CLARKE, John Michael
(Service number 9/436; 8/2873)

Aliases Jack
First Rank (1) Trooper; (2) Private Last Rank


Date *November 1875 Place of Birth Culfreightrin, County Antrim, Ireland.

Enlistment Information

Date (1) 20 August 1914; (2) 12 June 1915 Age (1) 38 years 9 months; (2) 39 years 7 months
Address at Enlistment (1) Hermitage, Mount Cook; (2) C/o Mrs CLARKE, Fraser Street, Temuka
Occupation (1) Mountaineer; (2) Labourer
Previous Military Experience
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin (1) Miss Mary CLARKE, Fraser Street, Temuka; (2) Mrs Mary CLARKE (mother), Fraser Street, Temuka
Religion Roman Catholic
Medical Information (1) Height 5 feet 10½ inches. Weight 12 stone. Chest measurement 36-39 inches. Complexion fair. Eyes steel blue. Hair brown. Eyes both 6/6. Hearing and colour vision both good. Limbs well formed. Full and perfect movement of joints. Chest well formed. Heart and lungs normal. Teeth - upper poor, lower fair. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Vaccinated. "Recall for teeth". (2) Height 5 feet 10 inches. Weight 154 lbs. Chest measurement 37-39 inches. Complexion dark. Eyes blue. Hair dark, turning grey. Eyes both 6/6. Hearing and colour vision both normal. Limbs well formed. Full and perfect movement of joints. Chest well formed. Heart and lungs normal. Teeth fairly good. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin dises. Vaccinated. Good bodily and mental health. No slight defects. No fits. No illnesses.

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation (1) Main Body; (2) 7th Reinforcements
Unit, Squadron, or Ship (1) Otago Mounted Rifles; (2) Otago Infantry Battalion
Date (1) 16 October 1914; (2) 9 October 1915
Transport (1) Ruapehu or Hawkes Bay; (2) Aparima or Navua or Warrimoo
Embarked From (1) Port Chalmers; (2) Wellington Destination (1) Suez, Egypt; (2) Suez, Egypt
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With 2nd Battalion, Otago Infantry Battalion

Military Awards

Campaigns Egyptian; Egyptian Expeditionary Force; Western European
Service Medals 1914-15 Star; Britsh 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 (1) 5 May 1915; (2) 3 April 1918 Reason (1) Medically unfit for Active Service; (2) No longer physically fit for War Service.

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

March 1915 - medically unfit, permanent disability. 22 November 1915 - admitted to hospital at Zeitoun - dysentery 15 September 1916 - gunshot wound to right elbow - admitted to Casualty Clearing Station, to NZ Hospital at Camiers; on hospital ship to England; 22 September admitted to Walton-on-Thames Hospital. Invalided home.

Post-war Occupations

Labourer; storeman


Date 19 July 1952 Age 76 years
Place of Death Christchurch, NZ
Memorial or Cemetery Ruru Lawn Cemetery, Christchurch
Memorial Reference Block 1A, Plot 362
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

John Michael Clarke, known as Jack, was the second son of James (deceased) and Mary (née McHenry) Clarke, 14 Fraser Street, Temuka. James and Mary had married in 1871, and had come to New Zealand from Ireland with several children in about 1880. Jack was born in 1875 and baptised Catholic on 4 November 1875 at Culfreightrin, County Antrim, Ireland (not 12 November 1880, or 1882 at Temuka per his personnel files). Soon after the family’s arrival, John and some siblings were enrolled at Temuka School. He left there on 15 November 1883 for the newly opened St Joseph’s School at Temuka. Was Jack the Master J. Clarke who took part in the dialogues “The Coming Men” and “Andy’s Blunders”, and played the character of countryman in the drama “Whittington’s Cat”, at the 1887 concert? He was very likely the Master J. Clarke who played the part of William (servant) in the drama “Old Poz” and that of Countryman in the drama “Jack in Giantland”, and sang a solo part in “The Dear Young Folks at Home” at the December 1888 concert. Mrs Clarke and her family of nine, the youngest just nine months old, suffered a tragic loss in October 1889. James Clarke, senior, who had been employed on the railways and was living at Makikihi, left the house at 5am on a Wednesday morning presumably to do his turn at checking the line, but he didn’t arrive. He had no worries but had been melancholy for the past month, and, from the scant evidence found (a foot in a boot) it was feared he had walked into the sea. He was never again seen. He was described as a temperate, quiet man, a kind husband and father. There was the suggestion of one writer that he may have been another victim of some bullying and unjust treatment that was evident in the railways department. Several of the children, including John, had transferred to Makikihi School only in May 1889. His daughter Mary sought administration of his estate when their mother died in 1925. A few months after this tragedy, Mrs Clarke returned to Temuka where the family had lived previously. In time the surviving family members went their separate ways, many embarking on fine careers.

Jack Clarke, just 19 years old, was a “new man” in the party which was the first to explore a new route from the Hooker side and successfully ascend Mount Cook, on Christmas Day, 1894. Thus to New Zealanders, Messrs Jack Clarke, Tom Fyfe, and George Graham, belonged the honour of first reaching the actual summit. Some three years later Jack Clarke was the guide who led Lord Ranfurly and his party to visit the Tasman Glacier. In May 1898 he successfully climbed, single-handed, over Fitzgerald’s Pass from the Hermitage (where Clarke was the first chief guide) down the Copland River to the West Coast. He described the Country as very fine, and the trip as one which would repay all lovers of good scenery for their trouble and inconvenience. In response to complaints about charges at the Hermitage, an experienced climber and photographer was amazed to find that he could “get the services of an excellent guide, like Jack Clarke, to take him to the top of Mount Cook and back again . . . . . . for the trifling sum of one guinea.” {January 1899). In August 1902, the Alpine guide, J. Clarke, furnished a report to the superintendent of Tourist and Health resorts on his work at the Hermitage and Mount Cook in the last season. He mentioned an expedition over Fitzgerald’s Pass to the Copland River on the West Coast side, one day each way. A party had reached the Hermitage from the Westland side and he accompanied them on the return journey by a new route. “They got over all right, but it is a mountaineer’s route only.” Mr Clarke said that the season was a particularly busy one, more travelling being done than in previous years.

Mr J. M. Clarke was not only a mountaineer and alpine guide, but also an explorer and adventurer. He was roaming with a party in 1900, as detailed in a letter received by his mother from San Francisco. [See attachment]. There in San Francisco, he made contact with old Temuka folk, before moving on to the Yosmite Valley, New York, Chicago, Salt Lake City and Niagara Falls – a total distance of 3330 miles. On 5 July he was to sail for Liverpool, then on to London.

In the Evening Post of early 1906, Malcolm Ross writes of “A Climber’s Holiday”. With Jack Clarke, he went up the Sealy Range to test his injured ankle. Having come through the test, he rode up with Clarke, by moonlight, to the Mount Cook Bivouac Hut, Clarke insisting that he should cross the Hooker River on the safer of the two horses and hold on to the mane should he be bowled over. From there Ross joined his companions for a successful climb. Soon after this Jack Clarke was very much involved in the “plucky” and arduous rescue of Mr Low who was found alive after ten days in the mountains following an accident. Having dislocated his ankle, Mr Low crawled for three days and four nights to a bivouac, dragging his swag behind him. Jack and three companions travelled by lantern light for eight miles up the glacier, to locate Mr Low. They released a carrier pigeon for medical aid. Using an improvised stretcher, they had to carry Mr Low over rough ice and moraines, until they could use a pack horse to get to a coach connection. After getting him to the Hermitage, they returned to intercept the search parties on the Westland side. Next Jack Clarke, with another, guided a Dutch climber to the fifth successful ascent of Mount Cook, as he had done for the third ascent in 1905. The 1905 expedition was considered the most successful to date. This was Clarke’s third time on the summit of the mountain. And it was in 1906 that J. M. Clarke guided the first crossing from the Tasman to the Godley.

Mr J. M. Clarke, the well-known Mt. Cook guide, was touring with Dr. Bell in 1907. Writing from Canada, he said that they had been having a splendid time on the immense lakes and rivers in the north, and were about to wind up an interesting and eventful trip by “doing” the fabulously rich silver mine of Cobart. They were then to proceed east and to England, spend a short time in the Indian Alps, and leave Europe in time to arrive in Wellington about the New Year. At Christmas 1907 when his brothers Peter and William were able to get home from their work in other parts of the country, Jack, the Alpine climber, was still in England with Dr J. M. Bell, the Canadian geologist. Jack Clarke, the ‘well-known alpine guide” at the Hermitage, joined the survey party of Dr Bell, the Government Geologist, in March 1909. At this time Dr Bell was engaged in a very interesting survey of the Franz Joseph [sic] Glacier. Jack reached Timaru from the West Coast by way of Graham’s Saddle and the Tasman Glacier. Early in the same month, Mr J. Clarke (Mines Department) was a member of a party which successfully climbed Mount Cook from the Hooker side by a new route up the western face, a route that had been considered impassable. The climb took seven and a quarter hours. By December 1909 Jack Clarke was a guide at Mount Aspiring, enjoying the same success on very risky climbs. He was one of the party which achieved the honour of being the first to climb Mount Aspiring, the highest peak in Otago. In February 1910 Mr Jack Clarke joined a party which fitted themselves out at Peel Forest and left for exploratory climbing on the main range at the head of the Havelock River, the south branch of the Rangitata. They said that it was “a magnificent alpine district, well worthy of exploration”. The views were superb. In the company of two others, he ascended Mount D’Archaic, the highest mountain in the Godley-Rangitata regions. And in 1911 in the same area, he was in a group which made first ascents of Snowy Peak, Mount Tyndall and Malcolm Peak, at the same time carrying out exploration work along the Main Divide. Jack had spent his 1910 Easter holiday quietly with his relatives at Temuka. Later in 1911 he was back at Mount Aspiring, leading an exploring trip for two university students.

The 1912 season saw J. Clarke guiding climbers in an ascent of Mount Sealy; another party on the ascent of the Footstool; a climber on a traverse of the Minaret Peaks and Mount Malte Brun, and the first ascent of Mount Anna from Malte Brun hut; two climbers on an ascent of Mount Cook from the Haast bivouac, by way of the Linda Glacier.

A climber who organised an expedition and, with others, climbed Mount Aspiring in February 1913 and subsequently recounted the expedition in the Otago Witness, offered his best thanks to Mr J. M. Clarke, of the Hermitage, who supplied much useful information. Jack Clarke guided an expedition for an explorer to the Tasman Glacier in November 1913. A serious accident occurred on Mount Cook in February 1914, the first serious accident since climbing began there in 1882. “The freedom from accidents is largely due to the skill of the guides, the best known of whom are Peter Graham, Jack Clarke, and J. P. Murphy, . . . . .” [Taranaki Herald, 25 February 1914]. Jack Clarke, “the famous old Mt. Cook guide,” telegraphed from Mt. Aspiring where he was climbing, to offer assistance in the retrieval of the body and the search for the lost ones. In January 1914 he had been guiding for Captain Head, of England, on an exploration trip in the Dart Valley.

After 20 years making a living as an alpine guide, and aged 38 years 9 months, Jack Clarke enlisted on 20 August 1914 at Dunedin. (He had put his age down.) As of 15 September 1914, he was in camp at Tahuna Park, with the Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment. He was 5 feet 10½ inches tall, weighed 12 stone, and had a chest measurement of 36-39 inches. His physical development was, as expected, good. His complexion was fair, his eyes steel blue and his hair brown. His upper teeth were poor and the lower fair, necessitating a recall. He was single, a mountaineer, and Roman Catholic. Giving his address as Hermitage, Mount Cook, he nominated his oldest sister, Miss Mary Clarke, of Fraser Street, Temuka, as his next-of-kin.

Trooper J. M. Clarke, 9/436, embarked with the Otago Mounted Rifles of the Main Body on 16 October 1914 at Port Chalmers, disembarking at Alexandria on 4 December. The Medical Board assembled on 15 March 1915, found that he was suffering from chronic alcoholic poisoning, thickening of the arteries and marked tremors, alcoholic dyspepsia and some hepatitis. He was assessed as Unfit for “General Service”. His disability was likely to be permanent. The report written to request the convening of the Medical Board was very disturbing [ref. page 3 Personnel File]. On 31 March 1915, 9/436 Trooper J. M. Clarke left Egypt by the “Tahiti”, arriving at Wellington on 5 May 1915, invalided. He was discharged on 5 May 1915 as medically unfit for Active Service. His character was “Fair”.

With a new service number – 8/2873, Private John Clarke embarked for a second time, on 9 October 1915, departing from Wellington with the Otago Infantry Battalion of the 7th Reinforcements, and again destined for Suez, Egypt. He had enlisted at Trentham on 12 June 1915, only seven weeks after his earlier discharge. On the second occasion he named his mother as next-of-kin – Mrs M. Clarke, Fraser Street, Temuka. He was still single, Roman Catholic, now a labourer for Major Head, England, (Captain Head was known to climb with guide Clarke), his age still lowered, and his given address was Care of Mrs Clarke, Fraser Street, Temuka. His condition was little changed – 5 feet tall, 154 pounds in weight; dark complexion, blue eyes, dark hair turning grey. His teeth were fairly good, and he was in good physical and mental condition. Was there an attempt to disguise his identity by omitting his middle name and altering his birth place (to Temuka)?

On 22 December 1915 he was admitted to the New Zealand General Hospital at Zeitoun, suffering with dysentery. He embarked at Alexandria for France on 9 April 1916. Private J. M. Clarke and his younger brother, Flight-Sergeant W. F. Clarke, were at the front when their brother Captain Peter Clarke died of wounds on 30 July 1916, and their eldest brother Trooper James Clarke was training at Featherston. Jack suffered a gunshot wound to his right elbow on 15 September 1916, was admitted to the Casualty Clearing Station, and to the NZ General Hospital at Camiers on the 16th. On 21 September he embarked on the hospital ship for England and was admitted to the hospital at Walton-on-Thames the next day. It was 31 October when he returned to duty, but he had to return daily to hospital for ten days. In November he was moved to the NZ Command Depot. In September 1917 he was classified “C” by the NZEF Travelling Medical Board. Following this he forfeited pay and was confined to barracks twice for being absent without leave at Torquay. On several occasions in 1916 he had been deprived of pay and awarded detention for being absent from parade, absent without leave, and for neglecting duty.

Draft 143 – the “Arawa” - brought home J. Clarke, 8/2873, of Temuka, leaving Plymouth on 10 January and arriving at Wellington on 6 March 1918. Mrs Clarke had received word to this effect from Base Records in February. He was finally discharged on 3 April 1918, after further service overseas of 2 years and 180 days, again no longer fit for War Service. He experienced throbbing pain, increased by walking, and suffered with corns, a pre-enlistment condition. The condition was caused by bad boots and aggravated by intensive training on Active Service. Disability was considered permanent and capacity for earning a full livelihood reduced. His character was again described as fair. “This soldier has shown much impatience of discipline . . . . . . His offences, however, have been mainly of a military nature.”

Temuka turned on a very hearty welcome home for John Clarke and four fellow servicemen. The railway platform was crowded with relatives and friends, and the Temuka Brass band played a welcoming air. After hearty cheers for the soldiers on the train going further south, the Temuka boys were driven to the post office, where a large crowd had assembled. “These boys they had to thank for helping to keep the flag flying and for keeping them in their homes,” said the chairman of the Temuka Patriotic Entertainment Committee. All hoped that they would soon recover their health, and enjoy life with their relatives and friends again. Private Clarke said on behalf of the boys he thanked them for their kind reception. J. M. Clarke was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, after his second discharge. As of 1 April 1920 his legal next-of-kin, his mother Mrs M. Clarke, was in Invercargill with her daughter Margaret.

After the war, Jack Clarke lived quietly as a labourer and a storeman at Lake Coleridge and Flock Hill, Cass. In retirement he resided at the People’s Palace in Christchurch. In 1926, Mr H. E. L. Porter, a member of the Alpine Club, London, made a number of ascents in the Southern Alps. On the summit of Mt. Hardinger was found the bottle containing the account by Major Fitzgerald who, with a Swiss guide and Jack Clarke, the New Zealander, as porter, made the first ascent on 8 February 1895. John Michael Clarke died at Christchurch on 19 July 1952, aged 76 years, and was buried in the Ruru Lawn Cemetery. A storeman of Christchurch, he had drafted his Will on 8 January 1947. In August 1952 the Public Trustee elected to administer his property – Post Office Savings Bank Account £506, Accrued War Pension £8, Cash £15, Share in estate of Mary Clarke £70.

John Michael Clarke was one of four sons of James and Mary Clarke who served in World War One. His oldest brother James Clarke died of disease in Egypt in 1918; his brother Captain Peter Clarke served in the Wiltshire Regiment and died of wounds in France in 1916; and his youngest brother William Francis Clarke served with the Royal Air Force. A fifth brother, Daniel Clarke, lost his life on 14 January 1901 in the South African War. It is believed that there was only one child born to the nine children of James and Mary Clarke – Peter John Donaldson, who died in 2003, son of Elizabeth (died in 1923) and nephew/step-son of Margaret. Mrs Mary Clarke died on 19 April 1925 at her home of many years in Fraser Street, Temuka, predeceased by her husband and four of her nine children, all of whom had reached adulthood.

“Jack was a grand companion in the mountains and in camp and on the many long swagging trips we had together. He had a refined manner and a retiring disposition, and especially in his later life, he never looked for publicity and seldom talked of his mountaineering except to those he felt were really interested.” [New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol. XV, No. 40, June 1953; per Auckland War Memorial Museum; 24 July 2015]. Some fine photographs of Jack Clarke, mountaineer, can be found on the National Library of New Zealand website.


Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [x 2 - 14 October 2013 & 28 October 2013]; NZ Defence Force Records (Archives NZ ref. AABK 18805 W5530 0025531) [14 October 2013]; NZ Tablet, 30 December 1887, 4 January 1889, 7 September 1916, 17 May 1923, 13 May 1925, Evening Star, 24 October 1889, 5 January 1895, Daily Telegraph, 24 October 1889, Timaru Herald, 25 October 1889, 9 November 1889, 26 May 1898, 6 March 1900, 26 August 1902, 9 March 1909, 21 December 1909, 9 & 26 March 1910, 15 October 1912, 21 February 1918, South Canterbury Times, 9 November 1889, Press, 14 January 1899, 10 January 1903, 15 March 1906, 27 November 1911, 10 & 28 February 1914, 28 April 1925, 13 December 1928, 24 October 1934, Temuka Leader, 14 January 1890, 10 July 1900, 29 October 1903, 9 February 1905, 6, 13 & 17 March 1906, 5 November 1907, 9 & 11 March 1909, 12 & 24 March 1910, 23 February 1918, 9 March 1918, Oamaru Mail, 24 February 1898, Evening Post, 17 February 1906, Grey River Argus, 9 March 1906, Otago Daily Times, 22 November 1913, 2 January 1914, 16 & 25 September 1914, Taranaki Herald, 25 February 1914, Dominion, 6 May 1915, Otago Witness, 16 August 1916, Free Lance, 18 August 1916, North Otago Times, 9 September 1916, New Zealand Herald, 25 September 1916, 3 October 1916, 5 September 1931, Sun, 4 March 1918, 5 September 1931, Evening Post, 6 March 1918, Press, 28 April 1925, Auckland Star, 31 October 1939 (Papers Past) [28 October 2013; 15 November 2013; 12 May 2014, 22 September 2014, 06 December 2015; 20, 23 & 28 February 2016; 20 August 2016, 24 December 2017; 02, 05, 13, 14, 15, 17 & 18 June 2019]; Ruru Lawn Cemetery, Christchurch, headstone transcription (South Canterbury Branch NZSG cemetery records) [29 June 2014]; Ruru Lawn Cemetery, Christchurch, burial record (Christchurch City Council) [29 June 2014]; Probate record (Archives NZ/FamilySearch) [24 July 2015]; School Admission records (South Canterbury Branch NZSG) [2015 & 11 June 2019]; NZ Electoral Rolls (; Family Probates [20 February 2016; 10 & 11 June 2019]; Baptism record (Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers) [17 June 2019]; New Zealand History Online; Reviews of “Summits and Shadows: Jack Clarke and New Zealand Mountaineering” by Graham Langton [28 October 2013; 13 June 2016]; Records pertaining to Daniel Clarke, 1617 SA War [28 October 2013, ff.]

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Researched and Written by

Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG

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