Donald Clarke

Stop number WHITE 15: Walk back down the path and turn left to continue walking along the avenue of lime trees. Look out for the two kerbed graves of the Clarke family on your left (actually they are vaults).
 Clarke family vault
Clarke family vault
Read the story below and, when you are ready, continue towards the Priory Road entrance. When you reach the tall Spicer column (approximately five trees from the end of the avenue) look at the headstones on the opposite side. Can you spot one for the Lucas family? Look at the inscription towards the bottom and you'll see the memorial to Benjamin Lucas who died as a prisoner of war. Now return to the Priory Road entrance where you can begin the Blue and Yellow trails. Alternatively go to the Benjamin Road entrance gate to start the Orange trail.

Donald Clarke Castle
Donald Clarke Castle Hill House (SWOP MHW08566)

Donald Clarke 1895-1916

Hello my name is Donald Clarke. I was born in High Wycombe and my father, Arthur, and grandfather, Daniel were both solicitors. My father became the town clerk, a very important position! We originally lived in Easton Street but then moved to Castle Hill and we lived in the building that now houses the museum. My grandfather lived just across the road in a large house called Havenfield that has now been demolished but the flats that replaced it, just above the railway station, are called Havenfield Court.

As I grew up I was sent away to boarding school, first going to Seafield College. Here I prospered making many new friends and having and achieving exceedingly good academic results in my time there. When I was old enough, I carried on my studies at Mill Hill School. At the age of 18 I gained a place at St John’s College in Cambridge.

At the end of my first year at Cambridge war broke out and I lost no time in responding to the country’s call and I enlisted in the Honourable Artillery Company on the 25th of August 1914. I was drafted to France in the early part of the following September and was in active service in the trenches for a whole year. One of my letters, which I had sent home just before Christmas 1914, was published in the Bucks Free Press on Christmas day. Part of it described what it was like living in the trenches, here is an extract, “That night, when we were thinking of going to bed in the farm, an order came for us to go into the firing line and relieve some of the men who were done up with the cold and wet. The officer who guided us up to the firing line was shot in the arm as he was getting his men out. The communication trench was almost hip deep in parts with water and mud, so our platoon made a rush of about 100 yards to our trenches. The clouds had all cleared away and it was a brilliant moonlit night, and the German trenches were only 80 or 90 yards from ours, so of course they heard and saw us coming and opened fire with rifles and one or two machine guns. How any of us came through untouched is a wonder but we only had one poor fellow killed and one wounded. Nothing much happened during the day except occasional sniping by the enemy.”

In January 1916 I decided that even when the war was over, I would be unable to resume my studies at Cambridge as many of my nearest friends in college had been tragically killed. So my father arranged for me to join him and train to be a solicitor, once the war was over.

In May 1916 I obtained a commission in the Royal Flying Corps. It was exciting to be involved in flying! I was an observation officer and worked the wireless mechanism of a very modern aeroplane. I also was involved in operations in the artillery work and was lucky to be able to manipulate one of the monster howitzers. When directing operations against the Germans I loved to see the shell explode on the German gun positions.

Later in the year I came home for six days leave to see my parents and loved ones, not knowing that this was going to be the last time I would ever see them again.

On August 26th 1916 I was flying a mission over enemy lines in the Somme in a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 when we were shot down. Although I was rescued and sent to a dressing station, I died from my wounds on the same day. I was 21 years old.

A few weeks later the Bucks Free Press published a poem written by my minister at the Union Baptist Church which you can read below.

Donald Clarke researched and performed by Max Armstrong Poem
Donald Clarke researched and performed by Max Armstrong
To see the performance on YouTube click here.

Mrs Minnie Clarke (1867-1951)

I am Minnie Clarke, Donald's mother. I am the daughter of James George Peace whose grave is also on this tour. I married Arthur Clarke in 1893 and we had five children although I was to lose my daughter Angela when she was still an infant. The Peace and the Clarke names are well known in Wycombe because both families have produced aldermen and mayors of Wycombe.

My husband Arthur was both an alderman and the town clerk. He was also a solicitor, practising from his office in Easton Street where we once lived.

I spent my teenage years at Castle Hill House which was the family home of the Peace family but after my mother's death in 1909 my husband Arthur purchased it from my father for our own family to live in.

In Aug 1916 we heard the dreadful news that Donald, my eldest son, had been killed. He was an observer in the Royal Flying Corps and gave up his studies in Cambridge to enlist. There were so many tributes to his memory reported in the newspapers that we were quite overwhelmed by it all.

Being the wife of an alderman and town clerk I was able to use my influence in fundraising for worthwhile causes and my family and I also helped to provide supplies for the VAD Hospital in Benjamin Road. After Donald's death my husband and I decided to pay for a new X-ray room to be built at the Cottage Hospital in Priory Rd in Donald's memory. My family and the families of my sisters (I have four) and my brother, along with many oher bereaved families in Wycombe, also helped us to raise enough money for the new X-ray machine and equipment which was to be installed in this new facility.

However, it was soon discovered that the Cottage Hospital was really too small for further expansion and what we really needed was a much larger hospital to meet the needs of this growing town. So in 1917 it was decided that a fitting memorial to all the local men who had lost their lives due to this war would be to build something much larger in the town. Your present High Wycomne Hospital now stands on the site of our Wycombe and District War Memorial Hospital which opened in 1923. This was built on land to the east of the army barracks which were once situated on the lower slopes of Tom Burt's Hill. My husband sat on the development committee and naturally I got involved in the fundraising. That's why the names of our lost men are listed on the Wycombe Hospital war memorial (now situated by the present main entrance door) and not on the war memorial outside All Saints Parish Church.

Site of the old army barracks The new Memorial Hospital
Site of the old army barracks (SWOP HWS13436) The new Memorial Hospital (SWOP RHW01339)
I am also a prominent citizen of the town in my own right as I am also a magistrate. My father, James George Peace, was a magistrate too and it was quite rare at the time to have both a father and daughter on the same bench.

There is no memorial plaque for our dearest Donald on my grave. Our intention was for his name to be remembered at the Cottage Hospital but the hospital was closed when the new Memorial Hospital was established and the building was later demolished. Fortunately my youngest son Roly was too young to fight. He will follow in the footsteps of both his grandfathers and will become a Mayor of High Wycombe. He and my two daughters will all marry and have children of their own.

In the photograph below I am wearing half mourning (lilac) but at the time of Donald's death I would have immediately gone into black. The war was to change our traditional mourning customs and after the huge number of deaths in 1916 we were urged not to wear black for too long because, with so many bereaved families now in evidence, it would have lowered morale.

 Minnie Clarke researched and performed by Sally Scagell The old Cottage Hospital
Minnie Clarke researched and performed by Sally Scagell The old Cottage Hospital (SWOP MHW02069)

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