Leo Clarke

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For the Australian bishop, see Leo Clarke (bishop).
Leo Clarke
VCLeoClarke.jpg
Born 1 December 1892
Waterdown, Ontario
Died 19 October 1916
France
Buried at Etretat Churchyard
Allegiance Canadian Red Ensign 1868-1921.svg Canada
Service/branch Canadian Expeditionary Force
Years of service 1915 - 1916
Rank Sergeant
Unit 2nd (Eastern Ontario Regiment) Battalion, CEF
Battles/wars First World War 
Awards Victoria Cross

Leo Clarke VC (1 December 1892 – 19 October 1916) was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Early life[edit]

Clarke was born in Waterdown, Ontario. He spent his early years in England, home of his parents, but later returned and settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba in about 1903. When World War I started, he was working as a surveyor for the Canadian National Railway in the Canadian north. He returned to Winnipeg to enlist in the 27th Battalion, and after arriving in England in June 1915, transferred to the 2nd (Eastern Ontario Regiment) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force to be with his brother, Charles.

Victoria Cross[edit]

The main assault of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette was scheduled for September 15, 1916. Its objective was to occupy a chain of trenches between Martinpuich and Courcelette. On 1 September 1916, Clarke's battalion was charged with capturing a 50-yard-long salient between the Canadian position at Mouquet Farm and Courcelette to the north.

On 9 September 1916, near Pozieres, France, the first three companies of Clarke's battalion went over the top, leaving the fourth in reserve. Clarke, an Acting Corporal at the time, was assigned to take a section to clear the enemy on the left flank to allow his company sergeant to build a fortified dugout that would secure the Canadian position once the salient was overrun. When his section reached the trench, it was so heavily defended that they had to battle their way through with hand grenades, bayonets and their rifles as clubs. Clarke was the only man left standing; the rest had either been killed or wounded.

At that time, about 20 Germans, including two officers, counter-attacked. Clarke advanced, emptying his revolver into their ranks. He then picked up two enemy rifles and fired those too. One of the officers attacked with a bayonet, wounding Clarke in the leg, but Clarke shot him dead. The Germans retreated, but Clarke pursued, shooting four more and capturing a fifth. In all, Clarke killed 19 of the enemy, capturing one.

Decoration and Medals of Leo Clarke VC, on display at the Manitoba Museum, Winnipeg, Manitoba, October 19, 2014

Death[edit]

Grave

On 11 October 1916, Clarke's battalion was ordered forward to secure the newly captured Regina Trench which was still under heavy enemy artillery fire. Clarke was crouching in a hole at the rear of a trench when a shell exploded and the back of the trench caved in, burying him. His brother dug him out, but Clarke was paralyzed; the weight of the earth had crushed his back and injured his spine. Clarke was taken to No. 1 General Hospital, but died on 19 October. He is buried in Plot II, Row C, Grave 3A, in Etretat Churchyard, 16 miles north of Le Havre, France. According to a contemporary newspaper article, shortly before his death he wrote his parents, stating: "I don't care so much for the Victoria Cross as getting home for a couple of months."

Legacy[edit]

Clarke was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in the spring of 1917. It was presented, by the Duke of Devonshire (Governor General of Canada in 1917), to Leo's father before a crowd of 30,000.

In 1925, Pine Street in Winnipeg was renamed "Valour Road" in honour of Clarke and fellow Victoria Cross winners Frederick William Hall and Robert Shankland, all of whom lived on the 700 block.

A plaque in his honour was erected by the Ontario Heritage Foundation at the Royal Canadian Legion branch in Waterdown.

Clarke's story was featured in a Historica vignette, which was run nationally in Canada.

References[edit]

External links[edit]