The stories behind the letters – The Clarkson family

LetterA recent addition to our digital collection: Letters and memorabilia from the Clarkson family. This small collection of letters and memorabilia from Frank (William Francis) Clarkson to his sister Margaret Clarkson (Garton), 1918 and a letter written by Emerson Clarkson, Palestine, to his sister Lydia, in 1917.

Librarian Sue Colyer has inside knowledge of these letters:

Emerson Clarkson

I have always treasured these letters as they are all I know of these particular uncles. Sometime after Emerson returned from the war and the time he died in 1948 he quarrelled irrevocably with the rest of the family and his name was never mentioned again and everybody who might have known what it was about is now dead. I only discovered looking at his military record that he had received commendations in the field. He sounds like a man of action as in his letter he is grumbling about how boring it is behind the lines, how far they have to walk to get water for the horses and how they “all” prefer it at the front (yeah, right!).

Emerson Clarkson served from September 1914 to September 1919,  in Eqypt and the Balkans and was awarded the British War Medal (1915) and the Victory Medal. He died in 1948.

One of his letters talks about practising fighting techniques such as bayonet fighting and live bomb throwing:

“…they are giving us plenty of work to refresh our memories before going back to the front line where we do nothing but patrols.   We all think that being in the front line is a long way better than here.”

Read our biography of Emerson Clarkson at Kete Christchurch.

Frank Clarkson

Poor old Frank, his younger brother, was killed shortly after these letters were written, but it is nice to know he had such a good time in England visiting rellies and clearly drinking too much. I would love to know what the advice was he sent to George (my father, and the youngest of the very large family). In January 2016 I was bemused to find Frank’s medals on sale on Trade me by an Australian vendor and have no idea how they got there but the family never had them as far as I know, although I do have a copy of his “soldier’s penny” – the bronze plaque that the next of kin of every British empire service person received.

Frank Clarkson was born in Christchurch in 1896 and died in France 27 March 1918. He enlisted in April 1915.  He was wounded on September 1915, in the Dardanelles, then in October 1916 and again in 1917.  Each time he convalesced in London and Boulogne and returned to the front.  By 1916 he was fighting in France. At his death he was a Lance-Corporal with the First Battalion of the Canterbury Infantry Regiment.

Information on Frank Clarkson in Kete Christchurch.

Frank Clarkson

The Clarkson sisters

Sue has more to tell about her family:

Of more interest to me – as they were a huge part of my childhood –  were their sisters, one was a school teacher and three lived very adventurous lives as nurses travelling overseas from the 1920 to the 1950s. They specialised in the private nursing of wealthy patients, including royalty, in Europe and the USA and eventually lived through the Blitz in London, nursed on ambulance trains in France in WWII, before returning to New Zealand and opening a popular cake shop on Strowan Road.

Letter, CCL-PCol14-1-005
Letter: Dear Margaret [France], by William Francis (Frank) Clarkson, 25 February 1918 CCL-PCol14-1-005

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