The Percy J. Clears Memorial Race Trophy

Memories rekindled of a Great War Serpentine swimmer

Congratulations to Angela Johnson on winning the re-inaugurated 880 yard ‘Percy Clears Memorial Race’ Trophy on Saturday 3 August. The trophy was first raced for in 1926 as a tribute to Percy J. Clears, a Serpentine swimmer who died in action during the First World War. The trophy presentation was sponsored by Neil Price. This race replaced the Andean Project Relay on the club calendar, which had been run by Barney Miller in recent years following the passing of Pat Vincent. The club are grateful to Pat and Barney for their great work over the years.  You can read more about the Andean project here.


Percy James Clears was one of four brothers who were members of Serpentine SC, writes John Tierney. His brothers included Arthur E., Herbert H., and D.J. Clears. The brothers were club members between 1901 and 1919. Proof of their membership payments were recorded in the Serpentine SC Subscription book in the following years: Arthur 1901-1912, Herbert 1902-1919, PJ 1904-1918, DJ 1905-09 and 1911-1916.

Percy James Clears was born in Fulham in December 1882. He died aged 36 on 26 October 1918 in West Flanders, Belgium. Percy Clears was a Sapper in the British Army, and served with the Royal Engineers. His army number was 558414. His burial plot is in west Flanders, Belgium at the Harlebeke New British Cemetery, which is located 32 kilometres east of Leper town centre.


Percy’s brother Herbert H. Clears was a Private with the Tank Corps. His army number was 206104. Herbert was a Prisoner of War from 15 September 1916 until Armstice Day 11 November 1918. Herbert was a member of the Serpentine from 1902 until 1919. The Serpentine SC records state that on 4 July 1902, at the General Meeting held at the Hares Fort Goodge St, that HH Clears be elected as an active member. He was proposed by LH Rickards and seconded by J Plose. In that same year, his brother Arthur Edward Clears, a committee member, verified that the accounts for the year were passed as correct. Public records show that Herbert H Clears died in Paddington in 1968, aged 88; therefore born in 1880. [Due to lack of time, it has not yet been ascertained and proven that this is the same Herbert Clears]

Arthur Edward Clears is first recorded as being a member of Serpentine SC in 1901. He remained involved with the club until 1912. On 6 December 1901, the Serpentine SC subscriptions day book records in the ‘Adjourned General Meeting’ held at the Builders Arms in Chelsea that AE Clears be elected as an active member. He was proposed by LH Rickards and seconded by FJ Hounslow.

On 19 August 1903, AE Clears won the Major’s special final with prizes presented by Major Tyler. On 5 October 1904, AE Clears came third in the Banker race. And on 25 December, HH Clears and PJ Clears were in the second handicap group for the Christmas Day Race. On 31 March 1905, AE Clears chaired the General Meeting. Percy Clears was also present. 

David Clears was elected as a club member in 1905 during a meeting at the Davies St Baths on 5 May 1905 .At a committee meeting on 13 October 1905, “Mr Clears suggested that this club agrees the prizes for the 1906 Christmas Race be presented by the Bovril Company.” By this stage, AE Clears was one of the stewards of the club. By 4 May 1906, AE Clears was an auditor of the club. Arthur Edward Clears married in Brentford in 1906. On 19 April 1907, DJ Clears was elected vice president of the club. AE Clears continued as auditor. 


Harlebeke was in German hands until very late 1918. Harlebeke village was taken on the night of 19-20 October 1918 by the 9th (Scottish) Division. Why did Percy die seven days later, perhaps war wounds? Following the Armstice, the Harlebeke New British Cemetery was made. Graves were made for victims from the surrounding battlefields of 1918 and, in 1924-25, from German cemeteries or plots in Belgium. 

Harlebeke New British Cemetery contains 1,116 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War. 181 of the burials are unidentified and a special memorial is erected to one casualty who is believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials record the names of 19 casualties buried by the Germans in other burial grounds whose graves could not be found. There are also ten burials of the Second World War in the cemetery. The cemetery was designed by William Harrison Cowlishaw 

Casualty Details: UK 1074; Canada 29; Australia 7; South Africa 4; India 2. 

Percy’s war record is contained in the photos.


Five campaign medals were available for individuals who saw service in the First Wolrd War, and most were allowed a maximum of three medals. PJ Clears was awarded three medals during his period of service with the Royal Engineers. He received the Star, British and Victory medals. These medals were affectionately referred to as ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ after a 1920s comic strip published by the Daily Mirror. The 1914-15 Star bronze medal ‘Pip’ was only awarded if the soldier had also received the British war Medal ‘Squeak’ and the Victory Medal ‘Wilfred’  The medals are shown in the photos.


Herbert received the Victory and British Medal and was interned as a POW for over two years. 


The Serps AGM of 1 May 1926 which was held at the St Marylebone Baths saw a push for a war memorial. “It was proposed by Mr. Houghton, seconded by Mr. Beesley and carried. “That the annual Bridge to Bridge race should be the Club War memorial Race, and that bronze medals be given “In memory of Serpentine Swimmers who fell in the War.”


J.C.L.R. Brittan won the trophy in 1926. From 1927 onwards, there is no further record of Mr. Brittan in the subscriptions book.


If you have further information on the Clears family, please contact JohnTierneyswim at live dot com. Thank you.