Posted by: michaeldaybath | January 9, 2019

Lance Bombadier Leslie Albert Clark, 303rd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery

Loders: Church of St Mary Magdalene (Dorset)

Loders: Church of St Mary Magdalene (Dorset)

966382 Lance Bombardier Leslie Albert Clark of the 303rd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery died of illness in Egypt on the 9th January 1919,aged 23. Lance Bombardier Clark was also a bellringer at Loders (Dorset) and a member of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers (SDGR). Of those commemorated in the Rolls of Honour of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, Lance Bombardier Clark was the final Dorset bellringer to die as a result of the war.

Leslie Albert Clark was born at Loders (Bridport registration district) in the 1st quarter of 1895, the son of Job Clark and Amelia Clark (née Greening). Leslie’s father died in 1897. At the time of the 1901 Census, Leslie was six years old, living at Loders with his widowed mother and three older brothers: Arthur (aged 21, a flax dresser), Fred (17, an engineer’s labourer), and Ralph (13, a labourer on farm). By the time of the 1911 Census, Leslie was sixteen years old and working as a drayman for a corn and seed merchant. Leslie’s mother had married again, so Leslie and two of his elder brothers (Job and Fred) were living at Loders as part of the household of George and Amelia Brown.

Leslie Albert Clark married Harriett Elizabeth Larcombe at Whitchurch Canonicorum (Dorset) on the 15th August 1914, when they both were aged 19. Harriet Larcombe had been born at Whitchurch on the 16th September 1894, the daughter of George Larcombe and Kate Larcombe (née Taylor). At the time of the 1901 Census, Harriett was six years old and living with her parents and five siblings at the Mason’s Arms in Shipton Gorge. By the time of the 1911 Census, she was sixteen years old and working as a servant, part of the household of Arthur Frederick and Eliza Hitchcock at the Royal Oak Inn in Charmouth. Leslie and Harriett Clark had one child, a daughter named Lily Alberta Clark who was born at Bridport on the 28th December 1914. She was baptised there on the 30th January 1915. After Leslie’s death, Harriett  married Albert J. Read at Bridport (registration district) in the 3rd quarter of 1919. She died at Bridport in 1981.

Service with the 303rd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery:

Lance Bombardier Leslie Albert Clark’s service records survive as part of the First World War ‘Burnt Documents’ series (WO 363/4, available from Findmypast) and, combined with other sources, they provide an useful framework for understanding his service career.

Leslie Albert Clark enlisted at Bridport on the 6th March 1915, joining at first the 3rd Dorset Royal Field Artillery. His attestation form records that at the time he enlisted, he was 20 years old and working as a carter. Gunner Clark was immediately embodied, but was transferred in April to one of the County of London Territorial Force Royal Field Artillery (RFA) Brigades. The handwriting is difficult to decipher, but the unit was probably the 2/8th London Brigade, RFA — part of 60th Division — which in 1916 became the 303rd Brigade, RFA.

The 60th (2/2nd London) Division was a second line unit of the Territorial Force. Its field artillery component comprised the 301st, 302nd, and 303rd Brigades, RFA. After initially operating as a source of replacement troops for first line units, the 60th Division began preparing for overseas service in early 1915. In January 1916, the Division moved to Salisbury Plain (Warminster) for “final training and reconditioning prior to departure overseas” [1].

Some insight into the formation of Territorial Force Field Artillery Brigades in contained in a document from April 1915 that forms part of the 303rd Brigade’s War Diary (WO 95/3027/6) [2]:

For April 1915

2/8th London F.A. Brigade.
2/2nd London Division.

(a) Mobilisation – This F.A. Brigade of the 2nd Line was formed early in October at Plumstead. It now consists of 17 officers and 514 N.C.O’s and men.

(b) Concentration at War Station – The F.A. Brigade moved on 9th April, 1915 to its War Station at Boxmoor, Herts, by rail.

(c) – It has no armament. Four dummy howitzers and limbers were constructed by the Brigade at Plumstead, and 24 sets of condemned harness were obtained from the Woolwich Arsenal. Except for this, no training beyond Recruits, Drill, Rifle Drill, and Riding Drill would have been possible. As it is, the component units of the F.A. Brigade are gradually instructing the Gunners in standing Gun Drill on the Dummy Guns, and the drivers in Driving Drill, and coming into action. Four teams can be turn[ed] out daily for this purpose.

Plumstead, being in the vicinity of Woolwich, was well adapted for the quartering of a large body of men, without armament – as classes and courses in different subjects were easy to arrange – classes in the Arsenal, at the Herbert Hospital, Veterinary Courses, Shoeing Smiths Courses, etc. Such an opportunity was taken full advantage of.
Much time has been devoted to signalling, map reading, reconnaissance etc., but the F.A. Brigade has not yet been supplied with Range Finders or Directors – though Dummy Directors were constructed for instructional purposes.

(e) Discipline – The general discipline of the F.A. Brigade has been excellent. Much time has been devoted to instructing the Territorial Officers in the correct procedure as to the disposal of prisoners, and in rooting out a general tendency to departure from the authorised list of summary punishments (K.R. 500, 501) Such instruction is producing good results, Minor Offence Reports are forwarded daily by the Units to the F.A. Brigade Office, and are daily scrutinized and criticized in writing by the O.C.

(f) Administration [of supply & remounts]. The development of the F.A. Brigade has been much hampered and retarded by the lack of remounts. It has had on average about 40 or 50 availables [sic] for the training of some 500 N.C.O’s and men. It is earnestly to be hoped that this deficiency may now be remedied.

(g) Re-organisation of T.F. into Home and Imperial Service – I am of the opinion, that Territorial Units under such circumstances should invariably have the advantage of an expert Regular Officer appointed to them as Adjutant – with a full Instructional Permanent Staff of N.C.O’s. The F.A. Brigade under my command has never had an Adjutant and only one P.S.N.C.O.

H. B. Burrard
Lieut. Colonel, R.F.A.
Commanding 2/8th London F.A. Brigade.

By the time this document was written, the 2/8th Brigade, RFA had moved to Hertfordshire, where the 60th Division was concentrating prior to their move to Salisbury Plain. The 2/8th Brigade seems to have been designated at that time as a howitzer brigade. In May 1915, the Brigade received two 5″ BL Howitzers and Limbers, which were then allocated to each Battery in the Brigade. The 2/8th (How) Brigade, RFA remained in Hertfordshire until the 25th January 1916, when the Brigade left Buntingford by train, destined for Salisbury Plain.

The 2/8th Brigade, RFA then found itself in camp at Boyton, in the Wylye Valley near Warminster. There it trained hard and reorganised several times, also being redesignated the 303rd Brigade, RFA. By June the Brigade had four Batteries, which seem to have operated a mixture of 18-pounder guns and 4.5-inch howitzers. By 1916, divisional field artillery brigades typically had three or four batteries; “A” and “B” Batteries operating 18-pounder guns, and “C” and “D” Batteries operating 4.5-inch howitzers [3]. Alan Smith notes that this mix of equipment provided flexibility in the engagement of targets, “the howitzer proving useful where a steep descending trajectory was required to engage enemy guns on reverse slopes and in ‘dongas'” [4].

IWM Q 24267: A British 18-pounder Field Gun firing from an open position in the flat desert landscape of lower Mesopotamia

IWM Q 24267: A British 18-pounder Field Gun firing from an open position in the flat desert landscape of lower Mesopotamia. © IWM (Q 24267): object/205215660

In June 1916, Gunner Clark was appointed acting Bombardier in “B” Battery of 303rd Brigade, RFA. The Brigade moved to France shortly afterwards. Acting Bombardier Clark embarked at Southampton on the 21st June 1916, arriving at Le Havre the following day. At the time, the British Army on the Western Front would have been gearing-up for the “Big Push” on the Somme, but the 60th Division moved to the Arras sector near Mont St Eloi, where they would be initiated into trench warfare by the 51st (Highland) Division [5]. They would remain in that sector until late November, when the Brigade moved to Marseilles, prior to their move to the Salonika front.

Acting Bombardier Clark thus embarked at Marseilles on the 4th December 1916, arriving at Salonika on the 12th December. After travelling to the front, the 60th Division would take part in operations near Lake Doiran (Dojran) in April and May 1917, part of a much-wider offensive planned on the Macedonian front by the Army of the Orient. By early June, however, the 60th Division was on its way back to Salonika, where it would embark once more, this time for Alexandria and the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF).

Australian War Memorial C00643: A team of camels stands ready to begin pulling a 4.5 inch howitzer across the desert near Moascar, Egypt

Australian War Memorial C00643: A team of camels stands ready to begin pulling a 4.5 inch howitzer across the desert near Moascar, Egypt:

After the end of the Sinai Campaign in late 1916, the EEF had began to push into Ottoman territory in Palestine. After the failure of two attempts to capture Gaza in March and April 1917, a new force commander had arrived in June. This was General Sir Edmund Allenby, who had most recently been the commander of the British Third Army on the Western Front. There followed an extensive reorganisation of the EEF, which included the arrival of the 60th Division. It seems to have been some time in late 1917 that Clark formally became a Lance Bombardier.

After several months of preparation, the Palestine campaign resumed in late October 1917 with an attack on Beersheba. The city was captured on the 31st October and the Ottoman forces withdrew into the Judean Hills. The 60th Division was involved in the capture of Beersheba and several other engagements of the 3rd Battle of Gaza, including the Battle of Hareira and Sheria in early November. By late November, after victories at Mughal Ridge and Junction Station, attention turned to the capture of Jerusalem. but attacks on Ottoman defensive positions near Nebi Samwil, in the hills to the north of the city on the 17th to 24th November, met with fierce resistance. Eventually, however, the city of Jerusalem surrendered on the 9th December.

The 303rd Brigade, RFA had a curious role in the surrender of Jerusalem. On the 9th December 1917, the Turkish mayor of Jerusalem (Hussein al-Husayni) and other civic figures tried several times to hand over the keys of the city to the British military authorities. They encountered members of 60th Division several times. They first made contact with some mess cooks from the 2/20th Battalion, London Regiment (Blackheath and Woolwich), who beat a hasty retreat. After that, the delegation tried again with some sergeants from the 2/19th London Regiment (St Pancras) and then with some officers from the 60th Divisional Artillery, but all were reluctant to accept the surrender. David Woodward explains what happened next [6]:

At this point, Lieutenant Colonel H. Bayley, the commander of the 303rd Brigade RFA, 60th Division, appeared on the scene. ‘Arriving at the top of the road within sight of the Jewish Hospital in Jerusalem and with my 3 battery commanders I was amazed to see a white flag waving and a man coming towards me. I beckoned him on and speaking French he said the Mayor of Jerusalem was at the flag … We sat on chairs on the road outside the Jewish Hospital and he informed me that the Turks had left Jerusalem during the night retreating towards Jericho … Much photographing of me and mayor.’ Bayley then sent the following message to the 60th Division headquarters; ‘Jerusalem has surrendered. Col. Bayley D.S.O., R.F.A. is now with the Mayor awaiting any General Officer to take over the City.’
The first general to appear on the scene was Brigadier General C. F. Watson, the commander of the 180th Brigade, 60th Division. Watson, characterised by Bayley as ‘an awful little ass who specially wanted to be first there’, joined Bayley in making their way to the Jaffa Gate and walking through the gap (made especially for Kaiser William II’s earlier visit) to be greeted by an enthusiastic crowd. General [John Stuart Mackenzie] Shea [the commander of 60th Division] arrived shortly thereafter. Shea, unhappy that he had been upstaged by Watson, repeated the surrender ceremony, only to be informed by Allenby that the honour of receiving the surrender belonged to him.

In 1918, the 60th Division took part in the advance on Jericho in February and in the First Trans-Jordan Raid in March. In September the Division was engaged in the Battle of Megiddo.

Lance Bombardier Clark’s exact whereabouts are not easy to ascertain from his service records. His “Casualty Form — Active Service” shows that he was at Kantara (Egypt) in August 1917. Another entry shows that he rejoined 303 Brigade in Palestine on the 21st September 1918, but whether he had spent the intervening months in Egypt is not entirely clear. On the 5th October he was admitted to hospital suffering from Pyrexia of Unknown Origin (the term that was used for trench fever).

Australian War Memorial P01480.009: No. 17 British Military Hospital, Alexandria, Egypt (1916).

Australian War Memorial P01480.009: No. 17 British Military Hospital, Alexandria, Egypt (1916):

Lance Bombadier Clark rejoined his unit on the 9th December 1918, just over a month after the conclusion of the Palestine Campaign on the 30th October. On the 30th December, however, he was admitted to No. 17 General Hospital in Alexandria, suffering from malaria and jaundice. By the 1st January 1919, he was deemed to be dangerously ill with malaria and gastritis. Lance Bombardier Clark died on the 9th January. Blackwater fever (a complication of malaria) is crossed out on his “Casualty Form — Active Service” as the cause of death, and replaced with: “chronic nephritis, toxaemia [?] and cardiac failure.”

Lance Bombardier Leslie Albert Clark’s death was reported in the Western Gazette of the 24th January 1918 [7]:

DEATH OF BOMBARDIER CLARKE. – Last week Mrs. Clarke, of 194, North Allington, Bridport, received official news of the death of her husband, Bombardier Clarke, R.F.A., which occurred on the 9th inst. in hospital in Egypt, from black-water fever. He leaves a widow and one child, with whom much sympathy is felt. The deceased, who was formerly a carter in the employ of Messrs. Handeford & Sons, joined up in March, 1915, and had seen service in France, Salonika, and Egypt. He was the youngest son of Mrs. Brown and the late Mr. Job. Clarke of Loders, and this is the fourth son lost during the war two others having been killed in action, while another, who served in the Boer War, died at home.

Lance Bombardier Clark was buried at Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery (H. 83.), not too far away from the grave of Gunner Thomas Sylvester Pope of 10th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, a bellringer at Curry Rivel (Somerset) who had died of broncho-pneumonia on the 5th January 1919.

This blog has already noted David Woodward’s comments on the significant threat that sickness posed to the EEF by late 1918 [8]:

Exhaustion, stretched supply lines, and especially disease represented the greatest threat to the EEF. A worldwide flu epidemic combined with malaria in striking down many men.
Tragically, many who served in the infantry as well as the cavalry died after the armistice with Turkey [30th October 1918]. The EEF’s death toll from disease in October and November was 2,158. By contrast, the EEF had suffered only 453 battle deaths during the last two months of the war.

The deaths of Gunner Pope and Lance Bombardier Clark in Alexandria in early January 1919 demonstrate that the threat of disease would persist for some time.

Bridport: War Memorial (Dorset)

Bridport: War Memorial (Dorset)

Family Background:

Leslie Clark’s father, Job Clark, was born at Loders in the 2nd quarter of 1852, the son of James and Jane Clark. He featured in the 1851 Census, aged two, the second youngest James and Jane Clark’s six children. Job was still resident with his family at Loders at the time of the 1861 and 1871 Censuses, when he was working as an agricultural labourer (1861) and labourer (1871).

Job Clark married Amelia Greening at Bridport (registration district) in the 3rd quarter of 1871. Amelia had been born at South Poorton (Powerstock) in the 3rd quarter of 1849, the daughter of Robert and Jean Greening. By the time of the 1881 Census, Job and Amelia Clark were living at Loders, and they now had five children: Louisa (aged 9), Lillie J. (7), Job (5), James W. (3), and Arthur (1). Job was 32 years old and working as a railway labourer. The family were still resident at Loders at the time of the 1891 Census, when Job was 42 years old and described as a worker on the line. Lilly (now aged 17) and Job (15) were by this time working as mill hands, and Jim (13) as an agricultural labourer. Emma (13), Arthur (11), Fred (7), and Ralph (3) were all still at school.

Job Clark died in 1897 (or very late 1896), aged 48, and was buried at Loders on the 2nd January 1897. The 1901 Census records the widowed “Mary Clark” as being resident at Loders with four sons: Arthur (aged 21, a flax dresser in hemp mills), Fred (17, an engineer’s labourer), Ralph (13, a labourer on farm), and Leslie (6, who was still at school).

Amelia Clark (née Greening) then married George Brown in the second quarter of 1901. George Brown had been born at Netherbury in around 1846, the son of Matthew and Matilda Brown (the family moved shortly afterwards to Loders). Like Amelia, George Brown had also been married before, to Esther (sometimes Hester) Travers Hyde in the 2nd quarter of 1870. They had at least two daughters, but Esther died in the 2nd quarter of 1897 and was buried at Loders on the 27th April 1897.

The 1911 Census found George and Amelia Brown living at No. 16, Loders with three of Amelia’s (now mostly adult) children: Job Clark (aged 35) and Fred Clark (27), both of whom were working as farm labourers, and the sixteen-year-old Leslie Clark, who was at the time working as a drayman for a corn and seed merchant. Amelia Brown died in 1945, aged 96, and was buried at Loders on the 17th April 1945.

Loders: War memorial plaque in the Church of St Mary Magdalene (Dorset)

Loders: War memorial plaque in the Church of St Mary Magdalene (Dorset)

As the death report in the Western Gazette noted, three of Leslie Clark’s brothers also died during the war years, two on active service:.

  • Job Clark had enlisted in the Dorsetshire Regiment at Dorchester on the 4th Februrary 1895 and he served in some capacity or other until 1905. He died in the 2nd quarter of 1915, aged 39 and was buried at Loders on the 3rd July 1915.
  • 10228 Private Arthur John Clark of the 6th Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment died of wounds (gunshot wounds, multiple) at No 6 General Hospital, Rouen on the 16th July 1916, aged 36, and is buried in St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen (Seine-Maritime).
  • 82438 Private Frederick Clark of the 58th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps (previously of the Dorsetshire Regiment and the 5th Battalion, London Regiment) was killed in action on the 24th April 1918 and is remembered on the Pozières Memorial (Somme).

Leslie Albert Clark and his two brothers are commemorated on the war memorial in St Mary Magdalene’s Church, Loders. Leslie is also named on the main Bridport war memorial and the war memorial in St Swithun’s Church, Allington. Despite this, there is no mention of Lance Bombardier Clark in J. W. Rowson’s memorial book, Bridport and the Great War [9].

Bridport: War memorial in the Church of St Swithun, Allington (Dorset)

Bridport: War memorial in the Church of St Swithun, Allington (Dorset)


[1] O. F. Bailey and H. M. Hollier, “The Kensingtons,” 13th London Regiment (London: Regimental Old Comrades’ Association, ca. 1935), pp. 219-220; Naval and Military Press reprint.

[2] WO 95/027/6, 303rd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery War Diary, The National Archives, Kew.

[3] Alan Smith’s book on artillery in the Palestine Campaign records that the 303rd Brigade, RFA comprised three batteries: “A” and “B” with six 18-pounder guns, and “C” with four 4.5-inch howitzers; see: Alan H. Smith, Allenby’s gunners: artillery in the Sinai & Palestine Campaigns, 1916-1918 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2017), pp 308-309.

[4] Ibid., pp. 36-37.

[5] J. Stirling, The Territorial Divisions, 1914-1918 (London; Toronto: J. M. Dent, 1922), p. 169:

[6] David R. Woodward, Forgotten soldiers of the First World War: lost voices from the Middle Eastern front (Stroud: Tempus, 2006), pp. 203-204; Woodward here cites two sources from the collections of the Imperial War Museums: diary and letter of 10th December 1917, IWM, Bayley MSS 86/9/1; and diary, IWM, Chipperfield MSS 75/76/1.

[7] Western Gazette, 24th January 1918, p. 3; via British Newspaper Archive.

[8] Woodward, op cit., pp. 271-273.

[9] J. W. Rowson, Bridport and the Great War: its record of work at home and in the field (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1923).

Update January 9th, 2019:

I have just noticed that 966395 Gunner William Henry Hardiman, a bellringer at St Mary’s Church, Bridport, had a broadly similar service history to that of Lance Corporal Clark. Hardiman enlisted at Bridport on the 6th April 1915 and, like Clark, at first joined the 3rd Dorset Brigade, RFA, part of the 3/3rd Wessex Brigade. J. W. Rowson’s memorial book on Bridport provides some more background on the Dorset RFA [1]. The Dorset Battery had been formed as part of the Territorial Force in 1908 and it mainly recruited from Dorchester and Bridport. The battery mobilised for war in 1914 and volunteers for overseas service provided a first line unit that sailed to India later that year with the Wessex Division, where they (under various formation names) remained until the end of the war. A second line unit was also established, which also served in India as a garrison and training unit. After the departure off the first two units to India, the parts of the battery that remained at Bridport became the 3rd Dorset Depot Battery of the 3/3rd Wessex Brigade. In 1915, the unit moved to Kettering (Northamptonshire) and became part of a training brigade known as No. 3 Reserve Brigade, RFA. The Wessex units in this brigade eventually became part of No. 303 Brigade RFA and proceeded to France in June 1916. I have yet to work out, however, the finer details of how No. 3 Reserve Brigade and the 2/8th London Brigade came together in the 303rd Brigade, RFA. Gunner Hardiman was  killed in action on the 9th November 1917, probably during the advance that followed the Third Battle of Gaza.


[1] J. W. Rowson, Bridport and the Great War: its record of work at home and in the field (1923; reprinted: Lyme Regis: Cobblyme Publications, 2003), pp. 135-146.

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