The life stories of those who crewed the first tanks in September 1916


Post Reply
Forum Home > General Discussion > Cambrai Gunner JS Cleaver 8th Battalion Section 11

Mike Cleaver
Posts: 1

I have a contribution that you may like to add to the new Cambrai section of your website.

I am the grandson of Gunner JS Cleaver a tank crewmember who was present at Cambrai. Here is a resumé.

8thBattalion, 24th Company, Section 11


H47 HenryVIII


TankCommander :


2ndLt. Isaac Lyness. (awarded MC for action at Barastre on March 24,1918)


Crew members :-


Gunner C.E.Lock (Leicester) Reg# 78661 (awarded Military Medal for Action at Fontaine on23rd Nov 1917)


GunnerJames Sidney Cleaver (Coventry)Reg.# 91213

Enlisted 5thOct 1916, aged 25, married to Alice Beaufoy, Occupation: Watchmaker.

They hadone son (Sidney Victor) born in 1919.


Gnr JamesCleaver came from a family of Watch and Clockmakers who had their shop on Gosford Street, Coventry.At the onset of war, he was employed as a miller for the Hotchkiss company ofSt Denis, (Seine) Francewho had established a munitions factory on that same street. The HotchkissArtillery Works was established in Coventry as adirect consequence of the threat early on in the war that the Germans mightcapture Paris.James worked there until 22nd Sept 1916, before deciding to join thefledgling Motor Machine Gun Corps (Heavy Section) which he thought sounded likea safer option than the infantry!

James kepta diary during his war service, which remains in the family along with hismedals and other mementoes. (A copy of the diary is available at the BovingtonTank Museum Archives.) The entries are short, and so it is best read alongsideCaptain Hickey’s book

 “Rolling into Action” who describes the sameevents in far more detail from the 23rd Company’s perspective.

At Cambrai,his tank Henry VIII was in the centre of the attack capturing Ribécourt on the20th Nov. Two days later, on the 23rd, his was the onlysurviving tank of 11 Section after the attack on the village of Fontaine:-

 “And we got our objective alright but we had avery hot time, machine gun and shell fire just like hell, Lock got wounded inthe left hand and I took over his gun and I got a few splinters in the eye butwas soon alright again arrived back at Ribécourt at 2am.I had a few hours sleepand I can tell you it was a job to go to sleep, we had breakfast and a washwhich we all needed very bad”

His lastaction at Cambrai was to help stall the german counterattack of the 30thNov/1st Dec.

“got to ourstarting point at 5pm, slept a bit ready to start off at 3-30 am to go over thetop at daybreak 6-30 am, we drove them right back and a bit further than wherethey came from, but we had our bus put out of action, we had the track knockedoff, but we got out with our L.G. and got in the line”

Jamesfortunately missed the action of the March 1918 retreat as he was on leave buttook part in all the other actions of the 8th Battalion up until 29thSept 18 when he notes:-

“Startedoff at 5am after a good breakfast, this is rather a hot quarter. about 9am wehad our officer gassed and then we had engine trouble and had to stop and hestarted shelling us, and he dropped one a bit close, I think that german musthave been a decent sort as he gave me a nice little bit through my leg, then Imade my way back to an American dressing station”

TheAmericans gave him two packs of cigarettes (which he brought back and theyremain unopened to this day!) before he was repatriated to Portsmouth hospital.


Perhaps hisattitude to the conflict is best summarised by the following entry:-


“15/12/1917They gave us a pass to Albert in the afternoon, it is 9 kilos away, me andanother chap walked there and back to see that famous Madonna and child. It isa big figure on top of the cathedral which has been shelled and it is hangingright over the pavement and the superstition is that when it falls the war willbe over and the sooner the better”


After thewar he returned to run the family Watchmakers business and died in 1966, at theage of 75.


January 2, 2012 at 3:24 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Site Owner
Posts: 9

Mike - thanks for sharing this new info


January 5, 2012 at 1:09 PM Flag Quote & Reply

You must login to post.