Following in the footsteps of a hero

Percy Clare'WW1 hero'Memoirs
Percy Clare'WW1 hero'Memoirs

MORE THAN 70 years after her great-uncle fought in a major battle in the First World War, an Aylesbury woman will be retracing his footsteps.

Rachel Gray, who lives on the Tring Road, is the grand-niece of Percy Clare, a soldier who wrote extensively about his experiences during the battle of Arras and the Great War.

Due to the detail of Percy’s memoirs, Rachel will be able to follow almost exactly the path he took during two separate attacks on the German lines.

On November 12, the day after Remembrance Day, Rachel, 38, will be walked through the battle by historians Jeremy Banning and Peter Barton.

The two historians uncovered Percy’s memoirs while conducting research for their latest book and were astonished at the level of detail.

Jeremy said: “What sets it apart from other material I have found is the level of detail and, more importantly, how that detail proves to be correct and not just post-war elaboration. We used Percy’s memoirs extensively in the Arras book as his descriptions are so marvellous.”

Rachel’s family donated the memoirs to the Imperial War Museum for safekeeping and this is the first time they have been used by historians. She said: “Percy’s diaries are incredible his writing is so descriptive you can almost visualise yourself there and reading them is incredibly moving. My trip to Arras will be emotional I am sure and thanks to Jeremy and Peter I will actually be able to stand where my Great Uncle and his fellow troops stood and for that alone I feel very privileged.”

Percy Clare served as a Private in the 7th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment from autumn 1916. He fought at the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras (April-May 1917) and the Battle of Cambrai (November 1917) where he was shot through both cheeks and eventually medically discharged from the army in February 1918.

Rachel will be retracing Percy’s steps during his part in a disastrous assault on the German lines. In his memoirs Percy explains how he was only one of 15 men to reach the German trenches during a night attack.

When daylight arrived and the attack was a failure they were cut off from the British line and at the mercy of German machine-gun fire. One-by-one all the men were killed until only two, Percy Clare and his friend Edward Gunnett, remained alive. Percy and Edward made a remarkable journey back to the British lines by rolling from crater to crater. Sadly, Gunnett was killed at Cambrai on the same day that Percy Clare was wounded.

Arras: The Spring 1917 Offensive by Peter Barton with Jeremy Banning, published by Constable and Robinson is available now.