A century on from the end of World War I we acknowledge their service …
Lest we forget.
Sergeant Harold Charles Clements MM
Born: 10 June 1893 Pakenham. Died: 9 January 1952 Kew.
Enlisted: 21 August 1915 aged 23
Served: Western Front
Harold was a son of Robert Charles Clements and his wife Julia. Robert first settled in Pakenham as a boot-maker around 1890 and became one of Pakenham’s leading citizens, actively involved in a large number of community activities, including the Board of the Pakenham State School, where his sons Jack, Bruce and Harold all obtained their merit certificates.
Harold was working as a bank clerk with the Commonwealth Bank in Melbourne when he enlisted on 21 August 1915. He was assigned to the 6th Battalion 19th Reinforcement, the same unit as his older brother Jack. Just before embarking for England, Harold married Louisa Garbutt of St Kilda on 17 June 1916. It would be three years before Harold would see his bride again.
Harold was taken on strength with the 14th Battalion in France on 22 October 1916, when it was participating in the infamous Battle of the Somme. During 1917-18, Harold saw action with the 14th Battalion at Bullecourt, Messines, Ypres, Menin Road, Polygon Wood and Passchendaele and was promoted to Lance Corporal, then temporary Corporal. On the Western Front, Harold endured some awful conditions. On Good Friday in 1918, Harold was wounded in action at Hebuterne, sustaining a gunshot wound to the thigh. He rejoined his unit on 25 May 1918.
In August 1918, Harold’s Battalion took part in the Allied offensive which was pivotal to breaking the morale of the German Army on the Western Front. Harold was subsequently awarded the Military Medal for his “conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty” near Morcourt, east of Corbie on 8 August 1918. The citation read as follows: “This NCO displayed considerable dash and leadership throughout. At the head of his men he was the first to enter Morcourt and personally took more than 20 prisoners. Though badly enfiladed (subject to enemy fire) both during the advance and on his objective, he infused his men with enthusiasm and dash that overcame all obstacles. He showed complete disregard for his personal safely and was a mass of energy throughout”. That very day (August 8 1918) was described by the German General Erich von Ludendorff as the “blackest day” of the war for the German Army.
News of Harold’s award was reported in the Gazette together with the achievements of his brothers: Jack, who had been the Head Teacher at Officer State School prior to enlisting, had played in a premiership winning army cricket team in England, while Bruce, who was working with the Federal Taxation Office, had passed his final accountancy examinations. The Gazette congratulated the family: “This is a record of which any family might feel proud. Residents of Pakenham will be pleased to hear that their old townsman – Mr R. Clements – is doing well, and that his sons have gained such an honourable record”.
During WWII, Harold served as a private with 4th Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps (18). Tragedy struck the family though, when Harold and Louisa’s son Lieutenant Jack Clements was killed in Papua New Guinea. This was said to have badly affected Louisa’s health. By the early 1950s, Harold was in poor health. He died in January 1952 aged just 58 years old.
Amongst the in-memoriam notices was one placed by his daughter June and son-in-law Neil, who described Harold as “the best dad who ever lived. Our mate”.
This is an extract from Patrick Ferry’s book A Century After The Guns Fell Silent – Remembering the Pakenham District’s WWI Diggers 1914-18.
For more details on this and other profiles in the book, head to the website www.pakenhamww1.com