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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Clark, James William (1877–1958)

by Merrilyn Lincoln

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

James William Clark (1877-1958), soldier, shipping merchant and company director, was born on 7 September 1877 at Wickham, New South Wales, son of James Blyth Clark, an English-born ship's chandler, and his wife Sarah Jane Clarinda, née Potter. Educated at Maitland High School, he went into his father's business at Newcastle. On 2 April 1902 at Chalmers Presbyterian Church, Hobart, he married Dora Malvina Hood.

In July 1897 Clark joined the militia as a second lieutenant in the 4th Australian Infantry Regiment; by 1912 (with his unit renamed the 16th A.I.R.) he was a major and second-in-command. Promoted lieutenant-colonel just before the outbreak of World War I, he became commanding officer of the regiment and of Newcastle Defended Port; on 22 July 1915 he was appointed to the Australian Imperial Force in command of the 30th Battalion and embarked for Egypt in November.

Clark reached France in June 1916 and went into the line at Bois Grenier; on 19-20 July his battalion fought in the ill-fated battle of Fromelles. In September he temporarily commanded his brigade (the 8th), which spent the winter of 1916-17 in raiding and patrol work on the Somme. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the New Year honours of 1917 and was also mentioned in dispatches. He resumed temporary command of the brigade in January; next month it advanced towards the Hindenburg Line and in March Clark's battalion played a vital role in the capture of Bapaume and the occupation of Beaumetz—remembered as the two most interesting of his wartime experiences. In mid-May his brigade took over a section of the Hindenburg Line near Lagnicourt; its next major service was in the Passchendaele offensive where Clark commanded the 30th Battalion in the battles of Polygon Wood and Broodseinde Ridge. Late in October he was again made temporary brigade commander and was mentioned in dispatches in December.

In March-April 1918 Clark's battalion returned to the Somme where the 5th Division was preparing for the Villers-Bretonneux offensive. Clark acted as commanding officer of the 5th Division nucleus, then resumed leadership of his battalion for operations at Morlancourt in July. Next month he was transferred to the 3rd Battalion, Overseas Training Brigade, as commanding officer, and from January 1919 commanded the brigade itself. He remained in England until October and before embarking for Australia attended a course on the manufacture of paints and oils. After demobilization he became a manufacturer's agent for a British paint firm. He lived with his family at Killara, Sydney, in the 1920s and early 1930s, by which time he had become a director of his company. Little is known of his career over the next twenty years—he worked for some time in London and New Zealand before retiring to Terrigal, New South Wales, about 1951.

Survived by his wife, a son and a daughter (all resident in England at the time of his death), he died on 8 February 1958 and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £35,000. Tall, well-built, always impeccably dressed and well-spoken, he had been affectionately known by his men in France as 'Cissy Clark'; however, his fine qualities of leadership and concern for his men had made him respected and popular.

Select Bibliography

  • A. D. Ellis, The Story of the Fifth Australian Division (Lond, 1920?)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • H. Sloan (ed), The Purple and Gold: A History of the 30th Battalion (Syd, 1938)
  • London Gazette, 1, 2 Jan, 28 Dec 1917
  • Gosford Times, 11 Feb 1958
  • J. W. Clark file (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Merrilyn Lincoln, 'Clark, James William (1877–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 29 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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