Kenton sailor felled by illness

By Contributed in Local People

HISTORIANS in Kenton have commemorated the death of another villager during the First World War.

Members of Kenton Past and Present have been researching the lives of those lost during the conflict.

As reports of the deaths of three of Kenton’s soldiers on the battlefields of Belgium within one week were reaching the village, came news of the death of another serviceman.

Last Thursday marked 100 years since the death of James Rice Clarke.

Born in Coombeinteignhead in 1881 into a large family, his father John, a farm labourer, and his mother Sarah had a total of nine children.

At the age of 15, James joined the Royal Navy. 

His first posting was to HMS Impregnable, a naval training establishment at Devonport.

In 1912, James married Louisa Jordan of Kenton and they set up home together in High Street, Kenton.

At the beginning of the First World War, James was serving on HMS Doris. 

Early in the war, HMS Doris was detached from the 11th Cruiser Squadron and sent out to Egypt. 

By this time she was equipped to carry a seaplane which was used to carry out aerial reconnaissance of the Turkish positions at Beersheba. 

In December she was part of the force available to Admiral Peirse, off the coast of Syria.

HMS Doris was ordered to harass Turkish communications on the Syrian coast.

Under Captain Larken, HMS Doris attacked Turkish forces at Askalon, carried out a reconnaissance of Haifa, and then landed a party four miles south of Sidon, cutting the telegraph to Damascus.

HMS Doris, with Able Seaman James Clarke on board, continued to operate in the region, supporting actions in the Dardanelles and drawing attention away from the Gallipoli landings.

By January 1917 Clarke was suffering the effects of illness and was sent back to HMS Vivid, a shore-based naval establishment at the Navy Barracks in Devonport. He was diagnosed as having contracted ‘spotted fever,’ more commonly known as meningococcal meningitis and was sent home to recover. 

After six months convalescence he was transferred to HMS Defiance, the Royal Navy’s torpedo school.

There, already weakened by his earlier illness he succumbed to tonsillitis and died in the Royal Naval Hospital in Devonport on August 3, 1917.

His funeral service was held in All Saints’ Church, Kenton on August 8. 

The coffin bearers were all members of the Kenton Lodge of Oddfellows of which he had been a member. 

His regalia were carried on the coffin and the members wore their black funeral scarves and, as his coffin was lowered, they threw sprigs of thyme into the grave.

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