A pair of binoculars, the leather covering worn smooth from being constantly handled, is a link to events in faraway Belgium. Owned by Percy Clements, an Australian artilleryman, the binoculars would have been in continual use as he made observations in readiness for firing a 4.5” Howitzer, for surveillance of enemy movements and possibly for reading visual signals from an observer.
Percy Edmond Clements, a grandson of colonial architect Edmund Blacket, was born into a farming family and spent his early years on ‘Eugowra Station’ before completing his education at Hawkesbury Agricultural College. Comfortably settled in Blayney as the owner/manager of a butter factory, he served as an alderman of the municipality and was an active participant in his community.
In November 1915 Percy enlisted at the Sydney Showground, was deemed fit, and shortly afterwards was farewelled by the Blayney War Service Committee, the occasion being marked with the presentation of a gold medal. Assigned to the 3rd Reinforcements of the 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column, Percy embarked for Egypt from Sydney aboard the Osterley in January 1916. He was transferred to the newly formed 104th Howitzer Battery, classified as a Bombardier, and destined for the dangers and hardship of the Western Front.
The Third Battle of Ypres was the major British offensive in Flanders between 31 July and 10 November 1917, with the Australian Divisions involved in the battles of Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcapelle and the First Battle of Passchendaele. The artillery units and their ‘creeping’ barrages moving across the Belgian countryside were a vital aspect of the action.
On 15 September 1917, to the left of the Menin Road near the Birr Crossroads, Gunner Cecil Purnell witnessed a direct hit on the howitzer that Corporal Clements was manning. Gunners Eric Garriok, Herbert Hoyle and John Martin were killed outright. Suffering compound fractures to both feet and severe multiple shell wounds, Corporal Clements was taken to the 17th Casualty Clearing Station. He died at 1.15 am the following day and was interred in the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, 12 kilometres west of Ieper (Ypres). He is commemorated on the local war memorial in Blayney and at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
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