World War One: Sergeant James Clark VC

Date published: 08 November 2018

Sgt James Clark VC was born on 6 April 1894 in Winsford, Cheshire. He left school at the age of 14, where he worked as a day-labourer, before he enlisted into the Lancashire Fusiliers in October 1915.

He began his working life as a farm labourer, moving to Rochdale in 1913 where he worked as a carter for Butterworth Brothers in Milnrow and then William Tatham and Sons engineers.

He married in August 1915 and lived in Clyde Street, off Vavasour Street, before, in October of that year, he enlisted into the 6th (Rochdale) Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers.

He was posted to the Western Front, where he rose to the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major.

On 2 November 1918 he was in charge of a platoon which braved heavy machine gun fire to reach a well-defended ridge. In the action, RSM Clarke and his men captured four machine guns and single handedly bayonetted the crews. Later he led the remnants of his platoon to capture three more machine guns and many prisoners.

The next day, after capturing more prisoners, he was able to hold up an enemy advance. The day after, in an attack on the Oise Sambre Canal, under heavy fire from the bank, he rushed forward with his team in the face of an intense barrage, brought his gun into action and effectively silenced the enemy. 


Sgt James Clarke VC. 37721

For most conspicuous bravery and initiative during the attack at Happegarbes on 2 November 1918, when in command of a platoon.

He led his men forward with great determination, and on being held up by heavy machine-gun fire, rushed forward through a thick, strongly held ridge, captured in succession four machine-guns, and single-handed bayoneted the crews. Later he led the remnants of his platoon to the capture of three machine-guns and many prisoners. In the later stages of the attack on the same day, when his platoon was held up by enemy machine-guns, he successfully led a tank against them over very exposed ground.

Continuing the attack on 3 November, after capturing many prisoners and gaining his objective, he organized his line most skilfully and held up the enemy.

On 4 November, in the attack on the Oise-Sambre Canal, under heavy fire from the canal bank, he rushed forward with a Lewis Gun team in the face on an intense barrage, brought the gun into action, and effectively silenced the enemy's fire, this enabling his company to advance and gain their objectives. Throughout the whole of these operations Sgt Clarke acted with magnificent bravery and total disregard of personal safety, and by his gallantry and high sense of duty set an inspiring example to all ranks.


Sgt James Clark VC medal group


Medal group

  • Victoria Cross
  • British War Medal (1914-20)
  • Victory Medal (1914-19)
  • King George VI Coronation Medal (1937)

In July 1984 his medals came up for auction at Christie’s where they were bought by a private collector for £8,800.

Later life

On 1 February 1919 a large crowd welcomed him home to Rochdale, where he was presented with commemorative gifts including a gold watch. Days later he was presented with the Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace.

His war experiences had left him with precarious health, and it was difficult to find steady work. At one point he operated a barrel-organ, first in Manchester, then in central London.


Sgt James Clark VC going to the 1929 dinner in London
Sgt James Clark VC going to the 1929 dinner in London


Mr Clarke went on to attend reunions of VC winners in 1920 and 1929, while working as a stoker in Rochdale, but he lost his job when ill-health overtook him.

He was healthy enough to participate in the World War II Victory Parade on 8 June 1946, but died the next year of pneumonia at Birch Hill Hospital, Rochdale, Lancashire. He was buried with full military honours at Rochdale Cemetery a few days later.

His grave remained marked by only a simple wooden cross until 1994 when the Lancashire Fusiliers Regimental Association spearheaded a drive to replace the cross with a more permanent marker.


James Clarke's grave


Reprinted with kind permission from Rochdale Borough Council

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