Veteran who saw horrors of war is remembered

Bill Clarke
Bill Clarke

A Londonderry soldier who experienced some of the most striking moments of World War Two has been remembered fondly following his death.

Bill Clarke passed away on New Year’s Day, aged 92.

He had led an extraordinary life; after surviving the conflict he went on to chair his trade union branch, and later re-married at the remarkable age of 82 following the death of his first wife years earlier.

Son-in-law Malcolm Campbell, 60, from Newtownabbey, said although he did not often bring up the subject, the war had loomed large in his life.

He said: “I remember he described one time they were coming up to a French farmhouse, and a French woman came up holding her child.

“A German sniper shot the child, and the woman started screaming her head off. Then the sniper shot the woman The intention was to draw fire, so they could get the position of the British soldiers. It was really not a pleasant sight.”

Mr Clarke had also come across Belsen –one of the more notorious mass murder camps where the fascists had sent Jews to be slaughtered.

He did not go into details about the experience but Mr Campbell said: “As he put it, he saw what happened there.”

Of the man himself, Mr Campbell added: “He was a real character. He was a man who didn’t talk about the war very much.

“He sort of kept it within himself. He was a good man, led a good life, was very straightforward and honest.”

After the war he was posted to the Near East, and his time in Jerusalem was described as “cathartic” for him, following the carnage of previous years.

When he left the Army, he became an engineer in the General Post Office, later rising to become branch chair of the BT engineers’ trade union.

Originally from Londonderry, he had lived in Belfast, Carrickfergus and latterly Coleraine, where he was a member of St Mary’s Parish Church, Macosquin.

His funeral was on January 4, and he was laid to rest at Glendermott New Cemetery, Londonderry.

His great-nephew Victor Foster was said to be particularly affected by the death. He is also remembered by his widow Margaret, and by the wider extended family.

Bill Clarke was born on November 12, 1921.

The following details have been provided by his family:

Four days after his 18th birthday, Bill went to the recruiting centre in Londonderry and joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He went for training in Omagh and after about four months, around mid-April 1940, he and up to 40 others were sent to France as reinforcements for the British Expeditionary Force.

It was forced into retreat and, after several days on foot, Bill and his group made it to Dunkirk around 9am in the morning, with the beaches under continued attack. He made it offshore at about 7pm the next day, and then back to the UK.

Later he was moved to the south of England, without being told why, as heavy military equipment accumulated around them.

It turned out, of course, to be the D-Day build-up.

At about 6.30am on June 6, 1944, he waded ashore onto Sword beach in France, under fire.

The then-23-year-old went on to suffer injuries to his leg, face, chest and arm during the advance into Europe.