Military Service Timeline:
Today we remember Haconby man Rowland Stewart Clark who was killed on this day, 4th March 1917, serving with the 2nd Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment.
Rowland was born in Haconby early in 1897 to John Thomas Clark, a farm labourer born in Haconby, and his wife Mary Emma Francis also born in Haconby. His birth registration confirms the spelling of his name as Rowland.
The couple were married in 1896, registering their marriage in Bourne and settled in Haconby where their first child Rowland was born. They stayed in Haconby for a few years before moving to Stainfield. They had 11 children in all.
Rowland Stewart Clark, 1897, Haconby
Madeline Winnifred Clark, 1898, Haconby
Gordon Douglas Clark, 1899, Haconby
Hector Owen Clark, 1901, Haconby
Leonard Reginald Clark, 1902, Stainfield
Phyllis Maud Clark, 1903, Stainfield
Florence Elsie Clark, 1904, Stainfield
Kathleen Mary Clark, 1906, Stainfield
Cecely Ruth Francis Clark, 1908, Stainfield
Donald Leslie Clark, 1910, Stainfield
John Frederick Sleigh Clark, 1911, Stainfield
In 1901 they were already living in Stainfield and Roland can be seen living with his family. Father John is working as a yardman (stock) on a farm now aged 42, Mother Mary aged 27, Rowland is 4 and siblings Madeline (2), Gordon (1) and new born hector is 3 months old.
Moving forward ten years and the 1911 census gives us extra information that Father John Thomas is also and Army Pensioner as well as a farm labourer. Rowland is now 15 years of age working as a farm labourer and his 7 siblings range from 13 years down to 2 month old John. The house is given as a four room house and we can imagine the family living very closely in this space for 10 people.
Further contact with a family member points to the family story that John Thomas Clark was a colour Sergeant in the 1st Lincolnshires before he settled down in haconby as a farm labourer. The Attestation of John Thomas Clark shows that he joined the Army on 3rd April 1876 in Aldershot.
In 1891 John Thomas Clark was at home on census night with his parents in Haconby. He is shown as a Private in the 1st Lincolnshire Regiment, although the original age was written over by the enumerator and a new age of 20 is listed although he should have been 33 and this is what it possibly says underneath the correction.
The next record we find is on 5th February 1895 when John Thomas was listed on the Chelsea Pensions Board ledgers as being discharged the records show that has served in Malta between 1878 and 1881, Gibraltar in 1881-2, then in India 1882-91 and finally serving at home 1891-95
Army records for Rowland no longer exist, most likely destroyed in the London Blitz warehouse fire, but his regimental number for the 2nd Northants would indicate that he joined before the war possibly very early in 1912, which would have been around the time of his 16th birthday.
There is a family postcard that shows Rowland and a group of young soldiers and him writing home in December 1912. In a separate postcard Roland can be seen wearing a signallers badge on his sleeve.
At the time of the declaration of war the 2nd Battalion were stationed in Alexandria but recalled to England in October to join the 24th Brigade (8th Division) at Hurley Park Winchester in October 1914. They were then mobilised for war on the 5th November 1914 and being posted to the Western Front initially near to Bois Grenier and Armentieres.
Rowland is not thought to have been posted abroad at this point as there is no mention of the 1914 or 1915 stars on his medal records. It is possible that he was underage at this point as from 1908 you had to be 18 years of age to fully enlist in a Regular Army Battalion and not to serve abroad or fight until the age of 19. Rowland would turn 19 until 1915 and without full records it is difficult to work out when he would have been posted abroad with his Battalion, although it is estimated that up to 250,000 men under the age of 18 did successfully join the Army and fight during the war.
As we cannot work out when Rowland joined the war on the Front Line, then all we can be sure is that he was with the 2nd Battalion at the time of his death in March 1917.
We turn to the Battalion Diaries for information about their actions during Rowland’s final days:-
20th February 1917 – Sailly-Laurette
Battalion practice in the attack was carried out. The whole division took part in the operations
Similar practice took place both by day and by night
The battalion moved by route march to a tented camp at west of Suzanne
23rd February 1917 – Suzanne (Somme)
Little training was possible owing to the mud and general lack of accommodation. Football was played in the afternoon.
The day was passed very similarly to the previous one.
The Battalion moved back by route march to Sailly-Le-Sec via Bray. The billets taken over were comfortable.
26th February 1917 – Sailly-Le-Sec
The morning was occupied in company training. In the evening the Battalion practiced forming up for the attack by night
A programme of training similar to the previous day was carried out.
28th February 1917 – Suzanne
The Battalion marched back to the camp at L.17.d near Suzanne which it has evacuated on the 25th
1st March 1917 – Asquith Flats
The Battalion moved from tented camp at L.17.b to dug outs at Asquiths Flats
battalion drew stores for the following attack
3rd March 1917 – Butt (c.9.d.3.3)
The Battalion relived the 2nd West Yorks in the Bouchauesnes North sector during the night 2nd / 3rd
The Battalion attacked the enemy trench system on the Moislains Redge. All objectives given to the Battalion were taken and held against repeated counter attacks. The Battalion casualties were 7 officers and 235 other ranks.
Rowland Stewart Clark was one of the other rank casualties from that action being killed in action on the 4th March 1917.
On the 31st March 1917 the Grantham Journal carried the following piece:
Memorial Service – On Sunday afternoon at the Parish Church (Haconby), the vicar, the Rev J.H. Boldero conducted a solemn service in memory of Rowland Clarke, eldest son of Mr and Mrs John Thos Clarke of Stainfield who was recently killed in action in France. There was a good congregation, and the service was fully choral. The vicar made touching reference to the young soldier. The organist Mr J.W. Palmer played “O Rest in the Lord” and “Blest are the Departed”. Great Sympathy for the bereaved parents is felt on all sides.
Rowland Clark was originally buried in the field and then was exhumed and reburied by men of the 612 Labour Company. The original grave was at location at 62C.9.a.1-8. just south of the current Rancourt to Moislains Road, south east of the 5 ways junction. This lays behind the British front line at the start of the day of action and was the resting place for more men. This potentially could have been a first aid post as the men were from several battalions including a few unidentified in 1920.