Fatal wounds at the Somme
Buildings, Arcade, Timaru, enabling him to offer his services as a teacher of singing and pianoforte to the people of Timaru. He proudly gave notice that his ex-pupils were scattered over the whole world and that many had gained distinction. At the same time he retained his Fairlie connection, visiting there on two days a week. In Timaru, his students continued to succeed in examinations.
Early in 1915 Clarke accepted the position of conductor of the choir of the Sacred Heart Church, Timaru, having previously conducted the Catholic church choir at Fairlie. But, a few months afterwards he was accepted for active service with the Canterbury Battalion.
Maybe his last local performance was at the Fairlie Orchestral Society’s concert on September 23, 1915, where he was ‘‘in capital voice’’ and deserved his encore. On October 18, 1915 he was part of South Canterbury’s quota which headed for Trentham, but only after playing the piano at a farewell for a Fairlie soldier. He departed on the ‘‘Maunganui’’ on January 8, 1916, destined for Suez. He embarked for France just two months before his death.
Clarke died of wounds received in action on September 17, 1916, wounds which penetrated the abdomen, in the first battle of the Somme. In a letter received by a relative shortly after his death, Private Clarke wrote of the impending entrance of his battalion into the second stage of the big push, which he said he did not expect to survive. He was buried in Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France.
Private Clarke left no will. His plaque and scroll were sent to his mother. He was one of six sons of Margaret Clarke, only two of whom were living at her death in 1923 – Con and Patrick. Those known were John Patrick, Cornelius Joseph (Con), Patrick Joseph and Denis. John died in 1903, aged 34 years. His brother P. J. Clark was with the hospital ship Maheno in charge of the telegraph department (1916); he died in 1935. And an older brother, Cornelius Joseph Clarke, enlisted with the Australian Forces in August 1916 in New South Wales, only to be discharged in January 1917 as medically unfit. He was a solicitor in New South Wales for many years, and died there in 1940.
Private Denis Clarke was buried in the Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France.
His name is inscribed on the Timaru War Memorial, the Fairlie War memorial, and on the Hokitika War Memorial.
— Teresa Scott