CLARKE, William Francis
(Service number 3167)

First Rank 1st Class Air Mechanic Last Rank Flight Sergeant


Date 9 January 1889 Place of Birth Temuka

Enlistment Information

Date 20 January 1915 (mobilised) Age 25 years
Address at Enlistment
Occupation Post Office employee (telegraphist)
Previous Military Experience
Marital Status
Next of Kin M. CLARKE (mother)
Religion Roman Catholic
Medical Information

Military Service

Served with UK Armed Forces Served in Airforce
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation Royal Air Force
Unit, Squadron, or Ship Royal Flying Corps
Embarked From Destination
Other Units Served With Royal Aviation Corps
Last Unit Served With Royal Air Force

Military Awards

Campaigns France, England, Ireland
Service Medals
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 9 August 1920 Reason

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

Post-war Occupations



Date 5 October 1959 Age 70 years
Place of Death
Memorial or Cemetery Hokitika Cemetery
Memorial Reference Block 123; Plot 2047
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

William Francis Clarke was the youngest son of James and Mary (née McHenry) Clarke. He was born on 9 January 1889 at Temuka, South Canterbury, New Zealand, and baptised a week later, on 16 January 1889, in the Temuka Catholic Parish. James and Mary had married in 1871, and had come to New Zealand from Ireland with several children in about 1880. Mrs Clarke and her family of nine, William Francis 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 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.

William was educated at St Joseph’s School, Temuka. There he featured in the annual entertainment in aid of the prize fund, held in December 1898 in a crowded Volunteer Hall. With nine other lads, he participated in the dumb-bell exercise. Surely he was one of the two Masters Clarke who performed in the pole drill the previous year. These programmes were always of a very high standard. And perhaps he is in the team of boys doing the Indian club drill at the 1899 entertainment. Probably both William and Peter performed in one or other of the group action songs in 1900, and one in the drama “Whittington and his Cat”. William was a sailor in the drama performance, in 1901, of “On Board the Siarra”. On the same occasion he played the part of Wag in the cantata “Scot and the Fairies”. The 1903 school annual entertainment saw him joining three girls to play a duet on three pianos – “Les Jolis Oiseaux”, and also playing the part of Uncle in the amusing drama, “Little Pickle”.

Before long he was also into sports, representing the combined team of Winchester and Temuka Convent against Waimataitai at Temuka on 7 June 1902. He was in contention for the same team to play against Geraldine in early August. Maybe he represented St Joseph’s School in the football match against Temuka District High School on 11 July 1903. He definitely represented the Temuka Catholic School in a football match against Milford in September 1903.

By 1905 he had joined the St Joseph’s Young Men’s Club, taking the speaking for the negative in the debate “Whether the disabilities of women should be removed”. After a very amusing debate, the affirmative team came out clear winners. In August 1905 he proposed the toast “Officers of the Club” at a mock banquet. At a February 1906 meeting, William accepted a very substantial travelling rug on behalf of his brother Peter who had already departed for Wellington, and returned thanks for the presentation. The April 1906 meeting took the form of a mayoral election, where William was one of the candidates for the position and had to outline his proposals and field questions. He lost the election by only two votes. William took the affirmative in the debate “Should the Upper House be abolished” at the June 1906 meeting, losing by a very small majority. The outcome for the negative team, led by W. Clarke, was the same at the July meeting, when the topic was “Would a universal superannuation fund be to the advantage of the people?” “Mr Seddon as a statesman and as a man” was the topic for the oratorical completion held in October 1906, William being a competitor.

Mr W. F. Clarke had taken up employment as a letter carrier at the Temuka post office. In October 1906 he asked for permission to ride his bicycle on the footpath when delivering the mail. He would do so only when absolutely necessary. At much the same time he played the part of Donald in “The Irish Doctor”, a drama presented at the Catholic Young Men’s Club for their season finale. At the annual meeting of the Temuka Swimming Club in early December 1906, W. Clarke was elected a new member. Come February 1907 and Mr Clarke left Temuka on promotion to a cadetship at Rotorua. “Master Clarke has been very painstaking and obliging in carrying out his duties, and will take with him many good wishes for his future success.” For Christmas of that year both Peter and William got home from their work in other parts of the country – William in the Post Office in Lawrence and Peter in the Geological Survey in Wellington. “Both look hale and hearty.” (Temuka Leader). At that time their brother, John Michael Clarke, the Alpine climber, was in England. In December 1908 William, then in the Dunedin General Post Office, was again able to visit Temuka. And he spent a short holiday in Temuka in January 1912, having been a telegraphist at the G.P.O. Wellington from at least 1911.

It appears that it was August 1914 when William Francis Clarke went to join the Royal Flying Corps. Naming his mother, M. Clarke, as next-of-kin, he was mobilized on 20 January 1915, aged 26 years. He met his brother Peter soon after Peter arrived at the front in late 1915. This was a dramatic meeting of the two brothers, the two youngest in the family. One day a British aeroplane suddenly descended into the midst of the Wiltshires “somewhere in France”, and to Peter’s amazement out stepped his brother William whom he had not seen since he left New Zealand. By February 1916 he was a sergeant and had been at the front for some months, when he went on short leave in Ireland, perhaps to visit relatives of his parents. His brother, Lieutenant Peter Clarke, may have been on a week’s leave from the front at the same time. Flight-Sergeant W. F. Clarke and Private J. M. Clarke were at the front, when their brother Captain Peter Clarke died of wounds on 30 July 1916, and Trooper James Clarke was training at Featherston.

William rose through the ranks – 1st Class Air mechanic as at 20 January 1915, Corporal from 1 October 1915, Sergeant a month later, and Flight Sergeant from 1 February 1916. He saw 5 years and 202 days in war service, in France, England and Ireland. He received £31.10.0 in war gratuity from the Imperial Government. Private W. Clark [sic], Royal Flying Corps, was recorded on the Active Service List printed in the Temuka Leader from January to May 1917. His postal address on discharge on 9 August 1920 was C/o Miss M. CLARKE, Fraser St, Temuka, South Canterbury – his oldest sister Mary. It was subsequently altered to C/o Family Hotel, Palmerston North. His rate of pay at discharge was 11 shillings sixpence per day. He was issued with a Four-weeks Railway Privilege-ticket for use in New Zealand.

William Francis Clarke, who had already been at the front for some time with the Royal Flying Corps, met his brother Peter at the front, soon after Peter had gone with the Wiltshire Regiment, in late 1915. This was a dramatic meeting of the two brothers, the two youngest in the family. One day a British aeroplane suddenly descended into the midst of the Wiltshires “somewhere in France”, and to Peter’s amazement out stepped his brother William whom he had not seen since he (Peter) left New Zealand. By February 1916, then a sergeant, William had a short leave in Ireland – likely to meet relatives.

William Francis Clarke died on 5 October 1959 and was buried on 8 October 1959 in a used grave in the Roman Catholic Section of the Hokitika Cemetery. A 70 year old pensioner, he was predeceased by all his siblings, it appears. Perhaps he was the William Francis Clarke, a labourer, living at Rahu in the Buller district in 1946 and moving to Haast in 1949. His estate was administered by the Public Trustee, according to his Will made out on 25 September 1952. He bequeathed all his estate to his sister Margaret Donaldson, and if she should predecease him, to his brother Patrick Clarke. Margaret had died in 1955, and Patrick may have died in July 1959. William Francis 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 another brother John Michael (Jack) Clarke served with the New Zealand forces, enlisting twice. 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.


Military Personnel File (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 22525 W5712 BR. 37/4066) [14 October 2013]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) [25 October 2015]; Evening Star, 24 October 1889, Daily Telegraph, 24 October 1889, Timaru Herald, 25 October 1889, 9 November 1889, 20 December 1898, 2 March 1916, South Canterbury Times, 9 November 1889, Temuka Leader, 14 January 1890, 18 December 1897, 19 December 1899, 14 January 1890, 15 December 1900, 17 December 1901, 7 June 1902, 31 July 1902, 11 July 1903, 12 September 1903, 19 December 1903, 8 July 1905, 3 August 1905,27 February 1906, 28 April 1906, 19 June 1906, 24 July 1906, 2, 4 & 25 October 1906, 4 December 1906, 9 February 1907, 14 December 1907, 10 December 1908, 30 January 1912, 30 July 1912, 3 March 1917, NZ Tablet, 24 December 1897, 28 December 1899, 10 August 1905, 4 October 1906, 7 September 1916, 17 May 1923, 13 May 1925, Otago Daily Times, 27 December 1915, 29 February 1916, North Otago Times, 29 February 1916, 9 September 1916, Otago Witness, 16 August 1916, Free Lance, 18 August 1916, New Zealand Herald, 25 September 1916, Evening Post, 25 October 1916, Press, 28 April 1925 (Papers Past) [14, 15 & 28 October 2013; 15 November 2013; 17 June 2015; 24 July 2015; 20 & 23 February 2016; 20 August 2016; 02, 13, 14, 15, 17 & 18 June 2019]; Hokitika Cemetery burial record (Westland District Council) [28 October 2013]; Probate record (Archives NZ/FamilySearch) [15 June 2014]; Family Probates (Archives NZ/FamilySearch) [20 February 2016; 10 & 11 June 2019]; Temuka Baprism Index (Catholic Diocese of Christchurch CD held by the South Canterbury Branch NZSG) [19 April 2015]; NZ Electoral Rolls (; UK Royal Air Force Airmen Records (; Records pertaining to Daniel Clarke, 1617 SA War [28 October 2013, ff.]

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Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG

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