Lieutenant Colonel F. F. Clarke, D.S.O.
127th (12th York Rangers) Battalion
“We hold the record for railway building in France. We had a very difficult piece to build, because it was in full view of the German lines in daylight for about 1½ miles across a valley.
When the air cleared on Thursday the Germans saw the railway track from their observation balloon and started to shell it, and, after sending over about 200 shells, they broke a rail, which was repaired in a few-minutes. This line can only be used at night, without light or noise
(F. F. Clarke, Railway Age Gazette, 1918, 404)
Frederick Fieldhouse Clarke was an engineer and surveyor in northern Ontario. Born on 22 August 1878 in Hamilton, Clarke had moved north during the mining rush around Cobalt. He served for three years with the Royal Canadian Regiment and nearly twenty with the 12th York Rangers. Through his work with northern railway development, Clarke helped to found the town of Kapuskasing in 1911
During the First World War, Clarke became commandant of one of the largest internment camps in Canada at Kapuskasing. The camp imprisoned over one thousand enemy aliens, including Slovaks, Ruthenians, and Poles. In January 1916, Clarke was appointed commanding officer of the 127th Battalion based in York County. G. C. Royce of the Queen’s Own Rifles succeeded him as commandant of Kapuskasing.
Although raised as an infantry battalion, by January 1917 the 127th was redesignated as the 2nd Battalion with General Stewart’s Railway Troops. While organizing light rail construction in France, Clarke was twice mentioned in the dispatches and received the Distinguished Service Order in January 1918.
On 27 March 1918, General Carey of the British Fifth Army ordered Clarke’s battalion to the front in order to close a gap at Amiens created by the rapid German Spring Offensive. Armed with machine-guns, the railway soldiers held the line before the German advance fell apart at the beginning of April. By the end of the fight, Clarke’s command had suffered two men killed as well as several dozen wounded.
In later years, the battalion’s role in halting the German offensive became a central part of the 127th’s collective memory. At a 1934 reunion, one veteran recalled, “The month of March has a special significance for us. It was in March, 1918, that we were on the St. Quentin Front, when the Allies hastily gathered a scratch army to meet the emergency of the hour…”
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