Dorset Freemason Bruce Graham Clarke DSC, one of the last surviving crew members of the Second World War XE midget submarines, has passed to the Grand Lodge above aged 95 years
A public servant and talented artist, Bruce was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his role in the mission to cut the undersea telephone cables connecting Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong and Tokyo. The success of this operation forced the Japanese to use radio which left their messages open to interception.
Born in Edinburgh on 9 September 1922 into a military family, his father was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. Educated at the Tower House School and University College School in London, Bruce volunteered for the Royal Navy in 1941. He initially served aboard destroyers, escorting convoys in the North Sea and the Mediterranean and witnessed the sinking of the French fleet. He later took part in Operation Torch – the invasion of Northwest Africa.
In 1943, Bruce volunteered for service aboard the Royal Navy’s midget submarines and after training in Scotland was commissioned. In July and August of 1945 Bruce was one of the crew of midget submarine XE5 which took part in Operation Foil to cut the Hong Kong to Singapore telegraph cable west of Lamma Island, running under Hong Kong harbour. In the book “Above us the waves” by Charles Warren and James Benson the mission is recalled ‘... Hong Kong was supposed to be blessed with clear water. It was most galling, therefore, for the crew of XE5 to arrive in the defended waters of Hong Kong after a very rough trip… and for the best part of four days ... the two divers, Clarke and Jarvis, were working up to their waists in mud…’
In his report of the operation, the commanding officer Lieutenant H.P. Westmacott wrote: ‘Whilst trying to clear the grapnel, S/Lt Clarke had caught his finger in the cutter, cut it very deeply and fractured the bone. It is impossible to praise too highly the courage and fortitude which enabled him to make his entry into the craft in this condition. Had he not done so, apart from becoming a prisoner, it is probable that the operation would have had to be abandoned for fear of being compromised.’ A month later the war ended and Bruce was posted to Minden in East Germany and put in command as Physical and Recreational Training Officer of Allied troops. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his part in Operation Foil on 17 November 1945 and subsequently demobilised in 1946.
After brief spells working in India and Africa, Bruce joined the Overseas Civil Service and through a series of promotions and secondments formed a successful career in Kenya. In 1955, Bruce married Joan in Nakuru, Kenya. The family moved to Aden in 1957; this posting for Bruce included a period as Labour Commissioner.
In 1962, Bruce retired from Her Majesty’s Overseas Civil Service and after a three year contract as Personnel Manager for the East African Power & Light Company in Tanganyika, Bruce returned to the UK, settling in Boscombe in Dorset in 1967. For a brief period, he and his wife Joan bought and let property but latterly restored antique china, porcelain and furniture, until Joan’s death in 1982 at the age of 60. In retirement, he returned to his hobby of oil painting; he was a very talented painter and produced some fine copies of the old masters.
He was initiated into United Studholme Alliance Lodge No. 1591 in 1979 and in 1986 joined Lodge of Meridian No. 6582 in Dorset, where he was Chaplain of for many years. Bruce was a holder of London Grand Rank and a Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden in Dorset. He was exalted into St Aldhelm's Chapter No. 2559 in Dorset in 1996.
Richard Merritt, Provincial Grand Master for Dorset, said: 'Brother Clarke was typical of so many unsung heroes within the Masonic Order. His military career, extreme bravery in the face of the enemy, personal charm and life-long modesty exemplify the principles observed and practised by Freemasons throughout their lives.'