17 September 2004
Pair: Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. J. Clarke, 72nd Highlanders, late 53rd Regiment
Indian Mutiny 1857-59, 1 clasp, Lucknow (Lieut. Wm. H. I. Clarke, 53rd Regt.); Afghanistan 1878-80, 2 clasps, Charasia, Kabul (Bt. Lieut. Col. W. H. J. Clarke, 72nd Highrs.) nearly very fine or better (2) £1400-1800
William Henry James Clarke was born on 14 July 1833, son of Colonel W. H. H. J. Clarke, 53rd Regiment. After attending Sandhurst, he was gazetted into the 53rd Regiment in August 1851, and joined his regiment, then stationed at Mhow. He served with the 53rd until 1860, and was present with it in the Indian Mutiny at the actions of Chutra, Gopalganj, Khodaganj, and the entry into Fatehgarh; the storming and capture of Mianganj, the siege and capture of Lucknow, the affair of Kursi, the passage of the Gogra, at Faizabad, on 25 November 1858, the action at Tulsipur, and several minor affairs. For his services on these occasions he was mentioned in despatches and received the medal with clasp. In 1860 he obtained his company, and in the following year exchanged into the 72nd Highlanders, with which distinguished corps he served continuously until his death in Afghanistan.
In October 1878, the 72nd Highlanders was one of the first regiments ordered to the front. In January 1879, Clarke, having been given his brevet Lieutenant-Colonelcy the previous November, proceeded with his half battalion to take part in the Khost Valley expedition, to relieve the native governor at Maton, where his fort was surrounded by 7000 rebels.
On renewal of hostilities in the autumn of 1879, command of the regiment had devolved on Colonel Clarke, in the absence on furlough of Colonel Brownlow. Under Clarke, the regiment advanced with Sir Frederick Roberts’ force over the Shutargarden towards Kabul. At the battle of Charasia, on the 6th October, during which his horse was shot under him, ‘he displayed great coolness and personal gallantry.’ He was subsequently present with the regiment at the occupation of Kabul and the Bala Hissar, throughout the investment of Sherpur, and in the attack on the Asmai heights on 14th December.
In the attack on the 14th, Lieutenant-Colonel Clarke was in command of the small force, comprising 64 men of the 72nd under Captain Spens (see Lot 743), and the Guides Infantry, that successfully assaulted and for a time held the little conical hill to the right of the main attack. When, later in the day, this little force on the conical hill was overwhelmed by the enemy, Captain Spens and Colour-Sergeant Yule (see Ritchie Collection Part 1, Lot 116) of the 72nd sacrificed their lives in an heroic attempt to stem their advance.
Lord Roberts, who was a witness to these events, wrote in Forty-One years in India: ‘Clarke, as well as every man with him, fought splendidly; the Afghans by force of numbers alone made themselves masters of the position and captured two guns. Clarke never recovered the loss of this post. He and I had been cadets together at Sandhurst, and I often visited him while he was in hospital at Sherpur. He was apparently suffering from no disease, but gradually faded away, and died not long after he reached India.’
Indeed, Lieutenant-Colonel Clarke died at Allahabad on 7 April 1880, ‘from illness contracted on service in the field.’