July 1899 - 27th May 1918 (age 18)
1st/7th Durham Light Infantry
Percival's father was a photographer with the interesting name of John Toulson Faraday Clarke. He married Margaret Elizabeth Bell in 1894 and they had two sons, Faraday Ralph and Percy Suffield (or possibly Suffel) both born in Sowerby. The census shows them living in Thirsk Market Place in 1901, and by 1911 they had moved to 5 Melbourne Place, Sowerby. Faraday trained as a watchmaker's apprentice while Percy became an auctioneer's clerk.
Percy enlisted into the army on 25th August 1917 giving his age as 18 years and 1 month. He was 5 feet 5.75 inches tall with 31 inch chest and weighing 100lbs. He was presumably of a slight build because the medical officer made a comment that he would develop with gradual training. It was also noted that he had a scar on the bridge of his nose and another on the left side of his forehead. The next day, Percy went off to a training camp at Rugeley and he appears to have remained there until going overseas from Folkestone on 31st March 1918. Arriving in France at Boulogne, he joined his battalion on 5th April.
Percy Clarke, copied from the display case at Thirsk Royal British Legion
On 27th May, in another wave of their spring offensive, the Germans began the Third Battle of The Aisne with a massive bombardment of the Allied lines taking them by surprise and advancing rapidly towards the River Aisne. Percy's battalion was close to the front line they were caught in the first day of the advance. Percy was reported missing in action less than eight weeks after he had arrived in France.
There was no further news, and it was common in this situation for the parents to hold on to the hope that their son might still be alive perhaps as a prisoner of the enemy, or in hospital injured, suffering amnesia and unable to give his name. Sometimes, this hope continued for years until after the end of the war when parents would search for missing sons in the lines of returning prisoners of war as they disembarked from ships.
The following item appeared in the Yorkshire Gazette on 29th June 1918:
Pte. Percy S. Clarke of the pioneer Batt., D.L.I., son of Mr. And Mrs. F. Clarke of Melbourne-place, Sowerby, Thirsk, has been reported missing since 27 May. Previous to joining up nearly a year ago he was in the office of Messrs. Seth Kirby and son of Thirsk. Any information respecting him will be gratefully received by his parents.
For Mr & Mrs Clarke the desperate need for news about their missing son, would continue for over six months until they apparently did receive news from one of Percy's friends. The next item appeared in the Yorkshire Gazette on 28th December 1918:
Thirsk. Killed in a Dug-out
Mr. and Mrs. F. Clarke, Melbourne-place, Sowerby have received information that their son Percy, aged 18, of the D.L.I., reported missing on 27 May was killed on that date in France. The news comes from a comrade and friend of their son, who states that the latter was killed with others in the bombing of a dug-out by the enemy.
Percy had been killed in action two months before his 19th birthday which makes him probably the youngest Sowerby man to have died in the War. His remains were never found, and he is remembered on the Soissons Memorial which commemorates almost 4,000 officers and men who died during the Battles of the Aisne and the Marne in 1918 and who have no known grave.
The information on this page was compiled by Steve Billings.
Information about Percy Suffield Clarke on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Information about Percy Suffield Clarke on the War Graves Photographic Project website
Part of the St Oswald's Church website