The Golden Years: John ClarkPublished 9:31pm Saturday, October 16, 2010
Retired banker John Clark is an active member of the Selma community and its Golden Years residents, although his early years differ somewhat from those of his contemporaries. Born in Sheringhan, Norfolk, England, he is the younger son of Leonard K. Clark and Rose Hannah Clark and the brother of, Raymond William, two years older.
As in British custom, his three early school years were spent at Winterbourne School in Croydon, Surrey, and the next four he was a student at what he terms “big boys’ school.” Then came five years at Selhurst Grammar School, a term known to those familiar with British films and fiction, where he was in the company of 500 students.
“Every day we all wore a school tie and our choice between blue serge, gray flannel or a blue blazer and gray flannel. And we always wore our school caps,” he recalls, smiling at that long-ago memory.
Then, after a few moments of silence, he added, “Many, many of them were killed in World War II.”
Clark was 17 at graduation and went immediately to work at Lloyd’s Bank in London, starting as a “junior clerk,” which he still pronounces “clark.” Two years later, in January 1941, he joined the British Air Force and was called to active duty in June 1941.
Next came elementary training in England, “in a lot of things I had to learn. Morse code was the hardest in those three months of basic training,” he said. “Then, in September I came to Canada with a cadet class of 700. We were sent from Halifax to Toronto and then to Maxwell Air Base in Montgomery for orientation.”
Pausing to reflect, laughing at the memory, he continued, “It was June and hot. Because America was still neutral, we cadets had to wear a gray flannel suit off base, one we were actually issued. That continued until December of ’41 and Pearl Harbor.”
Clark was sent to Albany Air Field for preliminary flight training, then to Gunter Air Base for basic flight instruction and to Maxwell for his advanced training. And in May, 1942 he received his Silver Wings and assignment to Gunter as a flight instructor.
“I had mixed feelings about the assignment, had wanted to go back home,” he said.
He remained at Gunter for almost 10 months, until spring 1943.
During that time there had been changes in his personal life, also. In March 1942 while he was still a cadet he met Jean Harmon at Morrison’s Cafeteria in Montgomery. He was introduced by her roommate who was dating Clark’s friend Cadet Charlie Cole, who was later killed.
In October 1942 Jean Harmon and Flight Officer John Clark were married and in March 1943, as an employee of the American Red Cross in London, she joined him in England where he had been returned to serve as a flight instructor, flying Stearmans, B2-13 and AT-6s at several RAF bases including Kidlington near Oxford until VE Day 1945.
“When the war ended,” Clark recalls “the older RAF officers were demobilized first; therefore the RAF had to train replacements. I was retrained at the RAF School of Administration and Accountancy, then served at an RAF Transport Base in Essex, flying former prisoners of war and wounded from the Far East to England.”
Jean Clark returned to the states in 1946 and was joined by John Clark who moved to America in the summer and in September their only child, Rose, was born. Clark’s move, he says, was “my emigration, although the process took a great length of time both in England and here and involved having a sponsor, my wife’s father. But, on Dec.17, 1952 I was declared an American citizen.”
The Clarks settled in Birmingham where he was employed at First National Bank, becoming senior vice president of commercial accounts. In March 1970 he accepted the presidency of City National Bank in Selma, later AmSouth Bank, remaining until his retirement in 1992, although he retains the use of an office in the present RBC Bank where photographs and mementoes of his life may be seen.
During their years in Selma the Clarks have become and remain active members of the community. At St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Clark has served as a vestryman, senior warden and chair of the capital funds drive. For a number of years he chaired the Vaughan Memorial Hospital Board.
The Clarks also enjoy an active social life with many Black Belt friends. They maintain frequent contact with their daughter, Rose Koch of Jacksonville, her son John Koch and daughter Catherine Cook, both of Birmingham, giving the Clarks two grandchildren. Each has two children, giving the Clarks four great-grandchildren, three boys and a girl.
The Clarks also have made many trips to England over the years here, visiting family and friends, always enjoying it, he says. “But Selma is our home.”