George B. Clark
Regimental Sergeant Major
The items above have been in our family for a long time. I hadn’t known that much about them, except that they related to my grandfather’s experience during the First World War: my father had kept them and passed them on to me. The framed embroidered postcards were sent by my grandfather, George Clark, to his father, also called George, when he was in France. The field service pocket book has his name inscribed inside. The book entitled The History of the Lincolnshire Regiment is the regiment George Clark belonged to.
Two years ago when my daughter Kathryn was studying the First World War at Mary Webb school she became very interested in our family connections to that period and her great-grandfather. Below is an extract from her Year 8 project which I am proud to be able to quote:
Journeys as a World War One Soldier
Before the war, George was already a soldier in the army and fought in many battles before it. He took part in the Battle of Omdurman in Sudan with Lord Kitchener leading the British and Egyptian army to victory. He was in the 4th 6th Lincolnshire Regiment and brought a pocket watch home which was originally made in 1860.
At the outbreak of war the Lincolnshire regiment consisted of 5 battalions: the 1st and 2nd regular army, 3rd special reserve and the 4th and 5th territorial. The 4th and 5th Battalions of the Lincolnshire regiment formed part of the Lincoln and Leicester Infantry Brigade of the North Midland (T.F) Division. The Division was subsequently numbered as the 46th, and the Brigade the 138th. Regimental Sergeant Major George B. Clark was among the soldiers in this regiment and was sent to France with the formation in February 1915.
On the 15th September 1914 the Government called for all territorial armies to volunteer for Foreign Service. Practically all battalions all over Britain answered to the call but for various reasons not all ranks could take part in overseas combat. Due to the huge number of units that obtained a sufficient number of volunteers for service, they were either termed as the first, second or third line. The original territorial battalions became known as the first line and so the 4th and 5th Lincolnshire regiments became 1/4th and 1/5th battalions.
The first battle for the 4th and the 5th Lincolnshire regiments was when they relieved pressure off the 1st Lincolnshire battalion at the end of the first battle of Ypres. On the 1st March 1915 the 4th and 5th Battalions disembarked at Havre. Two or three days were spent at the rest camp and then they traveled to Strazeele where they arrived on the 9th. Between the days leading up to the 26th of March the battalions moved by stages to the front line. On arrival at Ploegstreert they were attached to the 11th Brigade (4th Division) for instructions in trench duties.
On the 27th March they suffered their first casualties in France – two men were wounded and a corporal was killed.
Any small homes or cottages by the roadside in France were soon taken over and Battalion headquarters were established, many were destroyed by shell fire and on 16th September 1914 every rank lived in ‘holes in the ground’, the trenches. No fires or lights were permitted and men were not able to do any cooking. Tea was sometimes made in the town and rations were fetched by ration parties from the river each night. For a while orchards and vine yards which lay close to the roadside provided fruit for the soldiers. Showery weather and cold nights were very common but when the sun did shine soldiers would bask in the sunlight until the enemies artillery fire opened. The soldiers didn’t have over coats or blankets, just a few waterproof sheets and it came as a surprise to many how all the ranks endured the cold and wet without serious casualties.
There was little rest at the front line trenches at night because during the hours of darkness the battalions stood to arms once or twice and always at daybreak. Whenever the German’s opened a fusilade of rifle-fire everyone had to be on alert, and this happened very frequently at day or night.
On the 1st April 1915, the 4th were living at La Kirlem and the 5th at Steenwerck. A few days later both battalions moved to Dranoutre, and on the 9th they were positioned at frontline trenches, taking over a portion of defences for the first time opposite Spanbrek Mollen. The trenches occupied by the Lincolnshire Territorial Army were in such a wretched condition that they remained a nightmare in the minds of the battalion for many months. The 5th Battalion diary gives a detailed description of the condition of the trenches. One man described them as ‘the worst trench of them all,’ and it is recorded that ‘dead bodies are even half exposed in the parados’ – this was not a cheerful prospect to soldiers almost fresh to trench warfare.
In late June, the 46th division moved to Ypres Salient. The battalion marched to the trenches at 7pm and were ‘situated south of Hooge, east of Ypres. Wooded country. Trenches from part of the famous Ypres Salient.’ For six days after their arrival they were strenuous and the enemies ‘whizz-bangs’ caused a great deal of damage. However the battalion’s snipers completely silenced the Germans and the opposing guns engaged heavy duels, in which all the unfortunate infantry in the front line became involved in. There was a part of the line –number 9- which was blown to bits on more than one occasion. On 4th July the casualty list was very heavy and each day there were several casualties. This tour of Ypres deemed as expensive for the Lincolnshire regiments who were relieved on the 26th July. They lost nine other ranks that were killed and thirty-seven were wounded.
On the 26th September 1915 both the 4th and 5th Lincolnshire regiments went to the front line north and adjoining hill 60. There is, however little record until the 30th of the month when at around 6:45pm the enemy exploded a mine under trench 47, held by the 5th battalion. A Captain was shot dead after the explosion and Lance-Corporal C. Leadbeater in charge of listening at post was blown over the parapet. He crawled back despite being seriously injured and opened rapid fire on the enemy. He was awarded the D.C.M for his conduct. In heavy hostile bombardment during the explosion of the mine the 4th battalion lost one other rank that was killed. On the 1st October both the 1/4th and the 1/5th were relieved. An officer of the 5th battalion said “We turned our backs on the Ypres Salient with great satisfaction.”
The 46th division after around 3 months in the line were relieved for a short rest. But it was very short, on the 2nd they were attached to the XI. They were to relieve the guards Division opposite the Hohenzollern on the night of the 12th October 1915. The attack of the two front line battalions was to pass straight over to the Redoubt without pause and proceed without check to secure Fosse Trench. The assaulting line was to advance under cover of gas and smoke. The 1/4th Lincolnshire, in support, was to follow the assaulting lines 100 yards in the rear. They were to clear by bombing all trenches passed over the front line. At 12 noon artillery bombardment began, for the first half hour Germany’s reply was confined. Next, at precisely 1 pm, the wind being favourable meant that gas was project onto enemy lines and smoke bombs were thrown. All battalions swept over the west face with few casualties, but a further advance was impossible. “Attempts to get to Fosse 8 were made but the intensity of German machine guns made these efforts impossible. Several bombing parties attempted to come over the top but they were wiped out at once. The redoubt was so knocked out we went into the show with 23 officers and 850 men and came out with about one officer and 110 men.” Captain R.E. Madge the only surviving officer of the battle.
On the 1st July the 46th division took seven battalions of the Lincolnshire regiment into battle at the Somme. They attacked at Gommecourt but didn’t attack in the initial stage of the operation. However, they were in front line trenches on the 30th June where they dug a false trench to attract enemy fire. Throughout that night leading up to the 1st of July there was a great amount of activity on their front. Movement during the day was restricts but as soon as night fell every section of the line was busy. “All ranks were in a state of great excitement, and the utmost enthusiasm prevailed, for from patrol reports, it was evident enemy trenches had been terribly knocked”. It was anticipated that going across No Man’s Land would be easy and that the enemy’s first and second system would fall easily into the Allied forces hands. The attack made by the 46th and 56th Divisions failed even though they managed to enter enemy trenches. But they put up a terrific barricade and many were gradually wiped out or captured. The 1/4th luckily didn’t make it out of their trench and were ordered to let the offensive collapse.
Attack towards Lens
On the 23rd June 1917 1/4th took over the line that 1/5th Lincolnshire had been holding since the 3rd at Cite St. Pierre, north-west of Lens. They were at the old-German trenches and gave little protection in the way of wire and obstacles so all the men had to be alert. In May trench warfare was of a strenuous nature, the enemy raided them and they raided the enemy. Bombing, Sniping, trench mortaring and machine-gunning were constant. On the 1st the 4th Lincolnshire regiment took over part of the front line between Fosse II de Lens and Hart’s Crater. They were relieved of duties on the 2nd.
There is not much information about where the fourth battalion went towards the end of the war. We only know he lived through it and was able to tell his story and adventures to his ancestors. He was a role model for his sons who took part in the Second World War and wanted to be like their father.
Marie Miller was related to George B. Clark by the marriage of her daughter Annie Miller. Marie was born in 1893. She married in 1916 and was only a bride for two days before her husband had to attend to his duties in France. Her eldest brother was also called into the war effort in 1917 and he was sent straight to France. He was badly wounded and after five months died not far away from Rome on his journey back home. He was 28 years old and he left his three young daughters, who were all under 5 years old. The youngest was born just a month after he deceased. During the war Annie worked on the land. “I learnt to milk cows and I remember coming home as usual to play the piano and my wrists just wouldn’t work, but I soon got used to it after the week” from an extract taken from her diary. She enjoyed playing the piano and entertained many of the troops this way.