Donald Owen Clark

Following the end of the 2nd World War a memorial chapel in the south aisle was dedicated to those who lost their lives during both World Wars. The cross in the chapel replicates the shape of the George Cross, awarded posthumously to Donald Owen Clarke. He was a trainee Merchant Navy officer who died in 1942 after helping his shipmates to escape from their ship, an oil tanker, the San Emiliano which had been torpedoed and set on fire.

The San Emiliano was owned by The Eagle Oil & Shipping Company and launched in 1939. It was fully loaded with 12,000 tons of high octane aviation spirit and had left Trinidad bound for Table Bay Cape Town and then eventually Suez on the 6th August 1942.

Three days after leaving Trinidad the convoy of which the San Emiliano was part, dispersed. At nine in the evening on that fateful day U155 launched two torpedoes at the tanker both of which found their target. The following is the citation published in the London Gazette on the 16th July 1943:-

“MV San Emiliano”
Click for larger copy

Donald was born on the 5th March 1923 in Chester-le Street and at the time of his death he was just 19 years of age. The crew of the ship numbered 48 and initially all but 12 perished, killed either by the force of explosions or burnt to death. Only one lifeboat was launched with eight survivors in it and four further survivors were pulled from the sea all of them badly burned, but those pulled from the sea sadly died within a short time. The eight survivors were eventually picked up by an American ship the General Thomas Jessup after being directed to the lifeboat by a US Army Air Force aeroplane.

A full account of the action was provided by the San Emiliano’s Chief Officer, Captain T.D.Finch. The account forms part of a publication “The World at War” by Mark Arnold-Foster and appears in the section dealing with the Battle of the Atlantic.

Donald Owen Clarke received the George Cross posthumously and was also awarded the Lloyd’s Bravery Medal.
This was not the first time that Donald had been decorated. Earlier in the war on the 26th August 1941 he was awarded a commendation and also awarded the Liverpool Shipowners’ Silver Medal and Conduct Badge for services in letting go lines and getting the ship under way during the bombing of Liverpool Docks.

George Cross
Lloyd Bravery Medal – Awarded posthumously to Donald