UK | Oct 20, 2020

ID tag of Jamaican immigrant and World War I airman up for auction

/ Our Today

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William Robinson Clarke (Photo taken from The New York CARIBNEWS)


The identification bracelet of Jamaican William Robinson Clarke, the first black pilot to serve with the British Royal Flying Corps during World War I, has gone up for auction.

The Jamaican immigrant, who was born on October 4, 1895, was a World War I airman who created history in being the first black pilot to fly for Britain. He served in the military for four years and was one of the first individuals in Jamaica to learn to drive.

With the outbreak of  the First World War in 1914, Clarke paid his own passage to Britain and joined the Royal Flying Corps on July 26, 1915. At first he served as an air mechanic, but on October 18, he was posted to France as a driver with an observation balloon company.

Clarke, whose dream was to become a pilot, was accepted for pilot training in England in December 1916. The following year he was qualified as an aviator and was later promoted to sergeant.

Clarke earned his wings on April 26, 1917. The aviator was assigned to flying his R.E.8 bi-plane over the Western Front and participated in the “Battle of Messines in Belgium”. He nicknamed his plane, “Harry Tate” in honour of a music hall comedian of the time.

William Robinson Clarke (Photo taken from The New York CARIBNEWS)


In his assignment as a driver for an observation balloon company, Clarke was responsible for gathering intelligence on the enemy and directing artillery fire. One of his responsibilities was flying missions over the Western Front, an area known for its trench wars and vicious fighting.

During a reconnaissance mission behind German lines, the Jamaican World War I airman took a bullet to the spine but managed to recover and return to active duty as a mechanic in England attached to the RAF’s No. 254 Squadron. He was awarded the Silver War Badge and honorably discharged on August 24, 1919.

William Robinson Clarke (Photo taken from The New York CARIBNEWS)


Clarke remained active in veteran’s affairs and later became the life president of the Jamaican branch of the Royal Air Forces Association. He died on April 26, 1981.

Clarke is buried at the Military Cemetery at Up Park Camp in Kingston that had previously been the headquarters of the British Army in Jamaica, which is now the headquarters of the Jamaica Defence Force.

His aluminum disc stamped ‘SGT W R CLARKE RFC’ on a leather wrist strap is believed to have been found on the Western Front after the war. His dog tag goes up for sale for an estimated £150 this Wednesday at C&T Auctions at Ashford, Kent.

Both items are believed to have been found on the Western Front after the war and have been consigned for sale by a private collector.


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