Obituary: Reay Durno Granville Clarke, farmer, Arctic Convoy survivor, community councillor, elder and conservationist

Reay Durno Granville Clarke has died at the age of 93
Reay Durno Granville Clarke has died at the age of 93
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Reay Durno Granville Clarke, farmer and Arctic Convoy veteran. Born: 8 July, 1923 in Easter Ross. Died: 17 May, 2017 in Easter Ross, aged 93

Reay Clarke was a man of the land who deeply loved his native hills and woods but found himself engulfed in one of the world’s most harrowing maritime missions.

After volunteering to join the Navy during the Second World War he was detailed to serve on the Atlantic Convoys, the operation to keep the Russian Allies supplied with food, equipment and ammunition.

To beat German blockades the convoys of vulnerable merchant ships made deliveries via a bone-chilling Arctic route, contending not only with the most appalling weather conditions but the ever-present threat of enemy aircraft and ruthless wolf packs of submarines determined to halt their progress.

Clarke, then still a teenager, was among the crew of Royal Naval vessels sent to protect and escort the convoys on what Churchill called “the worst journey in the world.” After joining convoy PQ18 in 1942 and running in to a serious storm and enemy attacks, his ship was ordered to escort a vessel with engine trouble back to Scapa Flow and Clarke was then sent south to train as an engineer. He qualified as a leading motor mechanic and spent the rest of the war with the 25th Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla, Light Coastal Forces in the Far East. He served, from July 1943, as a petty officer on HMS Braganza at Trombay base, near Bombay where he remained until being demobbed in 1946. On his return home he took over the farm where he was born, at Edderton near Tain in Easter Ross.

His father had died when Clarke was 11 and, after an education at Tain Royal Academy, Altonburn, Nairn and Trinity College, Glenalmond, the youngster helped his widowed mother on the farm in the early years of the war. His life’s work was then concentrated on the family farm and on conserving Highland farmland.

He expanded the farm from arable and dairy to a more mixed enterprise of seed barley, 150 head of beef cattle and 600 North Country Cheviot sheep. At its height it ran to 2,300 acres, including 1,000 acres of hill.

And as chairman of the Easter Ross Land Use Committee, a sub-committee of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), he contested the Highland land use issue at three public inquiries. Though he was an advocate of development, his focus was always on land use: he was particularly concerned that development should not diminish the Highland’s limited supply of good farming land.

He was awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Scholarship in 1977, to study fodder production and transhumance in hill country, in the Swiss and Austrian Alps and this further developed his interest in land use. Clarke believed the soil fertility of the Highlands was declining and many of the projects he took on were aimed at reversing that situation.

Despite the punishing schedule of a full-time farmer he served various outside organisations, including roles as: vice chairman of the North of Scotland Milk Marketing Board; chairman of the Northern Region of the Royal Scottish Forestry Society; a governor of the North of Scotland College of Agriculture, Aberdeen; president of the Easter Ross NFU branch and a member of the Highlands and Islands Advisory Panel.

A great supporter of his local community, he was a church elder for many years and served as Edderton Community Council chairman. He campaigned for veterans to receive a medal in recognition of their Arctic Convoy contribution, an honour that was not awarded until 70 years after the event.

His legacy includes 400 acres of award-winning mixed woodland in the Edderton area that he planted and tended over the last 60 years and his book, Two Hundred Years of Farming in Sutherland: The Story of My Family, published in 2014.

Divorced from his first wife Lydia Middleton, with whom he had four children, he re-married in 1980 to Olga Matthews. Predeceased by Olga, he is survived by his sons Donald, Hugh and James, his daughter Janey, his step-children and extended family.