The Flu Victim

Lieutenant Colonel J.D. Clarke
111th (South Waterloo) Battalion

A very good officer who gave me an excellent impression, well qualified, has a good command, is apparently tactful and altogether fitted to command.

(111th Inspection report, 7 Aug 1916)

“After having raised the 111th South Waterloo Battalion, taking it overseas and spending four weeks on the firing line in France, Lieut.-Col. J.D. Clarke slipped quietly into town today.”

(Toronto World, 9 Feb 1917)

Born on 1 March 1884 in Elora, Ontario, James Drury Clarke was a newspaper publisher and the son of a prominent Liberal politician. His father, Charles Clarke (1826—–1909) had been a member of the Ontario legislature and speaker. He was appointed to organize the 111th Battalion from the Galt and Waterloo region. Although he found the German-speaking Mennonites in the area loyal, their equally strong pacifism made “recruiting efforts in that section are absolutely wasted.”

Clarke’s brother was killed in action in September 1916, the same the month that the 111th sailed for England. On landing it was absorbed into the 35th Reserve Battalion before most of the troops were drafted as reinforcements. Clarke and his second-in-command, Major Lafayette William Johnston, went on a one month instructional tour of the front in December 1916. On returning to England in mid-January, Johnston “noticed insomnia, nervousness and being irritable.”

Clarke and Johnston quietly returned to Canada in February 1917. A year later, Johnston had diagnosed with nervous debility and neurasthenia, which doctors attributed to “Active service conditions” Although Johnston had spent just over one month in the trenches, doctors observed: “Has lost considerable weight during past year. Is irritable and cannot apply himself to work as formerly.”

Meanwhile, Clarke resumed his career as manager of the Galt Reporter. However, he died suddenly from the influenza epidemic on 17 October 1918 at the age of thirty-four.


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