Born in the St Mary’s area of Brecon in 1897. He was working in Blaengarw in the Garw valley as a collier in 1914 when he enlisted in the 2nd Batt: Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
After his initial training he was sent to France to support his regiment which had been badly depleted because of casualties in the recent battle for Neuve Chappelle.
On the 22nd of July 1916. German sappers detonated a mine directly under the British forward trenches at Givenchy- la Bass’ee. The mine contained 35,000lbs of explosive and was fired at 2:50 a.m. Killing 52 men instantly and leaving a crater 120 yds long, 70 yds wide and 30 foot deep in the British frontline.
It is thought that Private Clarke was not killed during this explosion, but afterwards when the German infantry attacked to try and get to the mine crater first to establish a firing line.
This attack was repulsed by the remaining British troops and the crater was named Red Dragon in their honour.
Pte Clarke had become just another soldier of the Great War with no known grave. Or so you would have thought.
But we have to fast forward to March 2000, when a chance discovery by a French ‘detectorist’ found Pte Clarke’s shaving mirror near some human bones and scraps of uniform in a freshly ploughed field? Fortunately Clarkes name and service number were written inside the mirror case.
The finder was Olivier Hancart who was searching for war souvenirs when he found the remains and immediately contacted the authorities at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, after some further research by a Professor of Forensic Archaeology, it was determined that the bones were indeed Pte Richard Clarke’s and arrangements were made to have them re-interred in the nearby Military Cemetery at Gorre-Beuvry with full military honours.
When cases like this happen the War Graves Commission make every effort to trace living relatives of the fallen, in this particular case it was Pte Clarkes 75 year old nephew from Newport who was informed. Keith Clarke had very little knowledge of his ‘uncle’ other than his father telling him that he had lost a brother in the Great War.
A first hand account of this mine going off and the battle for the crater can be found in the book; Old Soldiers Never Die by Frank Richards.
This version was researched and compiled from contemporary newspaper accounts by G. Jarvis