Tom is remembered on his sisters’ grave

Thomas Clarke was actually the uncle of John Edward Clarke, but was just seven years older. In an age when families were large, and early death was commonplace, we should not be surprised that Thomas’ father married twice, and had two families. Thomas was from the second marriage, and therefore half brother to, John Edward Clarke’s father. A total of eight children were born to the new family. The second eldest, Amos, would become key to Thomas’s story.

Amos had joined the Coldstream Guards as a regular at the turn of the century, and by 1914 had risen to the rank of Sergeant-Major. Yet he often returned to the village, and to his junior school. Meanwhile Tom had married Emma Bexon in 1911, and was in business as a carter and grazier. He volunteered in 1915 by going down to the Coldstream barracks at Caterham – probably with Amos’ help. Yet he wasn’t called up until September 1916. Then he spent another year at Caterham, during which he strained as a stretcher bearer (was Amos trying to keep him safe?).

Tom left for France in August 1916, and would have seen action at the famous and bloody battles of Poelcapelle, Passchendaele, and Cambrai in 1917. By April 1918 they were south of the town of Estaires, between the villages of Vieux Berquin and Neuf Berquin. The German Army had launched its last offensive on 21st March, down on the Somme; now it began a new phase, trying to sweep across the coalfields of northern France. On the 12th and 13th of April, the Coldstream were surrounded; some fought their way back to their own lines, but many didn’t make it. Nearly 260 men were missing, with 17 known to be dead, and 84 wounded. Tom’s record showed he died of wounds, but his grave was never found, and he is remembered on the Ploegsteert Memorial, 11 miles away in Belgium. He died just 15 miles from Noeux-Les-Mines cemetery where hi nephew John lies, and eight miles from Estaires where two other Wymeswold men, John James Collington and George Williams, are buried.

The headstone in Wymeswold is a typical Victorian one; a gothic arch, carved with ivy (clinging to remembrance). Tom’s name is prefaced by a hymn ‘Jesu, lover of my soul’ and followed by a biblical text ‘So he giveth his beloved sleep’ (Psalm 127:2).

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