yeovil at War

Arthur James Clements

Killed in action during the Somme Offensive

 

Arthur James Clements was born in Yeovil in the autumn of 1886. He was the eldest son of general labourer Albert Clements (b 1863) and Alice née Lintern (1865-1893) and in the 1891 census Albert and Alice were living at 4 Gold Croft with their children; Arthur, Mabel (b 1888), Alice (b 1889) and Lily (b 1891). By the time of the 1901 census the family had moved to 5 Reckleford Hill where Albert gave his occupation as brick maker and 14-year old Arthur listed his occupation as an errand boy. By this time Arthur had three younger brothers; Thomas (b 1891), Frank (b 1896) and Stanley (b 1898).

From his Service Number 7497 it appears that Arthur enlisted in the Regular Army at Yeovil during the autumn of 1904 when he was aged 18. He became a Private in the 1st Battalion, Prince Albert's (Somerset Light Infantry). The 1911 census lists him as a Private in barracks, unfortunately the barracks isn't named but was most likely at Taunton.

In the winter of 1912 Arthur married Dora Kate Evis at Yeovil. They were to have two children. Having served his nine year term of service he left the army and moved to Swindon where he worked for the Great Western Railway Company. It would appear that Arthur and Dora moved back to Yeovil and lived at 35 Percy Road.

At the outbreak of war Albert, as a Reservist, was immediately called up and sent to France with the 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. Arthur was wounded towards the end of 1914. After making a recovery he was sent back to the front line where he was attached to the 6th Battalion of the Somersets which had arrived in France on 21 May 1915.

Arthur fought with the 6th Battalion throughout the latter part of 1915 and into 1916. Much of June 1915 was spent in the trenches to the east of Ypres where, although there were no pitched battles as such, the Battalion was under constant shell fire and rifle fire. For much of July the Battalion was employed in carrying supplies to the frontline trenches.

On 26 July 1915, while at Hooge, the Battalion was subjected to a new weapon of war - the flamethrower. This event is described in the Regimental History of the Somerset Light Infantry "Very early in the morning the front-line trenches of the Brigade were suddenly flooded by liquid fire, which belched from jets in the German lines opposite. This new device momentarily caused surprise and confusion, and the victims of this dastardly attack fell back from the front-line trenches which were then occupied by the enemy."

The rest of the year passed in day-to-day trench warfare with, as the Regimental History points out "Two days in and two days out of the front line was the rule at this period, but between the miserable conditions of the billets and the filthy state of the trenches there was little choice." Nevertheless the dangers of almost constant shelling from the enemy was an ever-present danger. The beginning of 1916 was relatively quiet for the 6th Battalion but, even so, Arthur was severely wounded in the head and died from his wounds at a base hospital on 19 February 1916. He was aged 29.

On 25 February 1916, the Western Gazette reported "News has been received in the town of the death from wounds of Private A J Clements of the 1st Somerset Light Infantry, attached 6th Battalion. Deceased was a Yeovilian, and his father at one time resided in Newtown. When War broke out he was working on the G.W.R. at Swindon, as was called up as a Reservist going to France with the 1st Battalion, Somersets. He was wounded two months later, but recovering was again sent to the Front, and attached to the 6th Battalion. Official information was received last week that he had been wounded in the head, and the news of his death at a base hospital came to hand a few days later."

Arthur Clements was interred at Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France, (Grave VI.C.8A), and his name is recorded on the War Memorial in the Borough.

 

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Courtesy of Rob Baker

Arthur Clements' photograph as published in the Western Gazette on 3 March 1916.

 

German flamethrower, first used against the 6th Somersets at Hooge on 26 July 1915.

 

The remains of the village of Hooge - totally destroyed. Photographed in 1919.

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of Arthur Clements.

 

WAAC [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps] gardeners tending the graves of the war dead at Etaples. The wooden crosses would later be replaced by white headstones.

 

Arthur Clements' headstone.

 

Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

During the First World War, the area around Etaples was the scene of immense concentrations of Commonwealth reinforcement camps and hospitals. It was remote from attack, except from aircraft, and accessible by railway from both the northern or the southern battlefields. In 1917, 100,000 troops were camped among the sand dunes and the hospitals, which included eleven general, one stationary, four Red Cross hospitals and a convalescent depot, could deal with 22,000 wounded or sick. In September 1919, ten months after the Armistice, three hospitals and the Q.M.A.A.C. convalescent depot remained. The cemetery contains 10,771 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, the earliest dating from May 1915. 35 of these burials are unidentified. The cemetery, the largest Commission cemetery in France, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.