William Clark 1888-1917
RMLI 14347
RMB 382
Served 1904-1917


William Clark was born on Wednesday 3rd October 1888 in Newcastle upon Tyne, he was raised in Scotswood Road in the city, the thoroughfare was made famous through the lyrics of the Geordie folk song ’Blaydon Races’.

Fifteen year old William enlisted into the Royal Marine Light Infantry at Eastney as a Band Boy on 19th April 1904. He was allocated service number 14347 and assigned to Chatham Division. He studied the Baritone and Cello and advanced to the rank of Musician on his 18th Birthday, 3rd October 1906.

Musician Clark’s first taste of life at sea was in April 1907 for twelve months with the band on the armoured cruiser HMS Leviathan, before spending two years onboard the newly commissioned HMS Shannon from March 1908. The ship became the flagship of the 5th Cruiser Squadron of the Home Fleet and was later transferred to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron when the fleet reorganized in April 1909. William left the ship in February 1910.

His next venture was with the band onboard HMS Balmoral Castle for a two-month cruise, visiting South Africa between October-December 1910. The ship had completed only two voyages when she was requisitioned for use as The Royal Yacht by the British Government for the conveyance of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and Princess Patricia. The reason for the visit was for the opening of the first South African Union Parliament at Cape Town on 4th November 1910. The Royal couple were representing King George V due to his recent ascension to the throne on the death of King Edward VII. Her accommodation was suitably altered and several luxurious suites were arranged on the Promenade Deck. In keeping with her new role as Royal Yacht her red funnels were painted yellow and a cross tree fitted to her foremast. At Portsmouth she was manned by naval officers and crew although some of her original complement were retained for the voyage. Their itinerary was as follows: 31st October, the ship arrived at Cape Town, the Royal Party had further engagements in Bloemfontein, Livingstone, Salisbury, Bulawayo, Pretoria and Durban. The Balmoral Castle returned to Portsmouth on 26th December.

In January 1911, William was posted to the newly commissioned HMS Neptune, she relieved HMS Dreadnought as the flagship of the Home Fleet in March and then participated in the Coronation Fleet Review on 24th June. The ship also played a role in the Parliamentary Naval Review on 9th July 1912 at Spithead. William’s time on the Neptune was up in January 1913. William’s next ship in March 1913 was HMS Britannia, which had just returned to the Home Fleet, before spending around nine months attached to the Naval School of Music as the First World War took hold.

William joined the band on HMS Canada on 10th August 1915. She was a battleship that the Chilean Navy had ordered as Almirante Latorre. The ship was launched in 1913, but the British government purchased her in 1914 after the outbreak of the war. HMS Canada saw action at the Battle of Jutland. In total she fired 42 main guns rounds and 109 secondary guns rounds during it. She was not hit once, and sent two salvoes on SMS Wiesbaden, fired five more at an unknown target, plus its 6-inch guns on German destroyers.

William was married on 15th April 1915 to Violet Miller in Portsmouth. They made their home in Allen’s Road in Southsea. The couple had a child around May 1916.

Musician William Clark tragically died on 22nd February 1917 aged 28. He had been at home on a period of leave.. William and Violet travelled from Portsmouth to London and stayed overnight prior to him returning to Inverkeithing with a large party of other sailors and marines. On Wednesday 21st February.. Violet waved her husband off on the 2330 overnight special train from Kings Cross, he was quite alright and perfectly happy. Most of the passengers were sleeping at the time, but witnesses stated that William, who was sober, had gone to the lavatory around 2.30am and a short time later.. it was discovered that one of the train doors was open.. none of the doors on the train were locked. At 7am the following morning, William’s body along with his leave pass and train ticket to Inverkeithing was discovered on the Great Northern main line near the village of Burton Coggles in Lincolnshire.. just south of Grantham. The jury at the inquest delivered a verdict of accidental death and that he simply fell from the train. William’s widow Violet was informed.
William is buried in Highland Road Cemetery, Portsmouth. Grave number J. 31. 42.
Violet re-married in late 1919 to George Mitchell, they lived at 249 Union Street, Middlesbrough in Yorkshire.

Grantham Journal 3rd March 1917


At Corby Station on Monday, Mr T Norton, District Coroner, held an inquest on the body of a man who was discovered dead on the railway line in the parish of Burton Coggles on Thursday week. The deceased was William Clark, a musician in the Royal Marines, and he was returning to Scotland after being on leave.—Violet Clark gave evidence of identification. She said her husband was a musician in the Royal Marines Band on H.M.S. Canada. She was left with one child, aged ten months. On Feb 9th, her husband was home on leave, and on Feb. 20th they left Portsmouth and stayed in London. On Feb. 21st she saw him off by the 1130 special train from Kings Cross. He was then quite alright, and perfectly happy.— Stanley C. Eke, ordinary seaman, H.M.S. Canada said the deceased, himself, and a large party of sailors and marines were returning to their ship.
Deceased travelled in the next compartment to witness, and a lavatory was attached to the front part of the carriage. Most of the men in the train went to sleep. Just before reaching Doncaster—(later the place stated to be Grantham)—witness found that the door of the carriage on the right-hand side was open. He was unable to close it. He was informed by Sergt Gouldstone that deceased travelled in his carriage, and after about quarter of an hour he asked the way to the lavatory and went out. About a quarter of an hour afterwards, Gouldstone heard the deceased speak to someone in the corridor, but he did not see him again and thought he had found his friends. He was sober. Witness further spoke to Leading Seaman Key, also trying to close the open door, but without success; whilst a petty officer also told him that when the train was slowing into Doncaster station that the end door of the carriage was open. There were other witnesses in the same compartment as the deceased, but they could throw no further light on the matter. They all agreed that the train was very dark. The time the door was open was about 2.30 to 3am, so that according to the time the station where the door was shut would be Grantham, and not Doncaster.—George Baker, guard in charge of the train, said they stopped at Hitchin, Peterborough and Grantham, reaching the latter place at 2.26. He noticed nothing unusual at any place, and they got to Doncaster at 3.39. Men were joining the train at the different places, and there was nothing reported to witness between London and York. All the carriages were lavatory carriages. The carriages were not locked on either side of the train.—James W, Taylor said he examined the train at Peterborough, and the doors were all properly fastened on the right-hand side in the direction of which the train was travelling, but they were not locked.—Inspector H. Cartwright said he went through the train at Peterborough. The conduct of the men was very quiet, orderly and peaceable. Most of them were asleep. They were all sober.—Mr A.F. Tuxford said he saw the train arrive in Grantham. He noticed a door open as the train began to stop. When it started again, the door was still open, and he reported it to the inspector, and it was closed.—George Musson, inspector at Grantham station, said from what the last witness reported to him he informed the stationmaster, and by his instructions he telephoned to Saltesford to see if they had noticed anything wrong.—George Dawson, platelayer, working between Corby Station and Burton Coggles, said that on Thursday morning, at seven o’clock as he was proceeding to work, he found the body of a man in the 6ft way between the down main line and the up main line. Both legs had been run over, and one was nearly off.— The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death”.

RIP William

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