Inspiring students: Lt David Louis Clemetson

Image credit: Cmglee

Lt David Louis Clemetson matriculated in 1912, becoming a Law student at Trinity College. He would leave after only two years of his degree, however, never to complete it; instead, he enlisted to fight in the First World War.

Lt Clemetson, who rowed as part of the rugby club boat in Lent bumps during his time at the University, first joining the Sportsmen’s Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers before becoming an Officer with the Pembroke Yeomanry in 1915 – a position that was more difficult for him to obtain than might now appear. In 1914, the Manual of Military Law enforced restrictions on non-citizens of Britain and black soldiers from command roles in the British Expeditionary Force; indeed, it prevented “any negro or person of colour” being promoted above a Sergeant. This was a rule that was explicitly brandished to potential recruits: “Are you of pure European descent?” was the question they were faced with. Lt Clemetson, a Jamaican, did not lie as records show some did to overcome this racism; staying true to his identity, Clemetson was able to take the position of Second Lieutenant.  

He was sent to the frontline in Salonika, the Macedonian Front, where he remained for eight months before being evacuated to Malta. Like many soldiers during the war, Lt Clemetson was suffering from what we now know to be post-traumatic stress disorder, and so he was first sent to a military hospital in Malta and then on to the Craiglockhart psychiatric hospital – although he only reached his destination after the ship he was aboard, the Dover Castle, was torpedoed. It was while he was at Craiglockhart, in 1917, that he was notified he was being promoted to First Lieutenant.

Lt Clemetson was only allowed two months respite at Craiglockhart, and then three weeks leave before he had to rejoin the 24th Welsh Regiment of the Pembroke Yeomanry. Tragically, he died only 52 days before the end of the war, aged just 25. Posthumously awarded both the Victory and British War Medals, Lt Clemetson showed bravery not only fighting in the war, but also in fighting against the racism in the military at the time.

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