Wearside soldier died just days after a postcard was sent to his family

He'd written home to reassure his family that he was still alive.

Thursday, 13th September 2018, 11:00 am
All the family together with Henry Edward Clark featured front, centre, seated.

But within a week of it being sent home, Private Henry Edward Clark from South Hetton was dead – yet another of the men of Wearside to die in the First World War.

His story comes to us courtesy of historian Kevin Dance who explained further.

The postcard which was sent home by Henry just days before his death.

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It must have been a welcome sight to get a letter from The Front.

In July 1917, the Clark family received a postcard from their son Henry which contained only the most basic details.

It was standard Army issue. Soldiers had to cross out the bits that didn’t refer to them – a sort of multiple choice reply.

Henry crossed out the bit which said he was either admitted to hospital or hoping to be discharged soon and left the one in, which said: ‘I am quite well’.

It was the last his family would hear from him.

On July 12 that year, he was part of a battle which ended badly for the British.

Kevin explained: “The Battalion were involved in what became known as The Battle of the Dunes.

“The British took over an area for a brief period of time, from July to September 1917, that had been controlled by the Belgian army.

“The plan was to prepare for a British assault on a German U-boat base at Bruges.”

The attack was to be known as Operation Hush but, as Kevin explained: “This assault was eventually cancelled. Once the Germans realised what was going on they launched a massive pre-emptive attack on July 12, 1917.

“The bombardment from the German artillery quickly destroyed many bridges in the area leaving British soldiers isolated in the sand dunes. Those isolated men were quickly overrun, captured or killed.

“It is during this German attack that Henry is killed and his body never recovered.”

It was a tragic end, just days after Henry’s family had been given news from the Front saying he was safe.

Henry was awarded the Victory and British War Medals.

Behind his sad story of war was the tale of a much-travelled family whose journeys had taken them around the British Isles.

His father John Richard Clark hailed from Cornwall but married Catherine whilst working as a Customs Officer in Ireland.

Yet by 1901, the family were living at Front Street in South Hetton. John is described as a Naval Pensioner although also working as an Engineers Labourer.

Henry was one of the youngest of John and Catherine’s family.

By 1911, Henry was a working man himself and would have been 17 when he was down the pit, employed as a Set Loader.

By 1914, Henry had answered his country’s call and volunteered to join the Army.

But in what might have been a nod to his birth country, he enlisted with the 25 th (2nd Tyneside Irish) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers.

Kevin explained: “The 25th was a “Pals Battalion” – specially formed of men who had enlisted together in local recruitment drives. They would have been assured that they would be able to serve together alongside their friends rather than be assigned to a random regiment.”

The 25th first saw action at Armentieres in France close to the Belgian border at the beginning of February.

By July, they were action at the Battle of the Boiselle (the first day of the Battle of the Somme).

But as numbers dwindled in the tragedy of war, it’s likely that Henry was transferred to the 27th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and then even later to the 16th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers – perhaps after returning from injury,

Kevin added: “We’ll never know for sure as his military records no longer exist.”

But we do know that he served his country with honour.

To share your own stories of relatives who died in either of the world wars, get in touch and tell us more.

You can do that by emailing [email protected]