Stanstead Abbotts

Local History Society

Harry Albert CLARKE

Sergeant 15703

7th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment

Killed in Action 3rd May 1917 aged 27

Born in Hertingfordbury in 1890, he lived with his parents Frederick and Agnes, sister May and his brothers Francis, George, Walter, Ernest and Arthur.  In 1901 his father worked as a gardener and Harry was working as a domestic houseboy.  By 1911 Harry had left home and was living in Holwell House in Hatfield and also working as a domestic gardener.

When Harry joined the army he was posted to the Bedfordshire Regiment, in the 7the Battalion.  He rose to the rank of Sergeant and in March 1917 was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry.  Two months later on 3rd May 1917 his unit were involved in the Third Battle of the Scarpe.  One of the battles of the Arras offensive, and one of the most ill-fated.  The British infantry attack was due to commence at 03.45 but the night was so dark it was put back until 04.15, when the advance began it soon turned into chaos, as the troops lost their direction, the regiment to their left also lost direction and moved right causing further confusion as did 4 tanks supposedly there to help.  Only one managed to get into action and it travelled the wrong way through its own troops.

The German artillery concentrated on the advancing infantry and ignored the British rear areas causing heavy casualties, and as they advanced further they came under heavy machine gun fire from three sides.  Even when they were almost at the German front line they found the wire entanglements almost untouched.  Most of the Bedfords managed to retire but some of No 1 Coy held out in shell holes until late afternoon when they were forced back to their own lines.  The British casualties that day were 5900 killed for no gains in ground at all, one of whom was Harry. Many historians consider this to be one of the most futile assaults carried out during the war.

Harry’s body was never recovered and his is commemorated on the Arras memorial along with 35000 other names without known graves.

Medals Awarded: Military Medal, British War Medal, Victory Medal