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Penshurst Recruitment WW1

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Another young lad who joined after the Recruitment Drive meeting was Arthur Albert Clark. He was born in Penshurst in 1897.

His Father was Henry Robert Clark (a butcher) of Penshurst. His mother was Catherine Elizabeth (nee Blood) Clark. (Note: this was Catherine’s second marriage. She had first married Thomas Hyde in 1884. Thomas died in November 1891 at Penshurst. Thomas and Catherine had four children. Eleanor Hyde, 1885, Robert James Hyde, 1887, John Thomas Hyde 1890 and Elizabeth Hyde 1892. The two Hyde boys also served in the AIF during WW1. These children were all step brothers and sisters to Arthur Albert Clark.

Arthur was apprenticed as a Tinsmith to Mr N Lee of Penshurst. After coming forward at the recruitment drive he joined the army on the 16th July 1915. For some unknown reason he was re-attested on the 2nd March 1916 at Langwarrin although his parents had signed a consent form allowing him to join.

No. 5990 Private Clark was aged 18 years at enlistment. He was assigned to the 5th Battalion 19th Reinforcements. After training he left Australia on the 28th July 1916 aboard the HMAT Themistocles. He arrived in England and joined the 2nd Training Battalion on the 15th September 1916. He was taken on strength of the 39th Battalion on the 23rd September 1916. You could say it was all downhill for Arthur after that. He was admitted to the Fargo Military Hospital on the 30th October 1916 suffering from Tuberculosis. He was in hospital until the 23rd November 1916 when he embarked for overseas to France. Another stint in hospital from the 8th February 1917 till the 24th February 1917, this was not a serious illness.

Arthur was appointed Lance - Corporal on the 18th May 1917.

"For two years Australian, British and Canadian miners had engaged in subterranean warfare digging an intricate tunnel system under the enemy's front line. The Allies used these tunnels to further tactical advantage, packing massive charges of the explosive ammonal to obliterate enemy defences. The main Australian effort was at Hill 60 where Tunnelling Companies worked for months, reinforcing and protecting the large mines in its region. The professionalism and skill of all the Allies was demonstrated by the Germans' inability to locate mines.

The attack, codenamed 'Magnum Opus', was set for 7 June 1917 with 'Zero' hour at 3:10am. A seven day preliminary bombardment was conducted to put pressure on the enemy during the days leading up to the infantry assault. Battalions were brought forward from their billets in Pont de Nieppe to the farms around the south and west of Ploegsteert Wood. The Germans were aware of the impending offensive, but it was coincidence that they shelled the Wood with gas while attacking troops were forming on 6 June, the 3rd Division was subjected to a gas attack, causing between 500 and 2000 casualties.

Every German gun seemed to be pouring gas shells over, and the air was full of the whine peculiar to the aerial flight of a gas-shell. They burst all round the columns, and a number of men were killed or wounded by flying nose-caps. Occasionally the monotonous whine and pop of impact was relieved by a high explosive or an incendiary shell, and the casualties were fairly heavy. The remainder of the approach march was like a nightmare. The actual wearing of a small box-respirator is a physical discomfort at any time, but on a hot dark night for men loaded with ammunition, arms, and equipment, it is a severe strain. Wounded and gassed men were falling out, and officers and non-commissioned officers were continually removing their respirators to give orders and to keep their platoons together. A shell would burst in a platoon, the dead and wounded would fall, and the rest of the platoon would pull themselves together and move on, for above everything was the fixed determination to be in position at the Zero hour, and the realization that this terrible gassing, if it prevented our arrival on time, might easily result in the failure of the whole operation.

Messines was the first time Australians and New Zealanders had fought side by side since the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. They were to capture the ground to the east of Messines village all the way to the final Green Line objective.

At 3:09am, eyes peered nervously through the darkness at watches as the final seconds ticked down. Along the front line, men waited anxiously for the subterranean cataclysm that signaled battle had commenced. At 3:10am on 7 June 1917, the detonator switches were triggered the earth erupted into pillars of fire and earth, instantly obliterating the thousands of German troops above the explosions.

The detonation of nineteen mines along the Messines/Wytschaete ridge signaled the start of an attack designed to capture the strategically important high ground to the south of Ypres. Many thousands of German troops were simply obliterated as the earth erupted beneath them. As the historian of the 37th Battalion wrote, "Nothing could have withstood such an onslaught; and nothing did.

Climbing out of the trenches, waves of attacking British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers of Godley's II Anzac Corps sought to capitalize on the shock of these explosions and the accompanying artillery barrage and occupy the enemy's positions before they had the chance to form a new defensive line. The scale of the mine explosions neutralized both the enemy's guns and disrupted their planned counterattacks. One mine had detonated in front of the British 25th Division's sector, while three detonated in front of the 3rd Australian Division's sector with a fourth just to the right of that. A great machine gun barrage fired over the heads of the attacking infantry and pioneers as they moved forward in the pre-dawn darkness, with choking smoke and dust in the air from the great disruption of earth further hampering visibility. German troops directly above each of the mines had been wiped out by the blast along lengths, Bean estimates, "of some 150 yards of trench. " II Anzac suffered 13,500 causalities.

Private Arthur Albert Clark was wounded on the 7th June 1917 he was shot in the right arm (causing a fractured arm). On the 20th August he suffered another gunshot wound to his right thigh which was severe. He was transferred to the Casualty Clearing Station and then on to the Ambulance Train.


Show left; "Although not a scene from battle we have mentioned here this photo highlights the dangerous conditions the medical personal worked under. This photo is a scene on the Menin Road near Hooge, looking towards Birr Cross Roads. The wounded on the stretchers are waiting to be taken to the clearing stations; others able to walk are making their way along the road as far as possible. Shortly after the photograph was taken a shell landed in approximately the area where Maj Heydon (the man with the sling 5th from the left) and Pte Murphy had been standing. The shell killed most of the wounded on stretchers and LCpl Findlay was blown under the truck, shown lying on its side to the right".

On the 21st August Arthur was transferred from the 12th General Hospital to the ship "Essiquibo" for return to England. He was then admitted to the hospital called 6C Temp Hospital Exeter. Note: Exeter had 5 Military Hospitals in 1917 where Australian, New Zealand and Canadian troops were brought. He was again admitted to hospital on the 20th October 1917 with Tuberculosis. 

He stayed in hospital until the 29th October when he was transferred to the Port of London and embarked aboard the "HMAT Anchieses" for home on the 1st November 1917. He arrived in Australia on the 3rd January 1918. He was taken to the Macleod Military Hospital for further treatment and recuperation.

He was discharged from the Army on the 4th July 1918.

Arthur Albert married Emma Rowland on the 20th November 1919 at Homebush Vic. The couple had three children we know of, Lorna Violet, Geoffrey and Roy Anderton.

Arthur died on the 5th May 1972 at Carnegie. He was cremated at Springvale and his ashes were collected.


Trove Newspapers. (Hamilton Spectator and Penshurst Free Press)

National Archives of Australia

Australian War Memorial

C.E.W.Bean Official WW1 Histories

Compiled by Ron Heffernan.

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