John Thomas Cleaver, Private 352525, 2/9th Battalion, Manchester Regiment
Died of wounds 4th August 1917 in Le Tréport, France, aged 20
John Thomas Cleaver was born on May 12th 1897 and baptised on 29th August 1897 with his older sister Florence at St George’s Church, Sutton, Macclesfield. He was the son of Sarah Jane and James Edwin Cleaver, Silk Dyer, of 19 John Street, Sutton, Macclesfield.
By 1901 the family had moved to 67 Pitt Street, Macclesfield. James was still working as a Silk Dyer to support his wife and family of six children: Harry (15), James (10), Esther (8), Florence (6), John (3) and baby Albert, just four months old. James’ 18 year old nephew and future husband of Esther, Arthur Wright, was also living there.
Ten years later in 1911 the family had moved to 33 Cross Street, Macclesfield. James was still employed as a Silk Dyer and his wife and three of the children were all employed as Silk Embroiderers. John was aged 13 and described as a ‘gimp worker’. Gimp is a narrow ornamental trim used in sewing or embroidery, made of silk, wool, or cotton and often stiffened with metallic wire or coarse cord running through it. So the whole family depended on the silk industry for their employment, apart from ten year old Albert, who was still at school.
At some time during the period 1911 – 1917, 33 Cross Street became James Edwin Cleaver’s fruit shop; but by 1917 the family had moved to 2 Coronation Street, the address to which the war correspondence was sent.
Prior to enlisting in Macclesfield, John Cleaver worked at White’s Dyeworks. Silk dyeing was a traditional family occupation over many years – John’s Great Grandfather Henry Cleaver was a silk dyer from Coventry who moved with his family to Macclesfield in the 1830’s, presumably in search of work. James his grandfather had been a silk dyer, as had his father, James Edwin Cleaver, for many years of his working life. John’s younger brother Albert also became a silk dyer.
During his leisure time, John was a playing member of the Byron Street Football Club and attended Byron Street School and Chapel, this probably being the reason he is one of only four names listed on the Byron Street Bourne Primitive Methodist Chapel War Memorial. Many of his evenings were spent in the Parsonage Street Billiard Hall, where he was well known.
John’s battalion went to France in February 1917, embarking from Colchester. In April – May they were at Cambrin and Brigade reserve doing 3 days at the front line and 3 days off. On 31st July they were in trenches at Neuport – Bains (on the Belgian coast) under heavy shell fire and it is believed that this is where John received a gunshot wound to his left knee.
John was moved to No. 47 General Hospital at Le Treport (near Dieppe); an operation was performed on the morning of 4th August and it was found necessary to amputate his leg. He died later that day, aged 20.
John’s death was reported in the Macclesfield Times on 10 August 1917:
TWO SONS KILLED – POPULAR YOUNG SOLDIER’S DEATH
Mr and Mrs J T Cleaver, 2 Coronation St, Macclesfield, have been officially notified that their third son, Private John Thomas Cleaver, Manchester Regt, has died in hospital from wounds sustained in action in France. A War Office telegram received stated: “Regret to inform you O.C. 47 General Hospital Le Treport telegraphs 4th August 352525, Private J T Cleaver, Manchester Regt, died on a date not stated from gunshot wound, left knee.” A previous intimation stated that Private Cleaver was dangerously wounded, and the matron of the hospital wrote to say he was not improving as they could wish and he was considered to be seriously ill. Later the Matron wrote: “I cannot tell you how grieved I am to have such tragic news for you. Everything happened so suddenly. The loss of your son will, I fear, be a tremendous shock to you. The operation was in the morning, when it was found absolutely necessary to amputate his leg. Your son was in a state of collapse afterwards, but seemed to pick up after all that was done to revive him. Then he became much worse again and nothing did him any good. He will be buried in the English Military Cemetery here at Treport and his few personal belongings will be forwarded to you in due course. He has been such a good, brave boy through his illness that I cannot tell you how we shall miss him and how deeply we sympathise with you in your great loss.”
A native of Macclesfield, Private Cleaver was only twenty years of age. He was educated at the Centenary and London Road Branch day schools, and attended the Bourne Primitive Methodist Chapel and Sunday School, Byron Street. Prior to joining the Army, the deceased soldier was employed at Messrs White’s Dyeworks. He was a well-known local footballer, and at one time played for Byron Street Football Club. He was also a keen fisherman. Private Cleaver responded to the call just over twelve months ago, being drafted out to France from Colchester seven months later. This is the second bereavement Mr and Mrs Cleaver have suffered during the war, another son, Private Harry Cleaver, Cheshire Regt, having been killed in action at Gaza on March 26th. Only one son now remains in the Army, namely Private James Cleaver, who has been serving with the Cheshires in Egypt for over two years. A pathetic circumstance of Private J T Cleaver’s death is that he was fully expecting to be sent back to England.
Private John Thomas Cleaver is buried in grave Ref. IV. L. 11B at Mon Huon Military Cemetery, Le Treport, France.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Private John Thomas Cleaver, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.
Brother of Harry Cleaver, who was killed in action in March 1917 whilst serving in Egypt with the 7th Cheshire Regiment; and of James (Jim) Cleaver, who also served with the 7th Cheshire Regiment and survived the war.
Thanks to Janet, great-niece of John Thomas Cleaver, for her assistance in compiling this information.