The Last Australian VC
Captain Jeffries was the last Australian VC of the Third Battle of Ypres (Battle of Passchendaele). He was an apprentice mining surveyor before joining the 14th (Hunter River) Infantry Regiment in 1912.
Clarence Jeffries, Captain, 34th (Maitland’s Own) Battalion
Jeffries arrived in France in November 1916 as second lieutenant in the 34th Battalion. He was wounded in the thigh on 9 June during the Battle of Messines Ridge, his first major action. While recovering in hospital in London he was promoted to Captain. He re-joined his regiment in September and at 3am on 12 October he had led his men past the Brooidseinde railway and across the craters to the start line of the First Battle of Passchendaele. Conditions were depressing, the battlefield a quagmire and men had to be helped out of the shell-holes, others were lost in the mud. The German front line was littered with pillboxes that were still untouched and protected by a forest of barbed wire, making it difficult to advance.
Capt. Jeffries, commanding B Company, met strong resistance between Augustus Wood and Hillside Farm on the highest part of the ridge. He was not going to accept defeat and led a bombing party of two NCOs and a dozen men, which took the position from the rear, capturing 35 prisoners and four machine guns. This allowed the advance to continue and the first objective was reached. At 8.25 am his battalion moved along the ridge towards the outskirts of Passchendaele, but once again came under fire from a pillbox, leading to the death of the senior brigade officer. Capt. Jeffries assumed control and again set out with an 11-strong party, across the open ground, but this time he was mortally wounded and was left where he fell as the battalion had to pull back.
His family were told he had no known grave and his father visited Flanders Fields in 1920 to find his son’s grave. After he had returned to Australia, on 14 September 1920, Capt. Jeffries body was exhumed from a battlefield grave, being identified by a set of captain’s stars, Australian numerals and the pencilled initials C.S.J. found on the groundsheet in which he was wrapped. He was re-buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery, a short walk from where his body was found on the Zonnebeke-Passchendaele road. In 1924 Mr Jeffries returned to Belgium to pay his last respects at his son’s grave.
He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross as he had ‘displayed the greatest fearlessness and gallantry’ and ‘it was entirely due to his bravery, dash and initiative that the centre of the attack was not held up for a lengthy period’. His legacy remains in a memorial park named after him in Abermain, a carved chair in Holy Trinity Anglian church and the library at Dudley Primary School which bears his name together with that of a fellow VC recipient William Currey along with the Currey-Jeffries VC Memorial Wall in Sandgate cemetery, New South Wales.