August 4

A hero in the family #WorldWarOne

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My Grandad – and in the trenches (front, second from left)

When the call came to fight for King and Country, Claude Clark didn’t hesitate. As soon as he could, he followed in his elder brother Charles’ footsteps and travelled from his terraced home in Portsmouth to Winchester, home of the Hampshire Regiment and signed up.

It was Tuesday 18th January 1916, ten days after Allied evacuation of Helles marked the end of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign and eleven days before compulsory conscription was introduced in Britain.

Claude was just eighteen years and a month old and a slight figure at just 5 foot five inches tall. Until that moment, he had been working as a joiner’s apprentice. Now he was 46198: Clark, Claude Clement, Private – and the latest teenage recruit into the British army.

The reality of what lay ahead was all too real. He was then asked to sign Army Form W.3664 – better known as a recruit’s Will. It was a functional piece of paper, just a little larger than a modern day post-it note. Under “Final disposal and to whom sent” he wrote simply “To Mum”.

A poignant note – and one which has particular resonance for me. For 18-year-old Claude Clark, Private 46198 of the Hampshire Regiment, was my Grandfather.

My Grandad died before I reached my teens and I never talked to him about his wartime service. Of course, I wish I had, but realistically it’s unlikely he would have wanted to talk to a child about the horrors he had faced.

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A sketch entitled “The artist at war – what a beautiful sunset!”

Like most men who survived the degradation and nightmare of the trenches, he would have wanted to put it all behind him and move on with life. It’s certain that his military service stayed with him mentally, as it did physically – and I remember him being terribly wheezy, a result of him being gassed in the trenches.

Piecing together exactly what he did during the war isn’t easy. Like those of so many millions of his comrades, my Grandfather’s wartime service record fell victim to a bombing raid on the National Archives during the Second World War.

What was saved from the ensuing blaze are literally fire-damaged fragments. We know from some remaining paperwork that he moved around quite a lot. He joined the Hampshire Regiment before switching to the 446 Field Company, Royal Engineers (and his rank was swapped from private to sapper) and then to the 12th Yorks (Pioneers). He earned 2 shilling and sixpence a day.
What we do know was that he was gassed, although we don’t know when or where. We also know that he was demobilised on February 10 1919, two months after Armistice Day.

To our knowledge Claude didn’t keep a diary so we don’t have a detailed record of his war. But recently we’ve found something arguably better. He was a keen amateur artist, something he loved throughout his life, and took a drawing book to the trenches.
Found in a box of family papers, my Grandfather’s battered old book and loose pages of drawings give an extraordinary insight into his war. There’s an almost mocking cartoon of an effete-looking officer “the sub”, a drawing of a wounded comrade labelled “a blighty”, a self-portait of “the artist at war – what a beautiful sunset” and many, many more.

There are sketches of an airman’s grave, a dogfight, refugees, an old lady, a dugout – a real range both of subjects and, one imagines, of the artist’s mood, from serious and dour to humorous.

(I’ll be writing more about the sketches soon).

After the war my Grandad returned to his home town in Portsmouth. On 6th July 1940, four days before the beginning of The Battle of Britain during the Second World War he married my Grandmother Margaret Fogden at St Stephen’s Church, North Mundham in Sussex.

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Images from my Grandad’s World War One sketchbook

He was, for the time, quite an old groom at 43. He and my Grandmother went on to have four children: a son, Barry – my Dad – and three daughters, Averil, Rosemary and Gill.

During the Second World War Claude put his skills as an artist to good use and worked as a camouflage painter helping to hide important military sites in the south of England ahead of D-Day. After the Second World War he founded a sign and printing firm Clark’s Sign Work’s Limited in Portsmouth and his love of art meant he also had an art shop on the site, a stones’ throw from Portsmouth College of Art.

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Happier days… my Grandad on holiday with my Dad and his sisters Averil and Rosemary.

He became Secretary of the Hampshire Art Society and much of his time was spent painting and drawing. He loved the south coast and spent many happy holidays in Swanage in Dorset.

Born in 1897, he was already in his seventies by the time I was born, but we spent most Saturday afternoons (and every Christmas Day) at my grandparent’s home in Fareham. I have some prized sketches that he did for me one Saturday. They are just little cartoons, but are special to me. As we left to head home he gave us pocket money, a ten pence coin, pressed firmly into our hands.

My Grandad died on January 4th 1981, aged 83.

Like many of us who have never been called upon to defend our country and our freedom, I have often wondered how I would have reacted. I’d like to think I’d have done the right thing like my Grandad did: risk the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.

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My Grandad as I remember him

So many people gave so much for our country in the First World War and subsequent conflicts. My Grandad did the right thing. I am proud of him: my Grandad – my hero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Category: History
July 18

Isle of Wight holiday in a lighthouse cottage will leave you beaming with delight

DSC_6440I blame Enid Blyton. Ever since I read her Famous Five adventures I’ve been fascinated by lighthouses.

Rising majestically on the edge of a cliff or standing precariously on top treacherous rocks, they are weather-beaten and storm-lashed – yet unmovable.

Then there were the lives of the men and women who worked in them, manning them round the clock, making sure the lamps shone brightly and the foghorns never let mariners down.

An often solitary, yet strangely romantic existence, the jobs of these hardworking and dedicated individuals have long since vanished and the network of lighthouses around the British Isles is automated.

With no lighthouse keepers to provide homes for these days, Trinity House – the 499-year-old corporation given its Royal Charter by Henry VIII to look after the safety of shipping around our coast – rents them out as holiday lets.

And that’s how we find ourselves spending the weekend in a keeper’s cottage at St Catherine’s Point Lighthouse, Niton Undercliff, at the most southerly point of the Isle of Wight.

And if beautiful sea views, crashing waves, sunshine, rocky beaches and history are your thing, then you’ve found the perfect place to stay.

The cottage itself – we had Landward, the middle one of three there – could not have been more perfect for a weekend away.

The spacious, well-equipped kitchen was perfectly in keeping with the Victorian building and contained everything you could need.

In fact they really have thought about their customers’ needs to the point where they even have children’s cutlery – something very few places have (and something we always forget to take with us).

The welcome pack of food is also spot on. Someone has clearly gone to some trouble to think about what you might need – and there are enough provisions provided for a simple family tea and the first breakfast.

The bedrooms – one double with sea views and one with two single beds – are homely and welcoming and the lounge, again with those amazing views, is comfortable and cosy.

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After looking around inside, my small son and I decided to go exploring.

There’s a private walled courtyard and beyond that a gate leading to the lighthouse.

The present lighthouse was built in 1838 after the loss of the sailing ship Clarendon, which was wrecked by hidden rocks.

It was originally three tiered but that turned out to be too high – the lantern was often shrouded in mist – so in 1875 it was lowered by 13m.

The lighthouse was automated in 1997 and the last lighthouse keepers left that July. It is now managed from Trinity House’s control centre in Essex.

 

On certain days it’s open to the public for viewing and my son and I decided to take the 94-step trip up to the top – including a short, almost vertical, ladder climb. It was well worth the effort because, as you might imagine, the views from the top are spectacular – and it’s impossible not to be impressed by the Victorian machinery still turning the light in the 21st century, its great weight floating on a bed of mercury.

DSC_6793 (Large)If you look closely you’ll see some chips in the lenses, a sad reminder of St Catherine’s darkest day – June 1, 1943 when a German bombing raid destroyed the engine house, killing the three lighthouse keepers who were on duty.

With such a tragic history and the fact that we’re on what’s known as Britain’s most haunted island, it seems inevitable that there have been sightings of ghosts at the lighthouse – including a figure in the lamp room and reports of a noisy family who talk and slam doors. I tried to put that out of my mind but later that night – when I ventured outside during a storm to take pictures, with the spooky beam of light from the lamp cutting through the fog – I did start to wonder…

During daylight the clifftop walks from St Catherine’s Point are spectacular – part of the 67-mile Isle of Wight circular walk – and the nearby town of Ventnor is a five-mile walk along the coast.

Ventnor has a wide sandy beach – ideal for sandcastles and perfect for children – as well as a host of bars and restaurants, including the olde worlde Spyglass Inn, which is an ideal place to have some good pub grub while enjoying views over the beach and out to sea.

Travel the other way from St Catherine’s Point – by car or, if you fancy a long walk, on foot – and you’ll find Blackgang Chine (blackgangchine.com). This has been ushering in visitors since 1843 – one of its first “attractions” was a whale skeleton.

The site is now one of the island’s most popular destinations and there is lots for families to see and do – Dinoland, Wild West-themed Frontierland, a giant maze, a crooked house and water rides. There’s also an exhibition explaining the cliff falls and erosion that have made Blackgang a disappearing village.

Further round the coast, at the island’s most westerly point, are the famous Needles – three distinctive stacks of chalk which take their name from a fourth needle-shaped stack of chalk which collapsed in a storm in 1764.

You can get a great view of these amazing rocks from The Needles Battery, a fortification perched on the cliffs built to guard the island, first against the French in the 19th century and then against the Germans in the 1940s.

Now run by the National Trust, they are a great place for young and not-so-young to explore, with gunpowder stores and the guardhouse.

There is also a tiny but excellent tea room in a World War II look-out tower. Nearby at High Down is another National Trust-run military relic – a former rocket test site where some of Britain’s Cold War and space race technology was tested under conditions of great secrecy.

With our afternoon exploring over, it’s back to the lighthouse for dinner. By now it has started raining and the wind has begun blowing a gale.

Back in the comfort of Landward cottage, it’s the kind of stormy, authentic lighthouse keeper experience you’d expect. And, fortunately, still no sign of those ghosts…

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When to go : The Isle of Wight is great all year round. It’s the perfect place for lazy days at the beach in the summer when the weather is good, but it’s also fantastic for atmospheric walks by the sea or in the countryside when it’s stormy.

Top Tip : Take a bus. Even if you’ve got a car with you, leave it for a day and avoid the hassle of trying to find a parking space. The island is well served by buses which weave through the narrow roads (and you get great views from the top of a double decker!). There’s also railway line which uses former London underground trains.

Getting there : We travelled with Wightlink Ferries from Portsmouth to Fishbourne wightlink.co.uk You can also get there from Southsea by hovercraft and from Southampton by car ferry.

Book it: A two night stay at Landward Cottage starts at £287 with Rural Retreats. ruralretreats.co.uk 01386 701177

Article (c) Steve Clark 2014 / External photographs (c) Steve Clark 2014. All rights reserved.

 This piece by me was originally published in the Sunday Mirror. Click here to view it online.

 

 

Category: Reviews, Travel
June 30

Why we’re so angry with Rolf Harris – and the day I spent at his house

Judging by the reaction on Twitter, the conviction of entertainer Rolf Harris on twelve counts of indecent assault has had a major impact on a large number of people. And it seems their reactions have been very different from their feelings about the similar convictions.

Unlike Jimmy Savile, who many people seemed to have thought was weird and creepy (and were therefore unsurprised when he was revealed to be a sex offender) Rolf Harris had a thoroughly wholesome reputation.

A lot of people have tweeted comments along the lines of “that’s ruined my childhood” and I tweeted in response: “Lots of people seem to be saying “that’s my childhood ruined” over Rolf Harris. Let’s keep it in proportion – and think of the real victims”

That said, I have a good deal of sympathy for the sentiment expressed. Like so many people growing up in the seventies and eighties, I grew up watching Rolf Harris on television. I liked his funny songs – and, as I have a brother, the song Two Little Boys always resonated.

About 20 years ago I spent much of a day at Rolf’s house in Berkshire interviewing him for an “At Home” feature for TV Times magazine. Meeting a television icon from your childhood can be risky, as I have written before, but Rolf was very pleasant.Rolf

Nothing was too much trouble and he even sat at his piano and sang Two Little Boys. Before I left, he drew a little caricature of me for me to keep. And to be clear, he behaved perfectly professionally. But then I was a young man.

In 2003 he celebrated 50 years in showbusiness and that September BBC staged Rolf At The Royal Albert Hall, which raised money for The Prince’s Trust, and I attended as a guest of the BBC.

rolf bbcWe played our little boy a couple of Rolf Harris’ old songs and he liked them so much I bought him a CD of Harris ‘Greatest Hits’ (Music critics: it was only a couple of quid…)

He went on to paint The Queen and was a key part of the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Concert. His status as a national – or even international – treasure seemed assured. A multi-talented man who appealed to everyone.

Then, just a year later, came Operation Yewtree and his arrest. Even if he had been found not guilty by the jury today, Harris’ reputation was fatally damaged by the case. His image as a wholesome family man was already in tatters by his own admissions in court.

But the allegations were very serious. This wasn’t a case of famous man simply using his fame to attract women for consensual casual affairs (often seen as a perk of being famous), this was a man who indecently assaulted children as young as seven.

The stereotypical paedophile is the loner, the stranger, the weirdo. We not expect them to be famous family men. The reality of stranger danger – perhaps the biggest fear of all for parents – isn’t as common as the perception of it.

According to Mumsnet, children are more at risk from someone they do know than from a complete stranger (66% of paedophiles are known to children compared to 34% who are strangers). It says statistically children are more at risk of abuse from someone they know.

The case of Rolf Harris perhaps finally puts to rest the myth that sex offenders are usually strangers, or loners. They often lurk closer to home.

And as for our childhoods, now tainted a bit by the revelations that someone we liked and trusted was actually a very dirty old man, we do really need to keep it in proportion.

We need to remember the real victims. We’re experiencing disappointment – and perhaps some anger; they suffered, and may still be suffering, real abuse from someone they had no reason to distrust.

 

(c) Steve Clark 2014

Category: Rolf Harris