(Service number 6/3657)

First Rank Private Last Rank Private


Date 31 May 1876 Place of Birth Waimea, Westland

Enlistment Information

Date 19 October 1915 Age 39 years 10 months
Address at Enlistment Crown Hotel, Timaru
Occupation Music professor
Previous Military Experience Naval Volunteers
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin Mrs M. CLARKE (mother), 44 Shelly Beach Road, Ponsonby, Auckland. Later c/o P. J. CLARKE, Telephone Exchange, Hastings.
Religion Roman Catholic
Medical Information Height 5 feet 5 inches. Weight 146 lbs. Chest 34-38½ inches. Complexion fair. Eyes grey. Hair brown. Sight and hearing both good. Colour vision correct. Full and perfect movement of jooints. Limbs and chest well formed. Heart and lungs normal. False teeth. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Vaccinated. Good bodily and mental health. No slight defects. No fits.

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation New Zealand Expeditionary Force
Unit, Squadron, or Ship 9th Reinforcements Canterbury Infantry Battalion, C Company
Date 8 January 1916
Transport Maunganui 
Embarked From Wellington Destination Suez, Egypt
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With Canterbury Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion

Military Awards

Campaigns Egyptian; Western European
Service Medals Bristish War Medal; Victory Medal.
Military Awards

Award Circumstances and Date

No information

Prisoner of War Information

Date of Capture
Where Captured and by Whom
Actions Prior to Capture
PoW Serial Number
PoW Camps
Days Interned
Liberation Date


Date Reason

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

Wounds to abdomen.

Post-war Occupations


Date 17 September 1916 Age 40 years
Place of Death In the Field, Somme, France
Cause Died of wounds
Memorial or Cemetery Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France
Memorial Reference III. A. 15.
New Zealand Memorials On Memorial wall, Timaru; Fairlie War Memorial; Hokitika War Memorial

Biographical Notes

Denis Clarke was the son of late Mr James Clarke, of Hokitika, and of Mrs Margaret Clarke (née Kenny?), living in Auckland and later in Hastings. He was born on 31 May 1876 at Waimea, Westland. Denis was educated at St Mary's Roman Catholic Boys' School on the West Coast (Hokitika). There in April 1884 he was the recipient of one or two awards – Class 3, First Division geography, maybe Class 2, tables and geography 2nd; he also featured in the programme presented – solo in the first item, maybe in the group recitation of The Babes in the Wood, and another solo. Other school performances (singing and piano) may have followed through the 1880s.

In October 1887 his father, James Clarke died. Mr Clarke was one of the pioneers of the West Coast and identified with the advancement of Westland from its earliest days. He was a native of County Donegal, Ireland, and had gone to the Victorian goldfields before moving to Otago and then the West Coast where he engaged in carting and carrying the mail. So popular, generous, respected and unassuming was he that about 2000 accompanied Mrs Clarke and family in the funeral procession or lined the approaches to the cemetery. James and a young daughter are buried at Hokitika. His son John P. who appears to be the eldest son, was still a minor. After her husband’s death, Margaret and family moved from Hokitika to Westport.

From the mid 1890s Mr Denis Clarke was a regular performer, often in aid of schools and churches – his rendition of “Whisper and I shall hear” was much appreciated at entertainment in aid of the funds of St Canice’s School at Westport, and he provided accompaniment for other items (1896); he contributed in a vocal and instrumental concert held under the auspices of the Westport Convent High School pupils (1898).

In November 1900, Denis, a pupil of the Sisters of Mercy at Hokitika, was successful in the Trinity College senior pianoforte examination, which he passed with honours, being the first male candidate on the Coast to do so. At the same time, as stage manager for the concert in aid of Westport St Patrick’s Convent School, he proved to be “the right man in the right place”. Soon after at his former school he contributed to the programme markng the silver jubilee of Mother Mary Claver. He became in June 1901 the conductor of the newly formed church choir at Hokitika, which choir rendered valuable assistance every Sunday. In addition he played the organ on many occasions, for example at funerals. He was congratulated for the grand programme which he presented for the concert celebrating the opening of a new school room at St Mary’s, Hokitika, in April 1903.

Mr D. Clarke played a significant part in the celebrations on 29 December 1903 to mark the silver jubilee of the founding of St Columbkille’s Convent at Hokitika. The choir under his leadership sang Turner’s Mass. Later in the day he was one of the accompanists for the concert items. And in March 1904 he was again to the fore at the St Patrick’s night concert – encored for his song “The Irish emigrant”, and again providing accompaniments.

Then came the day when Denis Clarke was to leave the Coast. He was entertained on 7 April 1904 by the combined Operatic and Glee Club societies, of which he had been an active and valuable member. And on Easter Sunday night the St Mary’s choir presented him with an address and a purse of sovereigns, which had been subscribed by the parishioners in recognition of his services. The Coast’s loss was to be South Canterbury’s gain, coming as he did with a great reputation and long experience in amateur operatic work. Hokitika folk would have welcomed his holiday visit in March 1910.

And so by 1905 Denis was residing at Fairlie where he was a teacher of music. He immersed himself in local life and in teaching and sharing music, again frequently providing musical items and accompaniments (e.g. at farewell functions and concerts) and guiding students through their examinations. It was at Fairlie in November 1905 that he obtained his teacher’s diploma and procured a junior pass for his student. The next month a musical treat was given by Mr D. Clarke and his pupils in the Fairlie Public Hall. He himself took part in two duets, “Excelsior” and “Nocturne”, in two unaccompanied quartettes, the second being “God is a spirit” - and in a trio, “Oh, lovely peace” – beautifully rendered and considered one of the best items. He also played a duet, “Qui Vive”, and a solo, “Largo Grand Sonata in E Flat” (Beethoven), before he was heartily congratulated on the success of the first concert by his pupils in Fairlie. Two years later he was one of the most successful Catholic music teachers in the district, four of his pupils gaining senior honours.

When he took the exacting role of Frederic (the Pirate Apprentice and “The Slave of Duty”) in the Timaru Operatic Society's production of "The Pirates of Penzance" in the Theatre Royal in October 1909, his performance was very well received. “He acquitted himself well. He has a calm and confident stage manner . . . He has histrionic ability of no mean order, and his singing was tasteful and pleasing. . . . He sings with expression and musical soul . . .” (Timaru Herald, 27 October 1909). This performance was recalled when the opera was next performed in Timaru, in August 1925.

Again in September 1913, Mr Clarke was credited with arranging a “fine musical treat” at Fairlie. In the same month he played for the Fairlie Golf Club’s ball. Denis was also a golf player, being a member of the Fairlie Club and serving on the committee. Just a few weeks later, at the Fairlie Orchestra and Dramatic Society concert, he gave vocal solos and led operatic choruses by the Operatic and Glee Club.

In October 1913 the members of the Glee Company presented their leader, Mr D. Clarke, with a small token of their appreciation of his services. A spokesman voiced the pleasure at all members at the excellent and cheerful manner in which he had carried out his duties. Mr Clarke who was taken by surprise, thanked them and said that he was pleased to be of service to the company.

At the beginning of August 1914, Mr Denis Clarke secured rooms in the Herald Buildings, Arcade, Timaru, enabling him to offer his services as a teacher of singing and pianoforte to the people of Timaru. He proudly gave notice that his ex-pupils were scattered over the whole world and that many had gained distinction. At the same time he retained his Fairlie connection, visiting there on two days a week. In Timaru, his students continued to succeed in examinations.

Early in 1915 Mr Clarke accepted the position of conductor of the choir of the Sacred Heart Church, Timaru, having previously conducted the Catholic church choir at Fairlie. But, a few months afterwards he was accepted for active service. Maybe his last local performance was at the Fairlie Orchestral Society’s concert on 23 September 1915, where he was “in capital voice" and deserved his encore. On 18 October 1915 he was part of South Canterbury’s quota which headed for Trentham, but only after playing the piano at a farewell for a Fairlie soldier.

Denis was residing in Timaru and working as a music teacher when he enlisted in the Canterbury Battalion. He was by this time well known in Timaru and a very popular musician. He had just about reached the age limit and was given the opportunity to go with the Ambulance or the Band, but he declined and said that he would take his part in the trenches. So he departed on the “Maunganui” on 8 January 1916, destined for Suez. He embarked for France just two months before his death.

Denis Clarke died of wounds received in action on 17 September 1916, wounds which penetrated the abdomen, in the first battle of the Somme. In a letter received by a relative shortly after his death, Private Clarke wrote of the impending entrance of his battalion into the second stage of the big push, which he said he did not expect to survive.

A talented man who gave so much was lost to family and society so abruptly and tragically. He had hoped to resume his professional practice on his return. Private Clarke was remembered at the meeting of the Mackenzie County Council on 5 November 1916 as “a sterling man who was respected and liked by everyone who knew him.”

Private Clarke left no evidence of a Will. His plaque and scroll were sent to his mother. Denis was one of six sons of Margaret Clarke, only two of whom were living at her death in 1923 – Con and Patrick. Those known were John Patrick, Cornelius Joseph (Con), Patrick Joseph and Denis. John died in 1903, aged 34 years. His brother P. J. CLARKE was with the hospital ship Maheno in charge of the telegraph department (1916); he died in 1935. And an older brother, Cornelius Joseph CLARKE, enlisted with the Australian Forces in August 1916 in New South Wales, only to be discharged in January 1917 as medically unfit. He was a solicitor in New South Wales for many years, and died there in 1940.

Private Denis Clarke was buried in the Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France. His name is inscribed on the Timaru War Memorial, the Fairlie War memorial, and on the Hokitika War Memorial.


Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [08 October 2013]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5530 0025457 [14 March 2014]; CWGC [09 October 2013]; West Coast Times, 12 April 1884, 29 & 31 October 1887, 23 October 1889, 16 & 17 November 1900, 19 February 1901, 26 March 1910, New Zealand Tablet, 11 November 1887, 5 June 1896, 19 August 1898, 22 & 29 November 1900, 31 January 1901, 19 February 1901, 7 March 1901, 6 June 1901, 15 August 1901, 23 April 1903, 7 January 1904, 31 March 1904, 14 April 1904, 16 November 1905, 21 December 1905, 7 November 1907, Timaru Herald, 9 December 1905, 23 October 1909 [x 2], 27 October 1909, 20 September 1911, 8 March 1912, 4 November 1912, 15 April 1913, 9 & 13 September 1913, 8, 13 & 28 October 1913, 26 May 1914, 9 June 1914, 1 August 1914, 29 September 1914, 6 October 1914, 11 & 12 November 1914, 15 December 1914, 8 January 1915, 19 Febriary 1915, 8 June 1915, 23 & 30 September 1915, 18 & 19 October 1915, 26 September 1916, 6 November 1916, Press, 26 September 1916, 24 July 1925, Auckland Star, 13 February 1903, 5 March 1903, 28 September 1916, 11 October 1923, Hawera & Normanby Star, 16 October 1923, New Zealand Herald, 17 October 1923 (PapersPast) [13 October 2013; 24 February 2014; 26 May 2015; 23 & 24 July 2015; 18 & 19 February 2016]; NZ Electoral Rolls ( [2013; 23 July 2015]; Hokitika War Memorial ( [19 February 2016]

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