Anzac Day: A Bunbury-born farmer one of Australia’s sharpest shooters during World War I

Headshot of Sean Van Der Wielen
Sean Van Der WielenSouth Western Times
Raymond Arthur Clarke was one of the country’s best snipers during World War I.
Camera IconRaymond Arthur Clarke was one of the country’s best snipers during World War I. Credit: John Clarke/Supplied

There are hundreds of late veterans from the South West region who served during the two major conflicts of the early 20th century, but not all have a story quite like Raymond Arthur Clarke.

Mr Clarke was born in 1889 as the sixth of 10 children in his family. His father Ephraim Mayo Clarke was the first elected mayor of Bunbury and went on to serve in State Parliament for more than two decades.

After receiving his education in Bunbury and Perth, he worked in agriculture in the Kimberley region and on the family farm in Roelands.

He and close friend, Burekup’s Tom Rose, both enlisted in 1914 after the annual rifle prize shoot they were travelling to Kalgoorlie for was cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I.

South West war historian Jeff Peirce said the pair completed their training at Blackboy Hill camp in Greenmount before heading to Egypt.

“Further training was then undertaken, including an elimination shoot involving the entire 20,000 First Division of the AIF,” he said.

“This shoot was to identify the elite sharpshooters who were to act as snipers in the battles ahead. Tom Rose won the shoot and Ray Clarke was runner-up.”

The pair proved valuable during the Gallipoli campaign, at one point both serving as the personal security guards for Allied Commander Sir Ian Hamilton.

While Mr Rose was forced off the front line due to sickness, Mr Clarke was one of the few original members of the 11th Battalion to not be evacuated with ill health and injuries or killed while at Gallipoli.

A picture of Raymond Arthur Clarke taken by the Australian Defence Force in 1942.
Camera IconA picture of Raymond Arthur Clarke taken by the Australian Defence Force in 1942. Credit: National Archives of Australia

Before being transferred to the Western Front in 1916, Mr Clarke was appointed as a bombing officer for D Company.

Mr Peirce said Mr Clarke was part of the battle at Pozieres, where more than 700 men were killed.

“(He) was the only officer in D Company able to walk out of this battle unaided,” he said.

He was later awarded a Military Cross for his efforts during the second battle of the Somme, before being appointed as chief bombing instructor for the First Division in February 1917.

After being severely injured during a bomb throwing competition in June of the same year, he spent the rest of the conflict on the sidelines.

Mr Clarke was once again called upon for his military expertise in World War II, being made the officer-in-command of the Port Hedland Garrison during Japanese air raids on the town.

Mr Peirce said Mr Clarke kept up his shooting skills after finishing his military career, placing third in the WA Queen’s Shoot in 1957 at age 68.

“In a further touch of irony, Ray collapsed and died on the Busselton rifle range in 1959, aged 70 years,” he said.

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