Private Arthur Edwin Clarkson enlisted in the first Canadian contingent in September 1914, at age 21. He arrived in France in February 1915 and he was killed two months later at the Second Battle of Ypres.
Arthur was born in May 1893 in Scarborough, Yorkshire, England, the oldest son of Sarah Ann (Annie) Clarkson. In 1898 when Arthur was five years old his mother married John Cahill. John had spent nine years as a gunner with the Royal Artillery but at the time of his marriage he was working as a groom. When the 1901 census was taken Arthur and his mother were living in Scarborough with his grandparents John and Frances (Clarkson) Pull. Also in the household were his half-brother John Cahill Jr, age 3, and his uncle John Pull Jr. Sadly, his step-father died of tuberculosis the following year on 4 November 1902, at age 28. A month after he passed away Annie gave birth to their daughter Frances.
When Arthur was ten his family immigrated to Canada, arriving in Montreal on 13 June 1903 on the Ionian. With him were his grandfather John Pull, his uncle John Pull Jr., his widowed mother and her two other children, John Jr. and Frances. Their destination was listed as Rat Portage (later called Kenora), in northwestern Ontario. Arthur's mother married again in February 1904 in Dauphin, Manitoba. At the time of the 1906 census she was living in East Bay near Dauphin Lake with her husband Maurice Barker, a farmer, and her two youngest children. Arthur wasn't in the household and he was probably living in Kenora with his uncle John Pull. Arthur stayed with John for a number of years and worked at the Rat Portage Lumber Company's box factory. His mother had a third son, Maurice Barker Jr., who was born in 1910. When the 1911 census was taken Annie and her family were living near Dauphin, Manitoba and when the war started they were in Ste. Rose du Lac.
Britain declared war on 4 August 1914 and three days later mobilization orders were issued in Canada. Officers and volunteers were told to enroll with their local militia then go to Valcartier, an area about 20 miles northwest of Quebec City that would become the site of a large military camp. Arthur volunteered with the 94th Regiment (Manitoba Rangers) on 16 August and travelled to Quebec by train with the other recruits. At Valcartier they underwent training, medical tests and inoculations. Arthur's medical exam on 8 September tells us he was almost 6' tall with brown hair and hazel eyes. He was found fit for service and on 21 September 1914 he enlisted with the 8th Battalion, a unit made up of recruits from Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. In October the 8th Battalion embarked for England, leaving from Quebec City on the SS Franconia. They were part of a convoy of 32 transport ships protected by a Royal Navy escort because of the danger from German submarines. The convoy arrived safely in Plymouth, England on 14 October.
The 8th Battalion was sent to Salisbury Plain in southern England where they trained for several months. The men were billeted in tents and huts and due to the cold, wet winter weather many of them became sick with severe colds and pneumonia. Arthur must have had a period of leave during that time as he was married in Aberdeen, Scotland on 25 January 1915. His wife was 20-year-old Sarah Newcombe, a resident of Aberdeen and the daughter of a fisherman. The marriage certificate recorded Arthur as a Private with the 8th Battalion and his address as Larkhill, Salisbury Plains.
In February the 8th Battalion was sent to France and not long after arriving Arthur became ill with tonsillitis. He was in a hospital in Le Tréport then at a convalescent camp for just over a month, from 26 February to 28 March. He rejoined his battalion in early April, around the time they were moving to the Ypres Salient in Belgium. They had a short rotation in the front lines then after a few days rest they were back in the front lines again on 19 April. Chlorine gas was first used by the Germans on a large scale on 22 April 1915 at Gravenstafel Ridge near Langemark, and the 8th Battalion was hit by it two days later. They suffered heavy casualties from the poison and in the fighting that followed as German infantry advanced behind the cloud of gas. Arthur was wounded on 24 April and he lay on the battlefield in no man's land all night. The next day his cries for help were heard. Sergeant Major Frederick Hall attempted to rescue Arthur and bring him to safety but he was killed in the effort. A short time later a shell exploded near Arthur, killing him too.
From the Circumstances of Death record for Arthur: He was wounded just behind the parados of the trenches on the left of the position held by his Battalion, in an attempt made by his Company to stop the advance of the enemy coming in on the rear. In attempting to bring him to safety Sergeant Major Hall was killed and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his conduct. Shortly after another shell fell close to Private Clarkson which killed him.
London Gazette, No. 29202, 23 June 1915, reported the following:- "On 24th April, 1915, in the neighbourhood of Ypres, when a wounded man who was lying some 15 yards from the trench called for help, Company Serjeant-Major Hall endeavoured to reach him in the face of a very heavy enfilade fire which was being poured in by the enemy. The first attempt failed, and a non-commissioned officer and private soldier who were attempting to give assistance were both wounded. Company Serjeant-Major Hall then made a second most gallant attempt, and was in the act of lifting up the wounded man to bring him in when he fell mortally wounded in the head."
Sgt. Major Hall was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in trying to rescue Private Clarkson. He was one of three men from Pine Street in Winnipeg who were awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War. After the war Pine Street was renamed Valour Road in their honour.
Arthur's final resting place is unknown. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial (Ypres, Belgium), the Aberdeen City Roll of Honour, and the Roll of Honour for the 8th Battalion (Royal Winnipeg Rifles). Two weeks after Arthur died near Langemark his uncle John Pull had a son born in Kenora. He was named Arthur Langemark Pull and he served in the Second World War with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.
Arthur's widow Sarah married again on 16 October 1916 in Aberdeen, Scotland. Her second husband John Michael Begley was a Stoker with the Royal Navy.
Arthur's half-brother John Cahill enlisted in September 1915 in Dauphin, Manitoba. He died in France a year later during the Somme Offensive. Their uncle John Pull enlisted in March 1916 and served overseas, returning to Canada in October 1918. Arthur's mother Annie Barker passed away in Detroit, Michigan in 1936.
By Kenora Great War Project