Band of brothers

Band of brothers

When a small boy was invited to the front of the crowd by the Kalamunda RSL to lay a wreath at a special schools Anzac Day service at Kalamunda War Memorial on April 19, it could not have been more poignant.

Unbeknown to all but his immediate family, Falls Road Primary School student William Sherrington (11) is at the end of a long line of Australian war heroes ” those who left our shores to fight for the future of their nation.

William was just four years old when his great-grandfather Michael Henry Clarke, otherwise known as Ray, died in July, 2007.

Ray was the last survivor of 11 boys in his family.

All 11 fought for the Australian Defence Forces during World War II and, remarkably, all 11 made it home afterwards.

The million-to-one chance of all 11 emerging unscathed is a tale that could easily come from the pages of a Hollywood script.

Steven Spielberg’s 1998 movie Saving Private Ryan, which won five Academy Awards, tells the fictional story of the search for a soldier ” the last surviving brother of four serving in World War II ” to return him home to his family.

There were six Burnett brothers reported to have been killed when fighting for the Southern Confederacy during the US Civil War.

But nowhere has it been recorded that 11 brothers fought for their nation, let along survived the carnage to resume fruitful lives.

The Clarkes ” William (Bill), Eric, Peter, Ted, Frank, Jack, Wally, Jim, Leo, Michael (Ray) and Herbert ” were all born consecutively to mother Maude Clarke between 1909 and 1925.

When war was declared, the boys all signed up for the Australian Defence Forces ” three in the navy, four in the air force and four in the army.

They each allocated five shillings per pay to be sent home to their mother.

Ray Clarke spent more than four years in the army, much of that time in the jungles of New Guinea, where two other brothers also served.

Ray’s only daughter Wendy Clarke, who lives in Lesmurdie, said William’s great-grandfather and his 10 great-uncles would have been very proud to watch as the youngster laid the wreath at the war memorial. Other members of the Clarke family also kept the memories of their relatives alive this Anzac Day.

Mrs Clarke, who has various documents detailing the proud military history of her family, attended the Anzac memorial service with grandchildren Hayley (13), William and Charles (7) at the War Memorial at Kostera Oval, Kalamunda, on Friday,

‘My dad told me many life stories of survival, but most of all he taught me respect and compassion,’ she said.