Clark James Gavin Pte 4457972

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Personnel Entry

Private James Gavin Clark shortly after enlistment.
Private James Gavin Clark shortly after enlistment.

Name Clark James Gavin
Army number 4457972
Rank Pte
Date of birth 11/3/1919, registered in Durham Q2 1919. Mother's maiden surname Mahan.
Age 81 at the time of his death.
Unit Enlisted in The Durham Light Infantry, T, no enlistment date but probably mid/late 1939. Posted 9th Battalion (as he was then living in Gateshead). Transferred to the 12th Battalion? Transferred to the Black Watch 1/2/1940, posted 1 TS. Served BEF. Taken Prisoner of War 20/5/1940. Repatriated to the UK 1945. Posted ? Bn Black Watch. Class W Army Reserve 13/12/45, PTH 1952.
Company/Battery C
Platoon or other sub-unit
Task or role
Joined Brigade Probably 1/9/1939.
Prisoner of War Yes - held in Camp 20B (Malbork, Poland), Prisoner number 9649.
Died/Killed in action Died 26/6/2000 aged 81. Death registered in Durham June 2000.
Home address Father was Gavin Clark, mother Mary Mahan. One of eight children. Living at 78, Cuthbert Avenue, Sherburn Estate, Durham City at the time of his death.
Source table 1TS

The photograph below is of C Company, one of a series, taken at the Burt Terrace Cricket Ground in Gateshead, just before the 1st Tyneside Scottish embarked to join the British Expeditionary Force in France. It is thought to have been taken on 12th April 1940. Five weeks later, many of the men in this picture had either been captured as Prisoners of War, or Killed in Action.

Pte Clark is circled on the right of the group, three rows from the rear

Thanks to the efforts of Malcolm Clark in Australia, we have a CD of an interview with Gavin Clark - probably carried out by a local volunteer in 1999 - and this has been studued and notes taken.

Gavin Clark in this interview describes his capture on 20th May 1940 at FICHEUX and talks about the number of his comrades killed in that ambush. He speaks in detail about his treatment and the attitude of the guards, together with the three weeks of marching across France and Belgium, until a truck ride, and then a train ride, brought the group to Poland. He spent much of his time as a PoW working in a Sand Quarry and refers to the delays in Red Cross parcels reaching the prisoners, and the poor food and bad conditions in which they were held. He lost contact with many of the men with whom he was captured when Camps were broken up and men distributed to other Camps. His family did not get to hear he was a PoW until November 1940, and the first letter he received from his mother arrived in January 1941. He told of her sending him a parcel containing a civilian suit - he returned it with a note asking - "where do you think we are, Butlins?".

Gavin was one of those men who experienced the 1,000 mile "Death March" west to escape the advancing Russians in 1945 and, once liberated, his treatment by a female Russian Doctor until finally making contact with the advancing American Forces and going to hospital in Paris, then to hospitals in the UK - intially Devon and then Dorset - before being sent to stay at the then Dryburn Emergency Hospital in Durham, to be near his family.

He was surprised, as someone graded C3, and awaiting a medical discharge as a result of his condition after five years of captivity, to find himself in Otley on full-blown military training being readied for service overseas! He was then moved to a Field Hospital.

He was eventually demobbed from Edinburgh Castle. His welcome back on the Sherburn Estate in 1945 overwhelmed him and it was some time before he was able to cope with civilian life. In 1947 he was hospitalised with Tuberculosis - thought to have been contracted as a PoW - and spent three months in hospital.