A remarkable Rifleman’s story

Robert Clarke Father's grave smallEarlier this year I was asked by ex-Royal Green Jacket Robert Clarke to take him to visit his father’s grave at Leopoldsburg War Cemetery. I put together a two day tour for him visiting the cemetery in Leopoldsburg as well as a tour of Ypres.

On our journey Robert told me the extraordinary story of how his father was killed in action and his subsequent burial and re-interment at Leopoldsburg Cemetery.

The British had secured Leopoldsburg and set up supply depots and military hospitals in preparation for Operation Market Garden and XXX Corps dash along Hell’s Highway to relieve and secure the bridges being held by the US and British Airborne Divisions. Lt General Brian Horrocks needed to secure his right flank from a German attack from the town of Peer east of Leopoldsburg.

On 10th September Horrocks dispatched companies from 8th Battalion The London Rifle Brigade, among them ‘F’ Company in which Robert’s father Rifleman Ronald Clarke was serving.

They entered the town and were billeted in the local houses. Rifleman Clarke was put with the Broeckmans. The following day the Germans moved into the town and a skirmish broke out. Upon hearing firing, Rifleman Clarke ran out of the house and was shot dead.

He was brought back to the house and Mr Yactey Broeckmans, told the mayor that the rifleman could be buried in the front garden. The mayor suggested the back garden would be more appropriate in case the Germans re-took the town and discovered the grave (above right: photo of Mr Broeckmans’ daughter Alice at the original back garden grave).

Some weeks later a grave registration unit approached the house and said Rifleman Clarke’s body would be disinterred and reburied in a field nearby. Mr Broeckmans asked if this would be his final resting place and was told unlikely as the CWGC would establish a cemetery after the war and Rifleman Clarke would then be moved there. The Broeckmans insisted that Rifleman Clarke should rest in the garden until such a time that the new cemetery was established. He was moved when all the graves in the area were concentrated in the new WW2 cemetery – Leopoldsburg War Cemetery.

However, this is not the end of the story. Some years later Robert (Ronald’s son) was approached by a local military historian Peter Loncke. He connected Robert with the members of the house in whose garden Robert’s father was buried. He was then subsequently invited to the town of Peer on the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the town and was guest of honour.

At dinner the mayor of Peer explained the full story to Robert filling in all the missing pieces including the fact that his father was shot in the head by a sniper. He then produced his father’s helmet complete with bullet hole. This had been placed on the temporary cross that marked Rifleman Clarke’s grave in the garden of the house.

Since then Robert has been back to Peer several times. He stays at the house his father was billeted in and initially buried. The owner of the house now is Alice, daughter of Yactey Broeckmans. A young girl at the time of Rifleman Clarke’s death, she still remembers him and that fateful day.

We are delighted that not only will Robert be joining us on our 70th Anniversary trip to remember the Battle of Arnhem on 19 –22 Sept 2014 but he and his wife will be with us in Ypres for Armistice 2014.

Robert Clarke cemetery smallRobert pictured right at his father’s grave in Leopoldsburg War Cemetery.