On February 7, 1916, Francis Stephen Clark, a 22 years 1 month old Boot maker, next of kin, his father, William Clark of Shaftsbury Road, Burwood, Sydney, New South Wales enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. At least that is what the attestation paper he signed on February 15, 1916 stated. He was actually Francis Curtin Clark born on July 25, 1897 at Tarago, New South Wales the son of William Clark and Catherine Curtin and thus only 18 years old. On his original application form Frank had stated that both parents were deceased, not true, although his mother died on December 30, 1898, his father did not die until July 2, 1935.
His medical examination described him as 5 feet 9½ inches tall and weighing 153 pounds, of fair complexion with blue eyes and brown hair. Under distinctive marks it is noted that he has ‘congenital amputation four fingers left hand’, of which we will hear more of later. Despite this and an examination of his papers by the medical board he was passed fit for active service and assigned to ‘A’ Company of the 4th Battalion.
After only 11 days of service we find the first black mark on Frank’s record when he goes missing for 19 hours. For this first offence he was fined 5 shillings. On March 11, 1916 he is brought before the authorities again, charged with insubordination and using threatening language to an N.C.O. For this he was given 96 hours detention.
Private Francis Stephen Clark departed from Sydney, Australia on June 3, 1916 aboard the HMAT A.55 Kyarra bound for Plymouth, England. It seems that even on board the troopship Frank couldn’t keep out of trouble. On July 20, 1916 he is charged with refusing to obey the orders of an officer, this time is simply ’admonished’. The Kyarra arrived in Plymouth on August 3, 1916 and the troops were moved to their camp on Salisbury plain.
A medical report at Perham Down on August 23, 1916 declares that due to the ‘congenital amputation’ he is permanently unfit for general service but fit for home duties, which is confirmed by the medical board. This is also the only army document that gives his correct age, 19 at last birthday.
Frank is soon in trouble again when he fails to return from leave on September 17, 1916. He was apprehended in London by the military police on September 26, and given 9 days detention with 18 days forfeiture of pay. Back at Larkhill in Wiltshire Frank is again in trouble, charged with breaking camp whilst a defaulter and being absent without leave from December 24 to 26, 1916. This time he was given 28 days detention and forfeited 37 days pay. Let’s hope his Christmas in 1916 was worth it.
Despite his record Frank is transferred to the 1st Training Battalion at Dorrington as an Acting Lance Corporal on February 8, 1917. Unfortunately this reverts back to Private when he is admitted to Parkhouse Hospital on March 23 diagnosed with a case of the mumps. He returns to the Training Battalion on Aril 7.
Apparently ignoring the earlier medical board findings, on August 13, 1917, Frank receives orders to proceed overseas to France via Southampton, arriving in Le Havre the following day. It is here that someone seems to have questioned his fitness; a Medical Board on August 28 classifies him ‘PB’, and a month later on September 30, 1917 he is back in England at No.2 Company Depot, Weymouth, Dorset. Another medical board at Weymouth on October 17, confirms his earlier status of permanently unfit for general service but fit for home duties.
We don’t know exactly how Frank spent his time in France but his subsequent medical record certainly gives a clue. On November 20, 1917 he is placed on the Syphilis register at the Military Hospital Bulford, where he is recorded as having contracted the disease from a prostitute in Le Havre. He receives 5 days treatment at Bulford before being discharged to the Company training Depot at Parkhouse, where he receives another 61 days treatment before being given the all clear on January 26, 1918.
Frank, of course, can’t keep out of trouble and on February 23, 1918 at Sutton Veny he is again found guilty of being absent without leave from February 10th to the 19th. This time he gets 20 days and forfeits 33 days pay. Most of the remainder of his service seems to have been in the Weymouth area.
On November 12, 1918 at St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Chapel, Dorchester Road, Melcombe Regis, Dorset, England, Francis Stephen Clark married Florence Jessie Tompkins, a cook working at 14 Victoria Terrace, Melcombe Regis and the daughter of farm labourer Frederick William Tompkins.
One month later on December 19, 1918 Frank Clarke was discharged from the 4th Battalion as being ‘medically unfit’ despite his condition being exactly the same as it was 2 years and 316 days earlier when he joined up. His final medical board on the day he was discharged noted that he suffered from ‘congenital deformity of left hand – absence and ill development of four finger’ and when answering the question, whether it was war related, stated, ‘existed frombirth’ and ‘Has not served in the line at all’.
The final entry on Frank’s service record notes that on March 12, 1920 he embarked on the Ceramic for Australia with wife and child. Although Frank had been issued a British War medal it was initially determined that he was not eligible for the Victory medal. This decision was reversed on August 15,1921.
© Brian Tompkins 2007