Gilbert John Clark was born in Bedminster, Somerset – now a suburb of Bristol – on 6th January 1884. He was one of eleven children to Jonah and Elizabeth Clark. Jonah was a coal miner from Devon, who travelled to find work. He and Elizabeth left Devon for Somerset in the early 1880s, before moving to Glamorgan, South Wales in 1891. This seemed not to last long, however, and, by 1895, the family were living back in Bristol.
The 1901 census recorded Jonah and Gilbert’ older brother, William, working the mines. Gilbert, however, have found different employment, working instead as a labourer for a brick maker. This did not turn out to be a long term career for him, however, and, on 25th August 1904 he enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class.
Gilbert’s service records show that he was 5ft 3ins (1.6m) tall, had black hair, dark brown eyes and a dark complexion. His was also noted to have a number of tattoos on his left arm, including a woman’s head, a figure of a woman and a cross with a man, crossed hands with a flower, a snake heart and an arrow.
Stoker 2nd Class Clark enlisted for a period of twelve years, and was initially based at HMS Vivid, the Naval Barracks in Devonport. After his training, he was given his first posting, on board HMS Barfleur. He quickly transferred, however, and in April 1905 was assigned to the battleship HMS Vengeance.
Gilbert’s three years on Vengeance were mixed. During that time, he spent two separate periods in the cells. The first, in February 1906, was for desertion, and resulted in ten days in the brig. The second, in August that year meant he was locked up for a further five days although the misdemeanour this time is not documented. This second period in the brig seemed to bring Gilbert to his senses, however, and the rest of his time on board Vengeance seems blemish-free, and even gave him a promotion to Stoker 1st Class.
The remainder of Gilbert’s twelve years’ service saw him assigned to a further eight vessels; between voyages he returned to the Devonport Naval Base. He also received a further two promotions: Leading Stoker in May 1912, and Stoker Petty Officer in February 1914.
War was imminent, by this point, and, at the end of his initial contract, he volunteered to remain in the Royal Navy for the period of the hostilities. After a six month posting in Devon, Stoker Petty Officer Clark served on three more vessels. It was while he was on board HMS Bacchante, however that he fell ill with influenza. The ship was moored at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, at the time and he was admitted to the RN Hospital in the town.
Sadly, Gilbert’s influenza turned to pneumonia and proved too much for his body to bear. He passed away from the lung conditions on 13th February 1919, at the age of 35 years old.
Gilbert John Clark’s body was brought back to Somerset for burial. He was laid to rest in the graveyard of St John the Baptist Church in Peasedown St John, where his parents were then living.