Thursday 3 January 2019

Douglas Clark is regarded as one of the greatest ever Rugby League forwards and was enjoying a successful sporting career before the outbreak of the First World War. But by 1917, he was among the British soldiers fighting in the Battle of Passchendaele.

Clark was born in Ellenborough, Cumberland in 1891. After being spotted playing rugby for junior club Brookland Rovers, he signed to play for Huddersfield in 1909. He was a talented player known for being more than just a powerhouse and went on to represent his country on a tour of Australia and New Zealand.

During the war, Clark joined the Army Service Corps and rose to the rank of Acting Sergeant. He continued to demonstrate his sporting skill and competed in wrestling bouts within the army, receiving a trophy for one exhibition bout

In June 1917, Clark took part in the Battle of Messines and was gassed twice that year, in July and October.

During the Battle of Passchendaele, he helped bring forward an ammunition column whilst under heavy fire. In his diary, he wrote, “the place was turned into hell”. He suffered severe arm and abdominal wounds from shrapnel and was awarded the Military Medal for his actions. 

After the war, he returned to his rugby career and continued to play for Huddersfield until his retirement in 1929.  He continued wrestling becoming the British Empire Heavyweight Championship. He was referred to as the ‘strongest man on the planet’ before he retired aged 50.

Clark died in 1951 but is still remembered for his extraordinary sporting talent. In 2005, he was inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame and objects related to his military service and sporting achievements are on display at IWM North.

Find out more about Acting Sergeant Douglas Clark's story at Lives of the First World War.

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