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Banff author's wartime memories feature in new book


By Kyle Ritchie

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The unique experiences of a Banff man's family during World War Two features in a new book which has been published.

Dr David Clark (91) has released his latest, and what he expects to be his last publication, entitled Secret Heroes: A Manse at War.

Mr Clark and his family lived in the town's St Mary's Manse during the conflict as his father, also called David, was the local minister.

In 1940, the house was requisitioned by the Army to plant Allied personnel at various time during the day and night. The military had been monitoring the property and because people visited it at irregular times due to church business it was ideal cover for its purposes.

During the war the Clark family welcomed a variety of people including soldiers that had been rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk; King Haakon VII of Norway and his son Crown Prince Olav; and RAF Group Captain Sir Max Aitken.

Many of this was unable to be told by Dr Clark until now due to the Official Secrets Act, with clearance having only been recently given which allowed him to research and write the book over the past year.

The people he and his family encountered during the war inspired him to look further into courage and heroism in active members of the military services, which is further explored in the publication.

Dr David Clark with his new book Secret Heroes: A Manse at War.
Dr David Clark with his new book Secret Heroes: A Manse at War.

He said: "The inspiration for the book came when I was tidying the private drawer of my old roll-top desk, a gift my father received from his congregation 107 years ago. While doing that I found two documents which compelled me to study them in detail again.

"They were in a small leather-bound autograph book which my mother had kept all through World War Two. It is probably my most cherished possession, along with the Freedom Medal of Norway and citation awarded to my father by King Haakon VII of Norway for his wartime services to that country.

"In a manilla envelope near it was a set of typed sheets describing much of my late friend, Peter Hughes' RAF career including some graphic and compelling descriptions of his operational flying history and his time in the notorious Stalag Luft 3 prisoner-of-war camp as well as his adventures thereafter before he eventually returned to the UK.

"Taken together, these documents capture different but overlapping episodes of the war.

"Great heroism and courage were part and parcel of the time for many of us who lived through it, certainly enough for me to explore the nature of these supremely valuable human qualities and to remind others of the fact that there were probably thousands of other heroes who, by chance or circumstance, were never rewarded with the visible decorations enjoyed by others."

The book recalls the time when an army major commenced the military's use of the manse on Wednesday, May 29, and it was immediately put into action the next day to provide refuge for 15 soldiers rescued from Dunkirk.

Dr Clark said the soldiers coming into his house is a memory that has remained with him.

He added: "Within one day of being requisitioned a three-tonne lorry drew up at the gate on Sandyhill Road and out sprang a Regimental Sergeant Major and 15 poor, bedraggled, wounded, shot up, soaking soldiers from the Dunkirk beaches, who had been fished out of the water only 30 hours before.

"They were taken in a destroyer after being shot at and bombed, with two of them actually having bullets still in their arms when they came to our house.

"My mother made a casualty clearing in the upstairs landing of the manse and she worked solid with Dr Hugh Smith for about 36 hours non-stop to treat the men.

"They were soaking and covered in oil and blood – it really was a gruesome sight and the thing that struck my wee brother Tommy and I was the smell.

"The book outlines how we coped with treating and helping the soldiers."

The game of bridge brought Norwegian royalty to the door of the manse. King Haakon VII was a keen player and Dr Clark's mother Annie was also a proficient player and so they entertained the King, his son Crown Prince Olav and bodyguard, a General Strugstad, with the family getting to know them.

Dr Clark, who was interested in all things planes and had a period of National Service in the RAF, was particularly delighted when RAF Group Captain Sir Max Aitken visited the home and also played the card game.

The book also has a chapter dedicated to his friend Air Commodore Peter Hughes, who latterly lived in Whitehills and died in 2018 just months short of becoming a centenarian.

Mr Hughes had a decorated career and the book outlines many of his operations including surviving being shot down and capture by the Nazis.

Dr Clark has written six books in total since he retired after nearly 40 years in the NHS as a consultant clinical psychologist.

For his work in that context he was honoured with an OBE in 1990 and was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant of Banffshire in 1992.

He also had spells as an Honorary Sheriff and town and country councillor of Banff and Banffshire.

The book can be purchased from Banffshire Preservation and Heritage Society, 14 Old Castlegate, Banff; Banff Castle or from The Spotty Bag Shop.


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