective was held up by two pill-boxes. He organized and led a bombing party which eliminated the obstacle and captured thirty-five prisoners and four machine-guns. He then led his company forward, under an extremely heavy enemy artillery barrage and enfilade machine-gun fire, to the objective. Later that morning the battalion's advance to its second objective was delayed by a machine-gun post. Jeffries led another party to capture the position, enabling the advance to continue, but was killed during the operation. For his service that day he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, for 'most conspicuous bravery in attack'.

Jeffries was buried near Passchendaele, in the Tyne Cot military cemetery. His headstone is inscribed:

On Fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread.

Upon his mother's death, his Victoria Cross was presented to Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle. Elsewhere, he is commemorated by photographic portraits in the Abermain Memorial and Citizens' Club, a carved chair presented to Abermain Holy Trinity Anglican Church by his uncle and aunt, and by the Jeffries-Currey Memorial Library at Dudley Primary School where William Currey, V.C., had also been a pupil.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1917 (Syd, 1933)
  • Short History of the 34th Battalion, AIF (Carlton, NSW, 1957)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • London Gazette, 14 Dec 1917
  • Reveille (Sydney), Feb 1929, May 1933
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 17 Dec 1917, 26 June 1919
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Dec 1917, 28 Apr 1954
  • Sydney Mail, 2 Jan 1918
  • war diary, 34th Battalion (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

J. B. Hopley, 'Jeffries, Clarence Smith (1894–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 9 December 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Clarence Smith Jeffries (1894-1917), by unknown photographer, c1916

Clarence Smith Jeffries (1894-1917), by unknown photographer, c1916

Australian War Memorial, P01920.028