Sergeant Harold Charles Clements MM
Pakenham State School Roll of Honour
Born: 10 June 1893 - Pakenham, Victoria
Enlisted: 21 August 1915 aged 23
Unit: 6th Battalion, 19th Reinforcement (SERN: 5994A)
Served: Western Front
Died: 9 January 1952 - Kew, Victoria
Harold was a son of Robert Charles Clements and his wife Julia. Robert had first settled in Pakenham around 1890 (1) and operated a boot-maker’s shop. Robert became one of Pakenham’s leading citizens, actively involved in a large number of community activities, including the Board of the Pakenham State School (No 1359), where his sons Jack, Bruce and Harold all obtained their merit certificates (2). He also served at different times as caretaker of the Mechanics’ Institute, secretary of the Horticultural Society, treasurer of a special Drought Relief Fund in 1902 and even as the local dog tax collector! (3). When Robert and Julia left Pakenham in January 1915 to take up a business in Melbourne, Harold was already working as a bank clerk with the Commonwealth Bank in Melbourne. He had been on the staff of the Bank of Victoria and Colonial Bank before joining the Commonwealth Bank (4). Harold was 23 years old when he enlisted on 21 August 1915. Harold spent several months in army camps in Australia, during which time he was appointed as a corporal, then temporary sergeant. He also attended the Officers’ Training School at Broadmeadows (5). He was eventually assigned to the 6th Battalion 19th Reinforcement, the same unit his older brother Jack was in. Just before embarking for England, Harold married Louisa Garbutt of St Kilda on 17 June 1916 (6). It would be three years before Harold would see his bride again.
After a period of training in England, Harold was taken on strength with the 14th Battalion in France on 22 October 1916, having already reverted to the rank of private. At the time, the 14th Battalion was participating in the infamous Battle of the Somme. In the unsanitary, wet conditions of the trenches, Harold was hospitalised briefly in late November / early December 1916 with influenza. Later, he also contracted “trench foot” and mumps (7). During 1917-18, Harold saw action with the 14th Battalion at Bullecourt, Messines, Ypres, Menin Road, Polygon Wood and Passchendaele and was promoted to Lance Corporal, then temporary Corporal. On the Western Front, Harold endured some awful conditions. For instance, in November and December 1917, Harold was part of a fatigue party required to move heavy field guns across a frozen road near Tincourt in the Cambrai sector (8). In late January 1918, the 14th Battalion was on the front line at “Fusilier Dugouts” near Spoil Bank, Ypres, when it was heavily shelled by the Germans using gas shells. Harold was amongst those gassed and lost his voice for approximately six weeks. He was not evacuated to hospital, as the NCOs were instructed not to leave the unit as so many men (apparently 50% of the Battalion) had been evacuated. This incident was later described by someone serving with Harold as the “most extensive and prolonged” gas attack ever launched against the AIF (9). Harold was later sent to do a Lewis machine gun course (10). On Good Friday 30 March 1918, Harold was wounded in action at Hebuterne, sustaining a gunshot wound to the thigh. He rejoined his unit on 25 May 1918.
In August 1918, Harold’s Battalion took part in the Allied offensive which was pivotal to breaking the morale of the German Army on the Western Front. Harold was subsequently awarded the Military Medal for his “conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty” near Morcourt, east of Corbie on 8 August 1918. The citation read as follows: “This NCO displayed considerable dash and leadership throughout. At the head of his men he was the first to enter Morcourt and personally took more than 20 prisoners. Though badly enfiladed [subject to enemy fire] both during the advance and on his objective, he infused his men with enthusiasm and dash that overcame all obstacles. He showed complete disregard for his personal safely and was a mass of energy throughout” (11). That very day (August 8 1918) was described by the German General Erich von Ludendorff as the “blackest day” of the War for the German Army. When the main Australian forces on the Western Front were being relieved for a much needed rest, Harold was given leave in the UK. By the time he returned to France in late October 1918, the War had literally only weeks to run. News of Harold’s award was reported in the Pakenham Gazette together with the achievements of his brothers: Jack, who had been the Head Teacher at Officer State School prior to enlisting, had played in a premiership winning army cricket team in England, while Bruce, who was working with the Federal Taxation Office, had passed his final accountancy examinations. The Gazette congratulated the family: “This is a record of which any family might feel proud. Residents of Pakenham will be pleased to hear that their old townsman - Mr R. Clements - is doing well, and that his sons have gained such an honourable record” (12).
In December 1918, Harold stated on his demobilisation form that he wanted to be repatriated back to Australia early for family reasons, and would be returning to work with the Commonwealth Bank (13). Meanwhile, Harold was temporarily attached to the Australian Army Pay Corps in England (presumably because of his banking experience?) prior to embarking for home. He was appointed as a temporary sergeant again for the voyage home. Harold was discharged in Melbourne on 29 June 1919 (14). By this time, his wife Louisa was living in Essendon. After having been apart for so long, and living with the inevitable uncertainty about Robert’s safety, Louisa must have been overjoyed to be reunited with Harold and finally settle down to family life. Harold and Louisa eventually had three children. Meanwhile, Harold returned to work at the Commonwealth Bank in Melbourne, where he served for several years as a teller and clerk, including in the War Service Homes and War Loan Departments. He also arranged social reunions for returned soldiers on the Bank’s staff. Harold resigned in February 1927 to go into business for himself (15). According to the Bank’s staff magazine, Harold was “one of the most respected and popular” employees of the Bank in Melbourne because of his “frank and outspoken characteristics”. He left with the best wishes of everyone, “from the manager to postage clerk”. For a parting gift, he was presented by his colleagues with a 63 piece dinner set, together with crystal-ware which his friends apparently “tested .... and found them still quite serviceable up till midnight” (16).
Harold later worked as an auctioneer. In the 1930s, Harold and Louisa were living in Coburg, but later moved to Elwood, then Kew (17). During WWII, Harold served as a private (V354564) with 4th Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps (18). Tragedy struck the family though, when Harold and Louisa’s son Lieutenant Jack Clements (VX52850) was killed in Papua New Guinea during WWII. This was said to have badly affected Louisa’s health (19). By the early 1950s, Harold was in poor health. He died in January 1952 aged just 58 years old. Amongst the in-memoriam notices was one placed by his daughter June and son-in-law Neil, who described Harold as “the best dad who ever lived. Our mate” (20). Another placed by the 14th Battalion Association spoke of the “sterling work” Harold had done on behalf of “Jacka’s Mob” as Secretary of the Association (21).
In addition to the Pakenham State School War Memorial, Harold is also commemorated on the Commonwealth Bank’s Roll of Honour in Martin Place, Sydney.
The assistance of Glenn Howroyd, Archives Analyst, Commonwealth Bank Documentation and Archives Centre is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) Bunyip Free Press and Berwick Shire Guardian 31/12/1914, p. 3
(2) Pakenham Gazette 19/12/1919 p. 3
(3) South Bourke & Mornington Journal 24/12/1902 p. 2 & 27/7/1904, p. 2.
(4) & (15) Information provided by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia Archives, Sydney.
(5) (7) (11) & (14) NAA B 2455 CLEMENTS H C
(6) Argus 5/8/1916, p. 13
(8) (9) (10) (13) & (19) NAA B73 M63187
(12) Pakenham Gazette 3/1/1919 p. 2 &10/1/1919 p. 2
(16) "Bank Notes" - February 1927 (Commonwealth Bank Staff Magazine).
(17) Information sourced from Ancestry.com.au
(18) WWII Nominal Roll: www.ww2roll.gov.au
(20) The Age 11/1/1952, p. 2
(21) Argus 11/1/1952 p. 12