Obituary - Charles Clark

Charles Clark (1 APR 1929 – 22 MAY 2017)

Charles was born in 1929 in Selly Oak, West Midlands, the only child of Donald, a former Airship crewman and travelling salesman in the family jewellery business and Grace, a Secretary from the same firm.

From an early age Charles’ taste for adventure and excitement was evident - he burnt down a haystack at the tender age of three and in his youth was struck by lightning while out walking with his mother.  He attended the local Baddesley Clinton Village School where he was to meet his future wife Margaret. Charles would wait outside in the school porch after church just to be able to spend some time with her.

Warwick School followed, where he was considered a very able student, attaining the school certificate and performing as a bugler in the School’s cadet force. He enjoyed sports and played cricket and football, and was also adept at throwing the Javelin with some accuracy. On one occasion during a sports day gala he came close to  spearing a local news reporter - fortunately for both the front page didn’t have to be held as the Javelin passed between the man’s arm and torso.

As a boy Charles’s spirit of adventure continued and he would often go out on forays into the local countryside. He kept a special wash and brush-up kit hidden in the family greenhouse so he could clean himself up on returning home to escape the wrath of his disapproving father. Ben was the family Airedale, of which Charles had fond memories, and was the first in succession of dogs, more often than not Airedales, that he was to own throughout his life.   

The Second World War occupied the greater part of his adolescence. The family had settled in Lapworth, situated at the junction of the Grand Union and North Stratford Canals, and unbeknown to them this was to be a strategic point for the Luftwaffe bomber navigators, as it marked the point where they knew to bear right along the Grand Union and press on to Birmingham. It was only in later life that Charles discovered this from a German friend and business colleague who had flown in these bombers on sorties to England. As a teenager Charles’ father would lend him his shotgun to guard prisoners of war as they helped work on the family’s market garden, which contributed to the war rations for the citizens of Birmingham. On occasions there would be football matches organised between the local boys in the village and the Italian POWs, who had to remain bare footed during matches to prevent escape attempts. 

Charles served on the local parish council at the age of sixteen and enjoyed performing in local amateur dramatic plays. He became an adept rider, borrowing a local farmer’s horse to pursue his pastime. Little did he know that later in life he would find himself riding a Lipizzaner while on a visit to the famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
Having left School one of Charles’s first jobs was as an office boy at a Birmingham electro-chemical works and by the age of seventeen he was running an export department of six people. National Service beckoned and on the day of joining up he was to discover to his surprise he had not been born on the 2nd of April, as he had previously been led to believe, but the day before - his parents had wanted to protect him from being teased at School. He had his heart set on The Royal Scots Greys, serving with them from 1947-49, and his son Richard  served in the same regiment (by then the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards) some years later. Charles in his inimitable style soon took on responsibilities that belied his age becoming a Lieutenant and recce troop leader and at the age of 18 was in charge of over 200 men, becaming known by the nickname ‘The Boy’. Charles had been given the task of patrolling a stretch of the East German border based around Lunenburg Heath during the time of the Berlin blockade. One of his favourite stories of this period was how one morning, while he was shaving in the field on the back of his armoured car, Montgomery and Eisenhower paid a visit completely out of the blue. Impromptu meetings with notable personalities became part of Charles’ life having met Ranulph Fiennes, Robin Day, Anthony Eden, Edward Heath, Charlton Heston (they had a punch up) Margaret Thatcher (they didn’t), Queen Elizabeth , Prince Philip and the Russian minister for Black Metallurgy, to name just a few.

On leaving the Army his destiny turned towards a career in civilian life and a chance encounter on a train led him to apply to Stewarts and Lloyds, a Steel company who had made a large contribution to PLUTO , a pipeline built across the Channel seabed following the D-Day landings, to supply fuel for the invading forces. Following a brief interview and 6 months training he was duly sent off to the Sheffield Warehouse, where in those days delivery was made by horse and cart.

After a few years he was posted to the Black Country where he was to expand his knowledge about Steel and Steel making. He stayed there for 3 years until sent to London as an export salesman. While working he learnt Spanish and German at night school, which was to stand him in good stead for future forays into South America and Europe. He worked his way up to the position of Assistant Manager Western Hemisphere.

During this time Charles served as a Territorial in the Warwickshire Yeomanry  for a further 11 years, reaching the rank of Captain, giving him an outlet for the spirit of adventure that continued throughout his life.

By 1956 he had been transferred to Glasgow, becoming South, Central and North American salesman, with his first sales tour covering Central and South America and the Caribbean lasting almost 6 months. He was 24 years old at this time. He sailed from Southampton to New York on the Queen Mary in style on a 4½ day long passage and from there travelled to South America, clinching one of his first orders, 5500 tons of boiler tubes for the steam locomotives of the Argentine Railways. While on a side trip, grabbed between appointments, Charles  headed off to Machu Picchu in Peru where he came across by chance a fellow Englishman by the name of Mike Wilson. They struck up an immediate friendship and having found out they were both looking for somewhere to live near Glasgow, subsequently decided to house share on the banks of Loch Lochmond side and remained life long friends ever since. Travelling by flight was in its infancy and Charles flew on old three engine German Junkers JU52’s and in those days returned from America on Boeing Stratocruisers with beds that came down from the roof held aloft over fellow, less fortunate seated passengers. He was later to wing his way onto Concorde while suffering with a bad back, and flew on the dreaded Lockheed Electra a plane with a tendency to crash - no fewer than 58 did.

Travels abroad were interspersed with time at home where Charles and Margaret were finally able to pass some time together after their long absences. They wed in 1957  and it was decided they would both live in Scotland together, but it seemed Margaret was not that sure of this proposition. The day of departure loomed to head North, but as they approached the border Charles recalls how Margaret became decidedly anti the whole idea, she dug in her heels, it was no good, she wanted to stay in England! After much  diplomacy on the part of her newly wed husband Margaret finally was finally won over and they continued on their journey towards their new home in a flat at the top of a beautiful period house on the Ayrshire coast called Monckcastle.

They were to eventually buy their first home together in a small fishing village called Fairlie on the banks of the Clyde with beautiful views over to the Isle of Arran and beyond. In their usual style Charles and Margaret were to make many dear friends in the surrounding area to which they returned on many occasions after leaving. Their new home together brought a family with first Richard then jonathan who were lucky enough to spend some of their formative years on the idyllic Scottish coast.
Charles’s life at this time and throughout most of his career revolved around long business trips away abroad leaving Margaret and the boys for weeks at a stretch, communicating by phone and letters and returning with tales of his latest adventures abroad.

Occasionally on travelling to South America or Africa there was some sort of revolution taking place. On a trip to Rhodesia the rebels were armed with SAM missiles and had already shot down a Viscount aeroplane.  In Cuba Battista was on his way out and Charles found himself on the last plane to leave with the revolutionaries and government forces shooting at each other at the end of the runway. There was trouble with Papa Doc in Haiti and in Argentina where Peron’s supporters were machine gunning members of the Army across the square in front of the Hotel where Charles was staying.

On occasion he might find customers challenging him to deal breaking tests of manhood, in Finland one night he found himself having to exit the sauna naked and jump into a frozen lake, not knowing which side to jump off the jetty he chose the wrong one and duly landed up in 4 feet of mud, In America a new customer challenged him to a race around the block to clinch an important deal. He won, and duly won also the order for 80,000 tons of tubes to the USA.

The Early 70’s saw Charles and family transfer to Pilsgate as he took on the job of manager in field sales and export in the British Steel Tubes Division in Corby. While not on business trips abroad, Charles and Margaret often hosted agents and customers at home, forming life long bonds and friendships that spanned the globe. Despite his work related absences he remained active in the local community as best he could and became a Burghley Horse Trials Fence Judge, a post which he held for many years.
By 1982 British Steel had decided to move the entire Oil Tubes department from London to Corby leaving the department a shadow of its former self. The majority of employees had opted to stay in the capital. Charles, having never sold oil pipes before, was given a crash course on the subject and had the daunting task of recruiting and restructuring the department with only a handful of it’s former employees. With much work and effort they were eventually able to reach an annual turnover of £200m. Some achievement under those circumstances.

By 1989 Charles was due for retirement and duly set up Stamford Steel Ltd., running a successful business from home with his close colleagues and dear friends David Bond and Bob Walker, operating for 21 years and into his 81st year. Charles by this time had travelled literally millions of miles in the pursuit of sales and adventure and had fun into the bargain as well.

When his effective retirement started on closing Stamford Steel, the indefatigable Charles then poured his energies and passion into other organisations. He became the local War Memorials regional representative, liasing with local parish councils to clean up once pristine monuments tarnished by the passage of time in the local area. He Chaired the Local British Legion Branch in Barnack for many years, he was a dedicated Tree Warden helping to improve the local countryside and getting his hands dirty in the process. He invariably stood up against planning decisions that would threaten the local environment, by-passes, and building developments were vehemently opposed, and while often on the winning side, defeats didn’t quash his tireless enthusiasm. Together with Margaret they lovingly tended their beautiful garden at Ragstone House. Charles’s greenhouse was regularly full of produce in the Summer months, his passion for cultivating never waining from those days helping his father as a boy.  

Surprises continued to pop up in Charles’s life and only a few years back he discovered a part of his family, the existence of which, he had never known before.  Soon friendships were forged with cousins in Ireland and England and as far away as Australia and New Zealand. They were not all destined to meet Charles but at least the distances between them had been shortened by the bonds they had made.

Charles’s life long partner and wife, Margaret passed away in 2012. They were an exceptional couple to their friends and exceptional parents to their two sons. On the 25th May this year they would have celebrated 60 years of marriage together.

Regardless of this huge loss for Charles he attempted to keep himself busy in the preceding years. Creating a wood with his family over in Warwickshire accompanied by Fiona and Richard and Margaret’s side of his family. Lunches in London at his favourite den in the capital, the Cavalry and Guards Club, of which he had been a member for over 60 years. He squeezed in trips to Italy to see Francesca and Jonathan, toured England and Scotland with friends, and continued with his service to the British Legion and War Memorials Trust. To cap it all, thanks to his  friends Bob Walker and Richard Barber, he collaborated on the book “The Lighter side of Steel” recounting together their many exploits, mishaps and laughter over their joint careers together.