Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries VC, 34th Battalion
KIA 12 October 1917
Story delivered 9 January 2014
Today we remember and pay tribute to Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries VC, of the 34th Battalion, AIF, whose photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.
Clarence Jeffries was born in 1894 at Wallsend, New South Wales, the only child of Joshua and Barbara Jeffries. He attended Dudley Primary School and then Newcastle High School, following which he became an apprentice miner at the colliery his father managed. Clarence took a keen interest in military matters as a result of his compulsory service in the militia as a teenager.
After the outbreak of the war Jeffries, who by then had been promoted to second lieutenant in the militia and was manager of the Abermain Collieries' surveying department, was given a position training volunteers for the Australian Imperial Force. Early in 1916 he enlisted for active service abroad.
Lieutenant Jeffries was posted to the 34th Battalion, and left for France shortly afterward. In June 1917 the battalion participated in the battle of Messines, a successful advance against the Messines-Wytschaete. During the battle, Lieutenant Jeffries was shot in the left thigh by a machine-gun. Although a serious wound, it missed his bone and major arteries, and after a period in hospital he was able to return to his battalion.
A month after a newly promoted Captain Jeffries rejoined his battalion in the field he participated in an attack on the Belgian village of Passchendaele. As the attack began the Australians advanced into no-man's land under heavy fire from enemy machine-gun posts. Soon, progress was slowed by a German strong-point on the Passchendaele ridgeline which threatened to halt the Australian advance. Jeffries quickly organised a bombing party to outflank the pillboxes, moving around the enemy strongholds to attack from the rear, capturing four machine-guns and 35 prisoners.
As the 34th Battalion approached the outskirts of Passchendaele, Jeffries and his unit again came under heavy machine-gun fire. When his senior officer was killed, Jeffries took command and led a party to attack the gun's position. In the hail of bullets that followed, he was mortally wounded. When the firing eased, his men rushed the position, seizing two machine-guns and thirty prisoners. For his "most conspicuous bravery in attack" and the "most inspiring influence" of his example,
Captain Jeffries would be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. At the end of the day, suffering terrible losses, the Australians were forced to retire to their original lines. The 34th Battalion had lost 50 per cent of its men, either killed or wounded.
In 1920 Captain Jeffries' father travelled to Belgium to search for his son's grave without success. He later received word that Captain Jeffries was buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium, and Barbara Jeffries was able to visit Clarence's grave in 1933. Their only son had died aged 23.
Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries VC is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, along with over 60,000 others from the First World War.
This is one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries and all of those Australians who have given their lives in the service of our nation.