Friday, January 13, 2006

Always read to the end...

...of a Telegraph obit. Especially one that begins:

Lieutenant-Commander Victor Clark, who has died aged 97, played a dashing role in the defence of Singapore as the Japanese closed in on the British garrison in 1941.

Goes on to detail wartime exploits:

Gloomily studying maps showing the enemy's advance, he and Major Angus Rose of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders proposed commando raids behind enemy lines.

Within a week, Clark was commanding the Straits Steamship Company's Kudat as well as a flotilla of gunboats, with 40 Royal Marines and 50 Australian volunteers. In their joint Boxing Day raid at Temerloh, on the west coast, Rose ambushed and destroyed a Japanese column, including a staff car containing a general.

Six days later Kudat was sunk, and with his remaining motor launches under mortar fire, Clark moved south to Batu Pahat.

There he volunteered to take the river gunboats Dragonfly and Scorpion to rescue 2,000 Australian, British and Indian troops who were cut off at a swampy inlet overlooked by the encircling Japanese.

For four nights Clark swam and waded to lead his men in hauling native craft through the mud to bring the exhausted soldiers out to waiting ships.

Lt-Gen Arthur Percival, GOC Singapore, described Clark's feat as "a most difficult operation reflecting the greatest credit on the Royal Navy", but one of Dragonfly's seamen was overheard to say, "Too bloody brave for my liking!"

Moves on to his colorful post-war seafaring career:

...he spent five years as chief training officer to the Sea Cadets, all the while reading and planning a circumnavigation, then bought the nine-ton ketch Solace through Captain OM Watts's chandlery in Albemarle Street.

His 48,000-mile voyage between 1953 and 1959, with his West Indian crewman Stanley Mathurin, included nine months shipwrecked on the coral atoll of Palmerston in the Cook Islands in the empty Pacific.

Undaunted, and with the help of the descendants of William Marsters, a cooper who had colonised the atoll with his three Polynesian wives in the 19th century, Clark rebuilt his boat well enough to continue sailing her for the next 20 years.

Remarkable life, you say? A war hero who survived the sinking of several Royal Navy ships including The Repulse off Singapore, capture and imprisonment in a Japanese POW camp, and being marooned on a south Pacific island. Now appreciate the understated final paragraph:

Victor Clark, who died on December 14, married Danae Stileman when he was 67 and she 34: she survives him with their two daughters.

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