March 30, 1921 - April 22, 1943
Donald Mason Clarke, known as Don, was born in Imperial, Saskatchewan to Francis John Clarke and his wife Susan (nee Weir) Clarke. Don had four brothers: James, RCAF, William: minister, John: Petty Officer, HMCS Dundas, and Harvey. Two sisters: Dorothy and Mary.
Don’s father trained as a teacher as did his older brother and they were principal and vice-principal of a school in Hazenmore, Saskatchewan in 1940. Mr. and Mrs. Clarke, with their daughters, later moved to Limerick, Saskatchewan.
Don received glowing reference letters, indicating he was a clean-living young man and had good character, no bad habits, plus the moral fibre in him to continue as he was. Don’s previous work experience was as a farm hand helping with harvesting. He also operated tractors.
Don had a Grade XII education. He took a correspondence course in aeronautic engines from November 1939 to March 1940. He liked to build models. He enjoyed hockey extensively, ‘when I have the chance,’ plus liked to swim and play ball.
He wanted to be trained as an aero engine mechanic and was accepted by the RCAF on April 19, 1940. Evaluations: “Intelligence: good. General appearance: good. Suitable for Aero Engine mechanic (standard). Applicant’s engine and ignition theory is good. Applicant has had some driving experience.” After the war, he wanted to stay in the RCAF or continue in civil aviation.
Don was accepted and went to No. 1 Manning Depot, Toronto, Ontario by May 4, 1940, 19 years old. He stood 5’4 ½” tall, weighed 138 pounds, had brown eyes and dark brown hair, with a medium complexion. He was considered to be dentally fit.
He was posted to the Technical Training School, St. Thomas, Ontario May 24, 1940, then on temporary duty at Trenton August 10, 1940. He went to Camp Borden until December 16, 1940. From there, he was posted to No. 6 SFTS Dunnville until August 12, 1941. He remained there for almost a year until being posted to No. 16 SFTS, Hagersville, Ontario.
Don asked to be remustered by the summer of 1942 to become a pilot. At No. 6 Initial Training School, Toronto: “This man has average ability or better. Has good training in Maths, Physics. Should make capable pilot. Passed E. A. Test.” The Interviewing Officer noted: “Good type of airman. Fitter at present. Wants to be pilot or observer. Keen to fly. Has taken ground course along with student pilots at Hagersville Course 42.” He was considered a possible candidate for commission. He did not make pilot and was sent to No. 4 Air Observers’ School in London, Ontario November 22, 1942 until April 3, 1943. He was commissioned March 19, 1943.
Travelling by train to Halifax, Nova Scotia, he was at Y Depot, then at the RAF Trainees’ Pool April 13, 1943. Later that month, he boarded the Amerika, bound for Liverpool, UK. A torpedo hit the ship on April 22, 1943. Don was not one of the survivors.
On June 22, 1943, Mr. Clarke wrote to the Secretary, Department of Defence for Air in Ottawa:
"On May 6, you wrote to me confirming a telegram notifying me that my son, Donald Mason Clarke, PO was missing as a result of enemy action at sea. Surely by this time, it can be known a few more facts concerning this loss. The anxiety is very trying to his mother. We trust you can at least add a little to our information. Thanking you for your interest and courtesy."
On June 26 1943, Mr. and Mrs. Clarke, along with 36 other sets of parents received a letter from F/L Gunn, RCAF Casualties Officer for Chief of the Air Staff, offering more information.
"Attached is a list of the names and next-of-kin of sixteen Royal Canadian Air Force officers who embarked on the same ship as your son and following enemy action at sea were safely landed in the United Kingdom.
The following official statement was made in the House of Commons....’I have been in receipt of communications from a number of members of this house and from people outside with reference to rumours regarding the recent loss of a number of members of the RCAF by the sinking of a ship in the north Atlantic and I desire to make the following statement on the facts. The vessel in question was a ship of British registry of 8,862 tons, designed for peace-time carriage of both passengers and freight, and having a speed of fifteen knots. She carried a crew of 86 and the passenger accommodation consisted of 12 two-berth rooms with bath and 29 other berths, providing cabin accommodations for 53 passengers. She was fitted with lifeboat capacity for 231 and travelled in naval convoy. Under the recently revised regulations agreed to by the United States authorities, the joint United Kingdom and United States shipping board, the Admiralty, the Air Ministry and the Canadian authorities, a vessel of this description travelling in convoy is permitted to embark as crew and passengers a maximum of 75% of the lifeboat capacity. The lifeboat capacity as stated above was 231, 75% of which is 173. Personnel on board consisted of the crew of 86, and RCAF personnel numbering 53, a total of 139, well within the prescribed limits. Because of the superior type of available passenger accommodation, the speed of the ship and the provision of naval convoy, the offer of the entire available space to the RCAF was immediately accepted. Rumours to the effect that this was a slow freighter not suitable for passenger accommodation are, of course, not in accord with the facts. Every precaution was taken to safeguard the lives of these gallant young men. It should be pointed out that on account of the serious shipping shortage every available berth on such ships must be used and had the space not been taken up by the RCAF officers of the other arms of the services would have been placed on Board. It should also be stated again that the submarine is still the enemy’s most powerful weapon and that the Battle of the Atlantic is not yet won. Any ocean trip today in any part of the world is fraught with danger and I think I may safely say that our record in transporting our soldiers and airmen to the United Kingdom is one of while we may all be proud. No one deplores more than I do the loss of 37 of the finest of our young men who gave their lives for their country as surely as if they had done so in actual combat with the enemy, and I extend my deepest sympathy to their loved ones in their bereavement.’ If further information becomes available, you are to be reassured it will be communicated to you at once. May I again extend to you my sincere sympathy in this time of great anxiety."
At the end of December 1943, Mr. and Mrs. Clarke received another letter from S/L Gunn informing them that in early January, their son’s death would be considered official.
October 24, 1955, W/C Gunn wrote to them to inform them that Donald’s name would appear on the Ottawa Memorial.