Sgt James Clark VC was born on 6th 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
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.
For most conspicuous bravery and initiative during the
attack at Happegarbes on 2 November 1918, when in command of a
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.
- 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.
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.
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 June 8, 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