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Friday, 1 July 2011

Corporal William Clamp V.C. by Major J. R. Chapman MBE

Corporal William Clamp V.C.
William Clamp was born to Charles and Christina Clamp of Bridge Street, Motherwell on the 28th October 1892 and educated at Craigneuk School. He had eight brothers and nine sisters. William attended the local Salvation Army's Sunday School and then, as a senior soldier, played in the cornet section of the Motherwell Corps Band. When his parents moved to Reid's Terrace, Shields Road, Flemington, he got a job at Messrs Hurst & Nelsons making wagons. From there, on 22nd January 1914, he joined the 6th Scottish Rifles (Cameronians), the local territorial army unit.

On the outbreak of the Great War, he was immediately called up and saw fighting with the 6th Cameronians at Festubert in 1915. He was twice seriously wounded and when he came out of hospital the second time, he was transferred to the 6th Yorkshires on 10th January 1917.

The Green Howards were fortunate to be reinforced by many men from Lanarkshire in the Great War, particularly from the famous Scottish regiment, The Cameronians. They got on well with the Yorkshiremen and brought to the Regiment a special type of grit, humour and a deep-rooted belief in the Almighty. They were proud men, with high principles, who put duty and loyalty above everything. They believed strongly in the Allied cause and saw the German threat as evil. They readily assumed responsibility and, as a result, had a marked influence on those with whom they came in contact. Such a man was William Clamp.

Clamp's mother, who lived in Motherwell, remarked after his death: 'Aye, he was a good lad. He never at any time caused the least worry or bother. His letters from the Front were always cheery and bright. In the last letter I received from him, he said: "Don't worry about me, Mother, for whatever happens, my soul is right with God."

In the attack on Poelcappelle on 9th October 1917, 25 year old Corporal William Clamp also showed that he was one of the 'bravest of the brave'. Initially, the attack in the early hours of the morning went in as planned; the leading troops advanced through the mud into Poelcappelle village with deceptive ease. The 6th. Yorkshires took around 150 prisoners, but progress was slowed down, when they reached the fork in the road, by machine-gun fire from strong German positions near the site of the local brewery. A series of concrete pillboxes manned by machine-gun crews held down the leading troops with accurate bursts of fire. Snipers shot anyone who moved. With this stalemate. Captain Clive Bayliss, Clamp's Company Commander, sent forward the bombers in the hope that they could get round the flanks and destroy the opposition.

At first, they were successful, knocking out a couple of pillboxes, but were then pinned down by accurate fire from two German strong points in Meunier House and Stirling House. With two men, Corporal Clamp rushed the largest blockhouse and threw his Mills bombs, but his two companions were hit. He managed to drag them back to safety, collected another supply of bombs, called for two more volunteers and set off again into the ruins. Under the eyes of all the men in his Company, he was seen to reach the block house, hurl in his bombs and then disappear. Suddenly he re-emerged carrying the enemy machine gun with a posse of German prisoners. Some said there were more than 30 prisoners in total.

Captain Bayliss described the action he had witnessed as 'one of the bravest examples of pluck and initiative that has ever been seen in this regiment'. Despite this courageous act, the Green Howards continued to take losses from well-sited machine-guns dotted along the spur to the east of the village. By 8am, the leading Company was still pinned down but the rest of the battalion managed to form a sort of line reinforced by a company from the Duke of Wellington's Regiment.

The remainder of the morning was quiet except for sniping and some machine-gun fire. It was during this period of consolidation that Corporal Clamp went out with his bombs to winkle out the snipers who were causing so many casualties. Again he was seen leaping from behind the ruins throwing his bombs, disappearing then reappearing somewhere else, shouting Scottish war cries and cheering on the men who followed him. He succeeded in rushing several posts then continued to display the same reckless courage until he was repeatedly hit. Captain Bayliss wrote : 'Later in the day, he was shot by a sniper whilst endeavouring to find the whereabouts of another machine-gun. The whole battalion mourn his death and we are all proud to have been in the same regiment as he'.

Tragically it was all to no avail. At around 5 pm, the enemy began to filter back into the positions they had lost. One group managed to reoccupy the dugouts that had been so bravely captured by Corporal Clamp to the north west of the brewery, forcing the 6th Yorkshires to withdraw. The battalion had accomplished little at a considerable cost: 40 dead, 161 wounded and 31 missing. Corporal Clamp's body was never found. However, when news of the Corporal's death reached home, the Motherwell Salvation Army Corps had a memorial service for him on 4 November 1917.

Several weeks later, on the 10 December 1917, The London Gazette announced the award of the posthumous VC to Corporal William Clamp. His parents received the award to their son from H.M. King George V at Buckingham Palace on 2 March 1918. The Corporal's name is carved on the Tynecot 'Memorial to the Dead' in Belgium, some five miles north east of Ypres.

A gold medal is awarded annually at his old school in his honour and, 65 years later, Motherwell Council named a road in Craigneuk: 'Clamp Road'. The VC was handed to one of his brothers, James Clamp, who moved with the family to Coventry. When he died, it was passed on to his sister, Mrs J. Kelly who sold it to the Regiment in 1967. Corporal Clamp's VC and medals are presently held by the Green Howards Regimental Museum in Richmond.


Robert McClair said...

I read this wonderful and inspiring story of this young Scotsman with genuine pride, and it's to the shame of all of us in Scotland that this man is hardly known in our country. This should be rectified without delay by both the local authority and indeed, the Scottish Parliament.
As an aside, my own interest in this bravest of young men, was stimulated by my own late father being the winner of the"Clamp Medal" presented to the Dux of Craigneuk Public School back in 1932.
This medal is of course a prized possession in our family, and a constant teminder of the huge bravery of William Clamp.

Sonia Allen said...

Robert's comments have been heart warming to read, as a blood relative of William (my Grandfather was his Brother) it's wonderful to know the Clamp medal is so proudly owned by his family. I would dearly like to know what the students have to do to receive this and have decided to contact the school.
As a family we are all proud and humbled to have such a brave man as William as a relative, there are still many male members of the family carrying the Clamp name forward.
Sonia Allen

Joel clamp said...

This is my great grandfather and I cannot express how proud I am to be a clamp.

Margaret Gebbie Robertson said...

My Great Grandmother was the sister of William's father.My Grandfather , who was CSM John Gebbie in Cameronians, was William's first cousin. My Mum attended Craigneuk Public school in the 1930's and remembers the VC medal, on display, in a glass case in the school. I grew up knowing the story of William and his outstanding bravery and Mum and I placed a poppy at Tynecot , beside his name, when we visited there a few years ago. We , like William's closest relatives, will never forget him, or William's own cousin James Gebbie, my Grandfather's brother, who died, aged 19, at Arras.

Margaret Gebbie Robertson 25/06/16