Loner was my old comrade

PUBLISHED: 16:01 15 April 2009 | UPDATED: 16:32 25 August 2010

WAR YEARS: Pat Clark (left) with his comrades.

WAR YEARS: Pat Clark (left) with his comrades.

IN recent years, he was a social outcast, an eccentric recluse who was the subject of ridicule and sometimes even physical attack.

IN recent years, he was a social outcast, an eccentric recluse who was the subject of ridicule and sometimes even physical attack. He would often be seen walking the streets of Welling shabbily dressed with his face covered up and pushing a pram along the streets. But to one of his old friends, who served alongside him in the Second World War, Pat Clark was a loyal comrade and a friend.

News Editor Kate Mead reports...

DYING alone, with no immediate family, much could have been forgotten about the life of the former RAF airman Pat Clark.

He was found dead on the floor of his home in Montrose Close, Welling, by police on February 20 and is thought to have died from a heart attack.

The first his friend Frank Woodward heard of the death of his friend was when a package of photographs and memorabilia he had sent him at Christmas was returned to his home in West Yorkshire with a handwritten note that read "deceased".

Mr Woodward, 87, had only recently got back in touch with his wartime friend after more than 50 years and they had exchanged letters and photographs up until his death.

"It was my fault that we lost touch for so long, I had got his address all the time," said Mr Woodward "I tried to find him by telephone and assumed he had left the district.

"As a last desperate measure I wrote to the Electoral Officer who confirmed he was on the register and passed a letter on and if he wanted to get in touch he would, and that's what happened.

"I was shocked, pleased, but also distressed as I realised he had lost his faculties. But that didn't prevent me from continuing writing to him and sending photographs or anything to try and jog his memory along.

"It wasn't out of sympathy it was nothing to do with feeling sad for him, I was very pleased to have found my comrade."

Mr Woodward met Mr Clark in 1943 at the Kenley Aerodrome before they both joined the newly formed unit known as the 409 Repair and Salvage Unit - a mobile team of four men with their own lorry and tents, sent to operate to salvage or service crashed Spitfires.

Mr Clark was assigned to No.2 Mobile Repair and had landed in Normandy to be stationed at B8, a makeshift landing strip at Sommervieu.

The units saw their fair share of action with several killed and severely injured, even more at Eindhoven, or B78, on New Year's Day in 1945 when 60 German fighter aircrafts "greeted us that day with a surprise visit", Mr Woodward recalled.

In Eindhoven, their friendship was cemented when the four RSU comrades went out in the Rhine woodlands at night to search for souvenirs.

Mr Woodward said: "The sky darkened and lightning flashed so Pat opted to return to our dug out. It was dark by the time we arrived back but there was no sign of our mate.

"So back into the woods until midnight, then I had to report Pat as being missing. The officer was not pleased to be disturbed. A dawn search for three hours proved futile and we lost out on breakfast.

"By midday our wanderer returned, lucky not to have been shot. He had strayed into the American sector and had been 'captured' by their troops."

He was charged for being absent from duty and fined 14 days' pay.

But before he secured early release from the RAF, Mr Clark remembered to thank his comrades for searching for him.

"At the time I was away from base, but he left behind a letter for me. 65 years on I still treasure it. It was a simple note of thanks for searching for him and a hand drawn sketch of his home patch."

His open invitation to visit him in Welling was taken up by Mr Woodward and his wife in 1956 when they returned from Paris, but it was 52 years later when they regained contact.

Mr Clark had lived for most of his life in the same Welling house with his mother Winnie Clark (nee Angel) and sister Nelly.

After his mother's death in 1957 and his sister's death in 1995, Mr Clark lived on his own and slowly became more and more isolated.

His nearest surviving relative, David Jockel, his cousin's son, said: "He was always eccentric and we got the feeling that something had happened in the war that might have caused him to be shell-shocked or caused some stress.

"I remember visiting him and Nelly and not knowing what to do as the conversations were quite bizarre, you never knew how much was the truth and how much was imagined."

In one of his last letters, Mr Clark told Mr Woodward that he spotted a flying saucer which "climbed and dived using a wing over technique. It was like two saucers one on top of the other."

Mr Woodward added: "I was shocked, I knew from his letters he was suffering from dementia, but people said he was a complete loner and he used to go out in a boiler suit with his face covered and was quite anti-social.

"In a sense the neighbours didn't like him because his house was neglected and the pathway to his house was neglected and he neglected himself.

"He was never outgoing and quite reserved. He had no companion or wife and became withdrawn and later on in life, very withdrawn. I don't think he meant any harm to anyone.

"But I wanted to tell my version of what I knew he was like. When you share a tent for nine months and dug out in Germany you do get to respect this person.

"There have been many such people as Pat, there will be many more and as a poet wrote 'unwept, unhonoured and unsung' will be their only epitaph."

A funeral for Mr Clark will take place on Tuesday, April 28 from 10.30am at Sidcup Cemetery. This will be followed by a burial where Mr Clark will be laid to rest next to his sister Nelly.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Bexley Times. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Bexley Times