William Mitchell Clarke 12 November 1916

William Michell Clarke, a Grafton boy, died on the Somme and was the last Oundelian soldier to be killed there in the great battle of 1916.  According to the Oundle School Memorial Book, he was killed in action on 11th November 1916, two years to the day before the Armistice which ended the War. In fact, regimental and cemetery records show that he was killed by a shell on the 12th November. He came from Bristol and was named after his grandfather, another William Michell Clarke who had been a surgeon. The younger William’s father, John Michell Clarke was an even more eminent doctor in Bristol becoming vice-chancellor of Bristol University in 1911. He was a Caius College, Cambridge man and was in charge of one of the big military hospitals in Bristol during the war, apparently working himself to death in 1918 at the age of 58, having achieved the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

Although he had been a Clifton College boy, John Clarke sent his second son William to Oundle. He was in Grafton from January 1911 to the summer of 1915. On leaving, he immediately joined the South Midlands Royal Engineers and received a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in October 1915. He reached France in September of 1916 and was killed on the Somme just two months later in the last days of that unfortunate campaign. Even though winter was approaching and no breakthrough now possible, the British commanders were still keen to impress the French and the politicians and public back home with some sort of victory on the Somme. In this they failed, and William Clarke paid with his life. He lies buried at Martinpuich British Cemetery, south-west of Bapaume, close to where he fell. He was 19 years old at the time of his death.

C Pendrill
Yarrow Fellow