Great-niece pays tribute to war heroine

By Sarah ChambersA GREAT-NIECE has paid tribute to her unassuming aunt, who became a wartime heroine after braving a minefield to reach two injured soldiers.

By Sarah Chambers

A GREAT-NIECE has paid tribute to her unassuming aunt, who became a wartime heroine after braving a minefield to reach two injured soldiers.

Dorothy Clarke, a housewife from Aldeburgh, made history when she became the first woman to receive the George Medal from the British monarch at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in 1941.

Had she still been alive, Mrs Clarke would have been among a select few invited to attend the unveiling of a statue honouring wartime heroines at a ceremony in London on July 9 this year.

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Along with Bessie Knight-Hepburn, Mrs Clarke was awarded the George Medal for her bravery after they courageously picked their way across a minefield at Thorpeness to reach two dying men.

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A display in the Moot Hall Museum in Aldeburgh, where the women's medals are held, described how the Royal Engineers had ventured out into the minefield on a hot summer's day, despite danger signs warning people to avoid the area.

The two women, both from Aldeburgh, were members of Air Raid Precautions, with Mrs Clarke driving the ambulance and Mrs Knight-Hepburn the first-aid attendant.

One soldier died at the scene and the other was badly injured. He was given first aid before he was taken to Aldeburgh Cottage Hospital, where he later died.

An appeal has been launched to find women George Medal holders, as well as women parachuted over France in wartime, to take part in the statue unveiling ceremony, but both Mrs Knight-Hepburn and Mrs Clarke died some years ago.

Mrs Clarke's great-niece, Jane Edwards, of Prentice Street, Lavenham, who lives in her great-aunt's final home, paid tribute to her.

“Aunt Dorothy was a very unassuming lady, as shown by her letter to her mother about her investiture. It said 'The date at Buckingham Palace fits very well as I shall be in Wimbledon on that date',” said Mrs Edwards.

“Such was her character that I was unaware of her medal until looking at her scrapbook after her death.”

Mrs Clarke was born Dorothy Glover in Leamington, Warwickshire, in 1901, and was brought up and educated there. She married Geoffrey Clarke, an engineer, in Burma in 1925 after he proposed to her by telegram.

The couple returned to England on Mr Clarke's retirement in 1937 and settled in Aldeburgh. After the war they were involved in apple growing.

When Mr Clarke died in 1968, his widow moved to Lavenham and lived at Brett House until her death there in 1980. They had no children.

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