Unit: Royal Navy
Rank: Stoker 1st Class
Commemorated:St. Olave Churchyard, find Ruckland
A Sailor serving on H.M.S. Laertes, order Ernest was the son of John and Harriet Clarke. He was married to Jessie K. Clarke (nee Keal), visit a Tetford girl, whose last address was Hillside Cottage, Ponchurch, Ventnor, Isle of Wight. Ernest was 35 years old when he died and was a native of Lincoln. He died in Shotley Navel Hospital, Ipswich, as the result of wounds he had received during the German raid of Lowestoft on the morning of 25th April 1916.
At the time, H.M.S. Laertes formed part of the Harwich Force of light Cruisers and Destroyers. At about 4.10am on the morning of the 25th, German Navel forces commenced the 20 minute bombardment of Lowestoft, in which 4 civilians were killed. The Harwich Force was dispatched to engage the enemy. This it successfully did, managing to persuade the German Force to break off its engagement of the town. In the following chase the British force suffered hits to two of its cruisers and one of its destroyers, H.M.S. Laertes. She was hit in the boiler room and, but for the brave actions of Ernie, she would have been lost. It is reported he unhesitatingly went forth to release pressure valves and, in so doing, was very badly scolded. He died from these wounds on the 10th May. Altogether the British suffered 21 casualties, the cruiser Conquest being badly hit. For this, Ernie was decorated for bravery. Ernie is the only man named on the memorial to have been thus decorated. Page 6213 of the London Gazette dated 22nd June 1916 (published after his death) records “The King has further been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Distinguished Service Medal …. to Stoker 1st Class E. J. W. Clarke”. Even so, this brave man could find no welcome resting place as newspaper reports of the time verify. He was refused burial in Tetford graveyard – he was not a native of the village – and so he lies in the churchyard of St. Olav found in the next Parish of Ruckland!!
Ernie served on the type L Class destroyer, H.M.S. Laertes. Built by Swan Hunter on the 6th June 1913, she had a displacement of 995 tons, was oil fired and had a top speed of 29 knots. She was one of the attacking force in the battle of Heligoland Bight, fought on the 28th August 1914, in which she suffered badly, being towed back to port. Her armament consisted of 3 x 4” guns with 4 torpedo tubes. Laertes survived the war and was finally sold off in 1921, only to be broken up at Dover.