Stornoway Gazette, 1 March 1940
News was received in Stornoway last week, with great regret, that William Sproat Clark, eldest son of the late Mr William J Clarke, and of Mrs Clarke, Stornoway, was among those missing from the British steamer "Cheldale" which was lost on February 17 near Durban. This is the first war casualty sustained by the Burgh of Stornoway.
Willie was sailing as second engineer on the Cheldale when she was involved in a collision with the "Greystoke Castle". The ships, which were travelling without lights, met with a terrific impact and so quickly did the Cheldale sink that there was no time for the crew to launch a boat. The ship went down within 3 minutes.
Just over a year ago, Willie had saved his ship in mid-Atlantic by an act of great heroism. He was then sailing as second engineer on Hopper "Foremost 18", whose adventurous crossing of the Atlantic was the subject of several wireless broadcasts. Only his intimate friends here knew that it was Willie Clarke who had repaired the steering chains of the Hopper when, as one of his colleagues put it "There was much more Atlantic than ship". He was described by one who knew the inner sotry of that gallant act as "the outstanding man among a bunch of brave men".
Willie Sproat Clarke bore the name of a close friend of the family, a wellknown Glasgow business man of fine character who devoted his leisure to work among "down and outs" in Glasgow. Born in September 1885, he was the eldest of a family of five, two boys and three girls younger. He showed his mettle at the age of 15, when he quietly announced his intention to give up school and become a marine engineer. The resolution was countered firmly by his father who would fain have sheltered the sensitive youth, but Willie was adamant.
After a year with the late Mr Colin Maciver, for whom he had great regard and respect, as he had for all his seniors who endeavoured to set before him high ideals, he proceeded to the yard of Messrs Lobnitz & Co, Renfrew. In Renfrew, Willie immediately found a niche in the home of Mr and Mrs Alex Macleod of Ness. His family accepted Willie's adopted family with his own cordial affection (the second brother lodging with the Macleods later) and thought their circle was broken, they carefully followed the fortunes of the absent member.
In September 1914, Willie joined the 8th Gordons and was proud to the end of Kitchener's Army. Delighting in the success and achievement of others, he pursued any task with his own unobtrusive, devoted persistence. He acted as a dispatch rider and was wounded at Loos in September 1915. This was followed by 8 months in hospital in Warwickshire, where he made more good friends.
After a period at munitions on the Clyde, he was recalled to active service and went to France again with the Royal Engineers. He made no reference to a second injury, and in fact, throughout life made no complaint in any circumstance unless it was wrung from him. When "caught out" after an experience was discovered, he would dismiss it with a short laugh, familiar to all who knew him well.
After an acute illness in which, humanly speaking, he was saved by the careful nursing of Mrs Macleod, her sister and daughter, he went to sea in the employment of Messrs Wm Coutts & Co, and from then on for 20 years sailed almost continuously.
Admiring the majesty and beauty of the world God made, Willie loved the haunts of his fellow men and man's mark on the world, made by skill and achievement. He would enthuse over the craft of a Chinese ivory worker, appreciating ability or persistence, warmly rejoicing in the success of lads and girls in teh old school or in the wider world as revealed to him in letters, the press or the school magazine.
Members of the family would go any reasonable distance to meet Willie, his teacher at one time having a happy meeting with him in Montreal and his sisters frequently nearer home, but his heart warmed to a Stornowegian whether at Jamaica Bridge or boarding another ship at Calcutta.
Early last April, Willie, who held his chief's certiciface, sailed as second engineer on the SS Cheldale.
Great sympathy is felt for all his relatives in the loss of a devoted son and brother.