William Clancy, WWI hero

Featured image: The Battle of Vimy Ridge by Richard Jack


Harold Bowen wrote in Tales from Olde Ipswich that William Clancy’s family lived in the Old Post Office on North Main Street. Thomas Franklin Waters spoke about historic actions by William Clancy in a 1917 address to the Ipswich Historical Society, reprinted from the Publications of the Ipswich Historical Society.

“Ipswich pride was stirred by the story that found place in London papers and in the New York Sunday magazines that William Clancy, Boston-born but a resident in Ipswich since he was three years old, who had enlisted in the English Army, claimed to be the first American to carry the Stars and Stripes into action.

On April 11, 1917, at the famous battle of Vimy Ridge, in a charge on the enemy, he had fastened a small American flag on his bayonet. He was severely wounded, and while in an English hospital his story became known, and a picture in a London paper showed him in the act of being congratulated by the American Ambassador, Mr. Walter Hines Page, in the presence of his fellow soldiers.”

In 1919 after returning from the war, William Clancy gained employment as a Boston police patrolman. He was killed in the line of duty one month later and was buried at Locust Grove Cemetery in Ipswich on January 24, 1920 with full military honors.


Chronicles of Ipswich in the World War

from Publications of the Ipswich Historical Society

William Clancy was born Feb. 18, 1895, at Boston. Son of William B. and Violet Clancy, and removed to Ipswich in childhood with his parents. Early in the war he enlisted in Liverpool, on September 27, 1914, in the Royal Field Artillery, Foreign Legion, and was in the training camp at Battersneld Park, Whitchurch, Sallop, North Wales, until February 15, 1915, when he was sent to Lutton in the south of England, attached to the 4th Division.

On Feb. 27, the troops crossed the channel and took up their march for St. Varante, for reinforcements for the battle of Neuve Chapelle, which took place on March 10, 1915, when the British launched a great attack upon a four mile front. The second battle of Ypres followed on April 22, 1915, when the Germans caused panic and great losses by the first use of poison gas. Here Mr. Clancy was engaged in a rear-guard action, April 10-13, and remained on the front at Plogsteerte, near Armienteres on the River Lys until Sept. 5.

On Sept. 25 the great battle of Loos was fought. The British advancing at daylight, captured the Hohenzollern Redoubt under heavy fire. The artillery forces were turned into infantry and joined the Scottish Highlanders in their famous charge, which carried them into Loos and the slopes beyond. Our Ipswich soldier was wounded slightly in the head in this charge and was sent to England for rest and recovery, where he remained in hospital and convalescent camp until June, 1916.

Returning to France he was attached to the 49th Division Territorials, known as the “Trench Mortars Suicide Club.” In the great battle of the Somme, which lasted from July 1 to October, 1916, he was wounded in the face by shrapnel at Combles in September and retired to the hospital, but was back to the fighting line in January, 1917. He took part in the engagements which resulted in the German retirement from the strongly fortified Hindenburg line in March.

William G. Clancy, WWI hero

On April 9, 1917, Easter Monday, in the battle of Arras, he went over the top at 5.45 a. m. at Vimy Ridge with a small American flag attached to his bayonet. On April 13, having secured their objective, the men dug in. A heavy German shell buried Gunner Clancy under masses of earth, which crushed him painfully.

He was sent to England and remained in hospital from April 13, 1917, to the following February. The flag episode, which was recognized as the first appearance of the American flag in action, brought the wounded gunner into wide notoriety. While he was hobbling about, the American Ambassador, Mr. Walter Hines Page, came to the hospital at Cambridge, about the middle of May, and congratulated him.

The London Daily Mirror published a picture of the interview, which, with his flag, is among Mr. Clancy’s most cherished souvenirs of the war. Again in France in Feb. 1918, he participated in all the engagements in Belgium, at Ypres, Cambrai, Somain, Valenciennes, Loos and Lille. He was at Lille when the armistice was signed, and in the following months advanced through Courtrai, Boubaix, Tournai, Mons, La Louviere, Manage, Charleroi, Namur, Huy, Seraing, Liege, to Herbersthal, then directly to Duren and Cologne and Bonn in Germany.

He left Germany Feb. 7, 1919, returned to England and on April 26, was transferred to the reserves. Sailed from Liverpool, May 3, with his wife, in S. S. Melita for Quebec, and thence to Ipswich.

On December 3, 1919, he was given a permanent appointment as a patrolman on the Boston police force, having passed a successful examination for this position. On the night of January 22, while doing duty at Boughan’s Hall at Charlestown, at a public dance, he was shot and instantly killed by a ruffian who had been reprimanded by Officer Clancy.

The remains of the patrolman, who died at his post of duty, were brought to Ipswich, and on Sunday, January 24, he was buried here with full military honors. The remains were placed in the rooms of the Ipswich Post No. 80, American Legion, and laid there in state, where they were viewed by many of the people of the town. The burial services of the Legion Post were held at these headquarters, after which the remains were taken to St. Joseph’s Church, where a very largely attended public funeral service was held.

Monday, January 26, 1920 Boston Herald

8 thoughts on “William Clancy, WWI hero”

    1. Hi my uncle was the son of William Clancy and I have some letters and the flag and other memorabilia would love to hear from anybody who has any interest in William Clancy

  1. My grandma was the sister of william clancys wife I have the flag and some memorabelia

  2. He was my uncle . My father ( John, his brother) was 6 when he was killed . Th Boston PD still sends a wreath to his grave every year on Memorial Day . When I was a Newburyport Police Officer in the 1970’s, I had the privilege of placing the wreath on his grave one year .

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