Tuesday, 19 October 2021

War veteran for whom family was everything

HENRY CLARK was born on September 15, 1920, the fifth of six children.

HENRY CLARK was born on September 15, 1920, the fifth of six children.

He was known as Harry by his wife and children and was forever surrounded by family, which gave him great joy throughout his life.

Harry had two brothers, Edward and Frank, and three sisters, Elsie, Dot and Marjorie.

Sadly, Harry lost his father when he was only eight years old and his sister Marjorie when she was 12.

Despite these setbacks, Harry’s childhood, spent in Nettlebed, was a happy one.

He always spoke of his mother, who worked hard to raise her family, with love and admiration.

She was a role model for Harry himself as he went on to have a family of his own who basked in his love and kindness.

Being born in Oxfordshire and then spending his married life in Yorkshire meant that Harry had family in both the North and the South and he returned regularly to visit all his southern relatives.

As a child, Harry spent all his free time playing on Nettlebed common, in the local woods and among the old disused water pits left over from the days of the brickworks.

He used to recall he only went home when he was hungry.

He would play camps and soldiers with his mates and would tell of one particular day, while out on group “manoeuvres”, when he heard a splash and turned round to find one of his friends had disappeared.

The only trace was the lad’s cap floating on the surface.Without hesitation, Henry leant over and managed to reach under the surface of the murky water and pull out his friend.

Harry had a bit of a phobia about water, which made the rescue of his friend even more heroic.

He would often say anything above the ankles was cause for panic and his favourite saying was: “I take a bath once a month, whether I need it or not!”

Harry joined the army at age 18 and within a matter of weeks war was declared.

As part of the Bucks and Oxon infantry, he was positioned in the hilltop town of Cassel, 20 miles inland of Dunkirk.

The soldiers’ job was to hold off German attack so the escape of the army could be made from the beaches.

Harry was sent out of Cassel with regimental papers for safekeeping and later, on attempting to return to his regiment, was turned away by American soldiers as the bastion had fallen to the Germans in his absence. Many of Harry’s friends were killed that day. He spoke very little about it and in his later years would become very emotional about “all the boys” who had not come back.

By the time Harry reached the beach at Dunkirk it was all but deserted. He joined up with the few who were left, including an officer.

Their escape vessel was a waterlogged boat and, with the right twist of fate that sometimes happens, oars were found and together they bailed out the boat as best they could.

To make it float, they had to push it out into the sea. The water was up to Harry’s chest when the officer asked, “who can row?” Harry immediately jumped aboard, claiming “I can, Sir!” despite never having rowed in his life.

On recalling the story in later years, he would say that if he had had to stay in the water any longer he would have taken his chances back on the beach. He returned to England safely and ended up at Catterick camp. There he met Phyllis, his future wife, who was working for NAAFI.

Once the war was over they returned to Yorkshire and settled in Otley.

The couple had two daughters, Pat in 1946 and Susan in 1947.

Harry secured work as a joiner for an engineering company and on building sites. He worked for Hoover for 14 years and Prestcold for many years and one of his best customers was William Morrison, founder of the supermarket chain.

One of Harry’s proudest achievements was building his own home, a semi-detached bungalow on Milner Bank in Otley, which he and his friend Norman took 20 months of their spare time to complete. Harry lived in it for the rest of his healthy life.

Harry’s independent streak stayed with him all his life and it was only when his health failed and he needed 24-hour care that he handed over the reins of his self-sufficient life to the staff of Ghyll Royd nursing home who handled them with great skill and care until Harry took those reins back for good.

A fiercely protective man to whom family was everything, Harry had enough love to stretch across a country and to envelop a little one in his arms. He deserved every ounce of the love and care he reaped in return.

Harry will be missed by many and, through the families of his children, six grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren, he will be dearly remembered by many more.

He died peacefully on March 19 with his family at his side.

More News:

POLL: Have your say