Windlesham Schoolmaster ‘the ideal English gentleman’

Captain Ronald Malcolm Clerk

Title: Captain Ronald Malcolm Clerk
Description: Served with 6th(Service) Battalion, Queen's(Royal West Surrey Regiment). Photo:courtesy Malvern College,Worcestershire. by-nc

Ronald Clerk was a schoolmaster at The School, Sutherland House, Windlesham (now Woodcote House School) after he took his B.A. from Merton College, Oxford.  He applied for a commission on August 17th 1914, just 13 days after war was declared.  His medical report  shows him to be 71 inches tall, weighing 152 pounds and having a chest size of 39.5 inches.

He obtained a commission in the Royal West Surrey Regiment (as recorded in the London Gazette on 28th August 1914) and although he subsequently obtained a Commission (Regulars) with the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), he remained with his original battalion until the time of his death at the Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917.

The Rev A.J. Hutton, Rector of St John the Baptist Church, Windlesham, from 1916-1932 tells Ronald’s story in the church Roll of Honour. It is reproduced below:

‘Ronald M Clerk was at Malvern College as a boy and went from there to Merton College Oxford, where he took his BA in 1908. After leaving Oxford he was Assistant Master at the School, Windlesham until the war broke out in 1914. The following extract is from the Times.

‘In August 1914 he obtained a commission in the Royal West Surrey Regiment and went with his battalion to the front in June 1915. Promoted to Captain in July 1915 he was invalided home after an operation for appendicitis and was obliged to remain at home until June when he rejoined his regiment. In July he was slightly wounded, and in December he was recommended for & obtained a Commission (Regulars) in the Kings’ Royal Lancaster Regiment as Captain but remained with his old battalion in the Queen’s. His Commanding Officer writes ‘Your son was killed on the morning of April 9th to the lasting sorrow of his many friends here. His death was almost instantaneous……. His loss will be felt very deeply by us all…..He played the game until the last, dying most gallantly at the head of his company’ ‘The Times’.

Clerk Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 16.21.02 (3)

Title: Clerk Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 16.21.02 (3)
Description: Malvern College's memorial record for R.M. Clerk which includes entry from the Times. Image: courtesy Malvern College, Worcestershire by-nc

Major Rolls his Commanding Officer added ‘For myself I can only say  I shall never forget your son, who was a great friend of my own, and no words of mine can be sufficient to convey the sympathy I feel for you &yours in the great loss you have sustained’

2nd Lieunt Percy Watts wrote ‘The sad news of Ronald’s death in action has just reached me. As I am Bayonet Fighting Officer the authorities refused me permission to go into action so I was not with him at the time. I understand however that he died as he would have wished, leading ‘D’ Compy into action. Not only was he my Captain, he was my friend and his loss leaves a gap that will be hard indeed to fill. In action I knew him as a soldier without fear, in the ordinary round of everyday tasks, I knew him as an untiring worker and a constant helper whose one thought, day & night, was the comfort & welfare of his company. All we,  who remain, can do is to strive to live up to the high ideal he has set us, and see that the battalion & company that he loved so well goes forward to further victories. His memory will ever be our inspiration’

‘An Appreciation’     from the Windlesham Parish Magazine ‘I feel I cannot restrain from writing this appreciation of one who endeared himself to so many boys whose manhood has been anticipated by the war. My friendship dates from his last term at Merton, since when I have been in closest touch with him. Full of enthusiasm with high ideals and an innate sense of justice he made an ideal colleague & won the affection & esteem of all who were privileged to work with him’…… The following is from a letter written on the day of the notice of his death appeared in the Times , bears eloquent testimony to his work as a schoolmaster________________

‘It is no good my trying to express my sorrow as that would be impossible. Captain Clerk was & will be one of my ideals and I would willingly, I think, have laid down my life for him. What he did for me in every way it is beyond me to say; he always seemed to me to be the ideal English gentleman…………….For those of us just going out it is good to know that if we are killed it is in good company.’’

Documents contained in Captain Clerk’s file in the National Archive confirm much of the Reverend Hutton’s tribute.  Additionally, they are able to tell the poignant story of his kit being returned to his family and documents there list the contents of his valise and a ‘bale’. Sadly, some items appear to have been mislaid, adding to the family’s distress. One of his colleagues, 2nd Lieutenant C H Hunt, in correspondence to the War Office about this issue, is able to add further information about the circumstances of Captain Clerk’s death and belongings: ‘Capt Clerk was killed early in the morning of April 9th between the English & German front lines. I was in the 6th German line before I even knew that the Captain was killed. Later on in the day……..the captain’s runner, Pte Pearce, came to me and handed me a silver half hunter wrist watch which I took charge of……. so, in due course I forwarded the watch to Mrs Clerk, the Captain’s mother, together with a pair of binoculars which I always carried about for the captain.’

Ronald Clerk - commission application Aug 17th 1914

Title: Ronald Clerk - commission application Aug 17th 1914
Description: Photograph of original application form held in National Archive WO339/34539. Photo copyright: Moira Nairn by-nc

Anon, 1914, London Gazette , 28 August 1914

Hutton, A.J., date unknown, Windlesham Roll of Honour

National Archive: WO339/34539

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3 Responses to “Windlesham Schoolmaster ‘the ideal English gentleman’”

  1. This is wonderful to read. I lead a pupil and parent tour to the WWI battlefields every year, and we lay a poppy cross at Ronald’s grave in Arras. It will be fantastic for the boys to read this research as it adds detail to what we already know. There is also a memorial to Ronald in our school Chapel.

    • Imogen Middleton, Surrey Heritage

      Hello Andrew, thank you so much for getting in touch! We’re so pleased that Moira’s research has helped you. How wonderful to know that you all visit Roland’s grave, that he is still remembered. We would be delighted if you would consider sharing with us any other information you have on any other WW1 soldiers/individuals you may commemorate in your school Chapel, along with an image of the memorial. We are hoping to record the locations (with images) of all memorials in Surrey, together with the names on them. Furthermore, we offer free bespoke school workshops which aim to help students find out about the impact of the war on their local area, using case studies of individuals and maps/postcards/photographs/newspapers.

      One of the project team will be in touch with you!

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