war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper


A Lonely Grave


Memorial stone, courtesy of Phil EvansWith its chained perimeter, headstone, and floral tributes, this little plot looks like a grave. But no body lies buried here. By the side of a small road on the Romney Marsh, south of Newchurch, this is a memorial.

There probably is a body, though. Close to this spot on 11th September 1940, when  enemy invasion plans were faltering during the Battle of Britain, and targets were changing from air fields to towns and cities, Pilot Officer A. W. Clarke, service number 42485, was shot down.  His Hurricane smashed into the marshland at around four in the afternoon. It lies there still, beneath the soil and the grazing sheep. P3370 is a crumpled coffin, for within its broken and twisted embrace lies also, we believe, the remains of Arthur Clarke.

Born on Boxing Day 1919 in Altrincham to Frank and Lavinia Clarke, Arthur was twelve when he went with his sister to Cheadle Hulme School. Arthur's school career was notable, as he became first house and then school captain. In March 1938, as German troops went into Austria. Arthur left school to work for the Air Ministry in meteorology, and by June 1939 he had joined the RAF. On April 7th 1940 he joined 504 squadron. Three  months later he was posted missing from operations. He was never to return.

In 1971 the Battle of Britain Museum, Hawkinge, excavated the crash site  Retrieved were parts of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, a map storage box with a full set of maps, silk inner gloves for a pilot, and, most tellingly and poignantly of all, a pocket handkerchief marked in indelible pencil with the Arthur Clarke's name on the Runnymede memorial, courtesy Dean Sumnername "Clarke". The investigations suggested also that the pilot had stayed in his plane.  

The Air Forces memorial at Runnymede is for airmen lost during World War II from bases in the United Kingdom and in north and western Europe. There are 20,000 names there, of men who have no known grave. Pilot Officer Clarke's name is amongst them (see left). He is one of the rare cases where, despite a positive identification, he remains counted amongst the missing. His family requested that any remains should stay where they lay, entombed in the plane that took him into the earth. There was no official burial; instead, on the anniversary of his memorial in the Marsh, courtesy of Phil Evansdeath, 11th September 1986, the memorial was unveiled  near the place where he fell.   

Forty-six years before, on that day in September, there were seventeen Battle of Britain pilots killed or missing. The Marsh itself has slowly covered a number of crash sites. Far from his childhood home is Arthur, a lone wanderer from the silent cities of the dead. Yet his memorial often bears new flowers and new tributes; passers-by often stop to read the inscription:-

In proud and loving
memory of Pilot Officer
Arthur William Clarke
aged 20
504 Squadron
One of The Few
Killed in Action near this spot
11th September 1940
during the Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain claspThere is just one name on the stone, but Arthur's memorial is an understated and moving symbol for all  whose battleground was far above our heads, for all those who fought and fell from the skies. Pilot Officer A. W Clarke lies cold and alone in the bleak marsh. But merely to gaze upon his stone brings him once more amongst his comrades and friends of that long-ago summer.

Post Script.
There are other Battle of Britain pilots who lie still where they crashed. Amongst them is Robert Shaw, who died on 3rd September 1940. His remains at Chart Sutton are commemorated by a memorial garden.  Eric Williams is another. He was shot down on 15th October 1940. His remains are at Gravesend; but attempts to recover them have been unsuccessful as he is believed now to be buried too deeply.

However, around a dozen Battle of Britain pilots originally commemorated at Runnymede have now been recovered. Amongst them is John Joseph Brimble, shot down on 14th September 1940. His remains were brought from the cockpit forty years later, and reburied at Brookwood Military Cemetery. Sergeant Brimble has two official graves; the other, earlier, originally dedicated to an unknown airman, is at Sittingbourne. John Ellis, known as Hugh, has three graves. Two at St Mary Cray are for an unknown airman, the third is named. This is at Brookwood, where further remains were buried with full military honours after a new excavation at the site of the crash at Chelsfield.  

left: Robert Shaw's memorial garden

right: "Hugh" Ellis' headstone: it reads
"One of the Glorious Few
Finally Rested 1.10.93
Dulce et Decorum Est
Pro Patria Mori"




left: John Brimble's headstone at Brookwood
right: John Brimble's headstone at Sittingbourne

The words on both read:
"One of The Few
And One of The Many
Who Gave For Us
Their Very Best"


This article will be updated. Do please contact us if you have any further information about Arthur Clarke.

John Brimble from Dean SumnerHugh Ellis, portrait by Geoff Nutkins

pictures of the memorial with thanks to Phil Evans
pictures of Pilot Officer Clarke's name on the Runnymede memorial,  the gravestones of Sergeants Brimble and  Ellis, the garden for P/O Robert Shaw, and the BoB clasp with thanks to Dean Sumner
biographical information of Arthur Clarke from "Men of the Battle of  Britain", by Kenneth G Wynne
with thanks to Phil Evans and with thanks to Dean Sumner for their interest, information, and kind help

above left: John Brimble, picture from Dean Sumner
above right: "Hugh" Ellis, detail from a portrait of Sergeant John Ellis, created from a photograph by Geoff Nutkins, Supplied by Dean Sumner, reproduced by kind permission of Geoff Nutkins.

More about Arthur Clarke
by Dean Sumner

Wednesday 11th September 1940 began with a bad weather morning and there was little enemy activity apart from reconnaissance aircraft ranging across southern England. The Luftwaffe had plans for large scale raids this day and as the situation improved during the early afternoon, bomber aircraft began to lift up into the skies over France and assembled ready to strike across the Channel with their fighter escort.

By mid-afternoon the raiders were over the Thames Estuary and RAF fighter squadrons responded with Hurricanes and Spitfires getting stuck into whirling dogfights. Running short of fuel, Messerschmitt fighter escorts soon had to turn for home leaving the Heinkel bombers alone to face the continued onslaught from the RAF defenders and they paid a heavy price.

One of the RAF squadrons in the air was 504 ‘County of Nottingham’ Squadron based at Hendon. Vectored towards the south coast just before 4pm, the nine Hawker Hurricanes despite being outnumbered engaged a formation of Dornier bombers and their fighter escort about 10 miles west of Folkestone.

The combat was brief and as the Hurricanes headed back home towards London, three of the pilots had claims against a couple of the Dorniers, but only eight of their number landed at Hendon.

Residents of Romney Marsh witnessed daily the air battles over their villages and towns and a Miss Holmwood of Wills Farm made a note in her dairy for 11th September, “... Hurricane crashed at Newchurch and buried itself deep in the ground.” At the close of the day at Hendon there was still no news of young Pilot Officer Arthur Clarke. A squadron colleague Sergeant Ray Holmes, said, “I don’t think anyone knew what happened to him. I certainly didn’t. He simply disappeared.”

It was the duty of the Squadron Commander, John Sample, to write to the parents of Arthur Clarke about their missing son and he could offer little hope that he might be alive or in enemy hands. With the combat having taken place on the coast it was felt he might have crashed into or baled out over the sea.

As one of the ‘missing’ from the war, Arthur’s name was commemorated at Runnymede.

P/O Clarke remained as ‘disappeared’ for another 30 plus years until after the crash site on Romney Marsh was excavated confirming a Hurricane and a name for the tragic pilot. A long investigation eventually found trace of surviving Clarke family members and it was Arthur’s sister Mrs Freeman who newspaper article about the dedicationconfirmed that the wish was, “... to leave Bill’s remains where they lie ...”

A memorial service and dedication of a privately funded memorial stone was conducted on the 46th anniversary of Arthur’s loss by the Rev. Walker and a poignant poem was later found on the memorial:-

Think of me as you pass by
Reflect on why I had to die
So many young lives
Such senseless wars
We surrendered our future
So you could have yours

Thank you, Dean

illustration above left: In Happier Times - on the beach, from left to right, Arthur, brother Tom, sister Kay, and in front, mother Lavinia. Note the shadow in the bottom right of the picture - perhaps this is of Arthur's father, taking the picture. Photo by courtesy of June and Howard Clarke.
illustration above right: article from the Kentish Express(?), dated 18th September 1986, kindly researched by Phil Evans
Arthur Clarke's picture is far right on the article.

RAF Fighter Command aircrew losses on Wednesday 11th September 1940
46 Squadron
Sgt S Andrew
Sgt W Peacock - missing
92 Squadron
P/O F Hargreaves - missing
P/O H Edwards (pilot found in wreck on 7th October)
213 Squadron
Sgt A Wojcicki - missing
235 Squadron
(attd from Coastal to Fighter Command)
P/O Wickens-Smith - missing
P/O A Green - missing
Sgt R Watts - missing
Flt/Lt F Flood - missing
P/O N Shorrocks - missing
Sgt B Sharp - missing
238 Squadron
Flt/Lt D Hughes - missing
Sgt S Duszynski - missing
303 Squadron
F/O A Cebrzynski (dow 19th September)
Sgt S Wojtowicz
602 Squadron
Sgt M Sprague (shot down over channel near Selsey, body washed ashore at Brighton on 10th October)
611 Squadron
Sgt F Shepherd (evacuated with parachute on fire, plummeted to death)

504 Squadron
P/O A Clarke - missing

A total of 29 Fighter Command aircraft were shot down./written off after combat. There were a further eight pilots wounded, with injuries including burns and gunshot.   

Coastal Command losses as shown above for 235 Squadron


Bomber Command lost four aircraft, with eight aircrew killed on the night of 10th/11th September 1940. On the night of 11th/12th September, three aircraft were lost with fourteen aircrew killed.


United Kingdom fatal casualties this day total 462, of whom 297 were civilians. Of the civilians eleven were in Dover, which was both bombed and shelled simultaneously.

RAF information with thanks to Dean Sumner

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