A history of D-Day and SSAFA's work

Thomas Clark's D-Day story

Military Medal Winner and Great Uncle of SSAFA Staffordshire volunteer Elaine Hanson

Private Thomas Clark - D-Day Story

Pte Thomas Clark was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry on D-Day, twice risking his life to help capture a vital enemy position on the beaches. Sadly, Thomas was killed a few weeks later aged just 21 and his family are only now discovering the full extent of his bravery.

Thomas’s niece Elaine recalls: “My mum was very small at the time but she does remember Uncle Thomas and she knows my great grandmother and my grandmother went to Buckingham Palace to receive his medals and his citation. When the medals were left to my cousin he said it was only right that I should have them as the only member of the family who had served.”

Elaine served nine years, initially with the WRAC and later with the Army Catering Corps and the Royal Logistic Corps. She completed tours of Northern Ireland and Iraq, before an accident led to her medical discharge in 1997. Having initially thought the medals belonged to her grandfather, Elaine soon realised that two were in fact her uncle’s and, helped by SSAFA colleague Trevor North, she discovered her uncle’s Military Medal citation and began to uncover his story.

“Trevor managed to find out quite a lot of information which I was quite shocked by initially,” she said. “The fact that Thomas got his award for gallantry on D-Day makes it really quite special as it was such a significant day. I believe he had been in the Army for several years at that point. I know he was definitely very young – about 16 - when he joined up and had previously worked in munitions with the women.”

On June 6, 1944, Thomas, who served in 5th Battalion the King’s Regiment, landed at Normandy and was among a small party of men. His Platoon Commander had been killed by a sniper and Thomas was given the task of attacking the enemy position in a pillbox with the group’s only grenade. He advanced, “uncovered by fire from his own troops and lobbed the grenade in the loop-hole under enemy fire”. He later repeated the process when it was feared the enemy had again infiltrated the position.

The citation concludes: “Pte Clark was mainly responsible for the capturing of the position which was essential for the defence of the right flank of the Beach Group. He showed great courage and determination and was a fine example to his fellow men.”

Elaine secured her own place in military history – including a mention at the Imperial War Museum -when she became one of the first women in the British Army to complete her weapons training.

“I enjoyed my time in the military,” she said. “It gave me a lot of life experience. I went to Kenya for several weeks on an exchange, spent seven weeks in Canada on a cold weather exercise with the Paras, sailed round the Bay of Biscay.”

Elaine has been plagued by ill health since she was accidentally knocked down some stairs while serving. Despite fracturing several vertebrae the injury went undiscovered for two years and the damage ultimately ended Elaine’s military career. She said: “I have had quite a bit of help from SSAFA since I left. I now have mobility problems and SSAFA were able to get me a mobility scooter. I volunteered for SSAFA initially because I wanted to give something back but also because I wanted to help others in a similar situation. It’s great – it gets you out and about and helps me keep my computer skills up to date while I am unable to work full time.”