David Louis Clemetson may well have been the first black officer in the British Army. This is an honour that is often assigned to Walter Tull but, despite previous soldier service, Walter did not commission as an officer until 30 May 1917, whereas David commissioned on 27 Oct 1915 (see the London Gazette below). Little is known about David, although a Trinity College (Cambridge) document tells us he was born on 01 Oct 1893 in Port Maria, St Mary, Jamaica and he was the son of David Robert and Mary Clemeston of ‘Frontier’, Port Maria.
He was educated at Potsdam, Jamaica, and Clifton College in Bristol, England, (a record exists of him sailing home from Bristol in 1910) before joining Trinity College, Cambridge, on June 25, 1912. He seemed to be a keen sportsman and he rowed in the Rugby Club boat at the bumps. He later volunteered for service and enlisted in the Sportsmen’s Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (either 23Bn or 24Bn). This account informs us David had been injured in Salonika before being invalided back to England and then joining the Pembroke Yeomanry (24 Welsh). David was sadly killed near Péronne, Somme, on Sep 21 1918, and he is buried at Unicorn Cemetery in Vendhuile. There is also a story that associates David with being the first black officer to be killed in action, but his death was preceded by that of Walter Tull, who was sadly killed on 25 Mar 1918 in the Pas-de-Calais.
The account with the Sportman’s Battalions and his injury at Salonika don’t quite fit in with Davids commission in Oct 1915, as this is when the Salonika offensive started, and the Sportsman’s Battalions don’t seem to have left the UK before Nov of that year, when they landed at Boulogne. That said David could have been seconded to another unit, or he could have been Gazetted almost at point of injury. His medal record card clearly shows he was an Acting Lance Sergeant (equivalent to Corporal) in the Royal Fusiliers with his number being 520. His Battalion is simply listed as ‘Sports’. It also adds that he first served in France, entering on 19 Mar 18, but this may only be in relation to Pembroke Yeomanry service. He was posthumously awarded the Victory Medal.