War hero gave distinguished service in the WW1 trenches

As we near the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One a Motherwell woman has been investigating her great-grandfather's involvement in the conflict.

Thursday, 9th August 2018, 1:04 pm
Updated Thursday, 9th August 2018, 1:08 pm
(Clockwise from top left) Canadian engineers bridging the dry bed of the Canal du Nord, Janice Clark near the spot where her great-grandfather displayed such gallantry, James Clarks medals which are on display at the regimental museum, and James Clark with his wife Elizabeth

In January 1915, at the age of 23, James Clark left his family home in Queen Street, Motherwell, where he lived with his wife Elizabeth and young daughter Margaret and enlisted with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) 9th Battalion.

In May 1915 James, who had previously worked at the Globe Iron and Steel Works, was sent for training at Bardon Camp and a stay at Bramshott Camp before the battalion landed at Boulogne in France attached to the 28th Brigade in the 9th (Scottish) Division for service on the Western Front.

Janice Clark has researched what happened to her great-grandfather, particularly in the latter days of the war.

She said: “The battalion saw action at Loos, the Somme, Arras, Ypres and Cambrai. At some point in 1918 James ended up in the 7th battalion and was involved in the battle of Canal Du Nord on the Hindenburg line on September 27.

“The 7th was one of three Cameronian battalions with the British Third Army at that time and in a joint allied attack they were to force the crossing of the dry Canal du Nord north of Moeuvres in order to capture the heights of Bourlon Wood.

“C and D company were advancing and, having crossed the canal, pressed on to clear the enemy trenches despite being much depleted of men, as well as the loss of their commanding officer.”

That day James committed an act of bravery that was to earn him the Distinguished Conduct Medal. When the company was held up by a machine gun, he took a section and crawled to within 15 yards of the post, rushing it with two men. He killed five, wounded 10 and captured 35, as well as two machine guns.

The regimental diary briefly records: “It was then that Lance-Corporal J. Clark rushed a German machine gun post single handed, killing or capturing the entire crew. For this act of daring he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal”.

Janice said: “The DCM was a high level award for bravery awarded to non-commissioned officers; this honour was rarely awarded and was often viewed as a “near miss” for the Victoria Cross; indeed, there is a family legend that had his commanding officer not been killed it would have been a Victoria Cross.

“Now lost in the midst of time it is impossible to verify if this truly was the case.

“The medal itself is on display in Low Parks Museum in Hamilton, home to the regiment’s museum collection, along with two of his three campaign medals, one of the set was presumably lost prior to being donated.”

The battalion carried on clearing trenches and taking prisoners which allowed other regiments to advance and so the task was accomplished as the Canadians captured Bourlon Wood.

Janice said: “The Cameronians remained in the area salvaging weapons and then marched to the village of Penin where they rested until October 19. The war was over less than one month later.”

James featured in the Motherwell Times on many occasions.

On October 8, 1915, it was reported that Private James Clark had been wounded in the arm (presumably at Loos) and was recovering in a Manchester hospital.

On January 10, 1919, we reported the news of his DCM award and on April 4 that year covered a gathering in his honour at the Drill Hall in Motherwell, attended by 200 employees of the Globe Iron and Steel Works.

He also featured in a January 1920 edition of The London Gazette which reported particulars of the act of gallantry.

James returned to civilian life, working at the Globe Iron and Steel works and in 1921 his son, Samuel, Janice’s grandfather, was born.

He would also go on to work for the burgh cleansing department and was the janitor at Motherwell Library prior to his death in 1950 aged just 58.

His obituary was featured in the February 24 edition of the Motherwell Times.

It was noted: “He was of a quiet and retiring nature and his loss will be deeply felt by his family and friends”.

Janice said: “I have no relatives with any living memory of him but stories passed down the generations suggest, like most veterans of that time, he never really spoke of his service.

“He just seemed to return to civil life and carried on where he had left off in 1915.

“I knew nothing about him until I found a piece of paper, a tatty old photocopy of the excerpt from the London Gazette in 1999 that sparked my interest. I have been researching his life ever since.

“I discovered three of his medals were in the regimental museum in Hamilton and staff there were helpful in providing information from the regimental history of the Cameronians.

“I used Ancestry.com and scotlandspeople.gov.uk for statutory records and war records. Although most WW1 military records were lost in bombing in WW2, I did manage to find a medal award card for his campaign medals of 1915.

“For general information I used www.longlongtrail.co.uk – a really good website with a wealth of information on the British army during the great war.

“However, one of my most invaluable resources has been the archives of the Motherwell Times.

“Staff at North Lanarkshire Heritage Centre in Motherwell, where they have all the old Times on microfiche, are excellent and helped me find all the articles.”

James’s final mention in the Motherwell Times was in February 1969 as an archive piece looked back on the original 1919 article.

He also featured in a photograph in 1974 which showed the workers of the 9th mill in the Globe Iron and Steel Works in 1920.

Janice said: “Hundreds of men from Lanarkshire of that time probably have similar stories, just waiting to be told.”

If you would like to share memories and pictures of your relatives who fought in World War One or served the war machine here at home, email [email protected]