Claude Rex Cleaver

The following biography was written by Victoria Doran. When the research into the names on the Grange Hill War Memorial began, it quickly became apparent that the memorial does not bear the names of everybody who was associated with the area. The local newspaper printed some additional names on 22nd December 1922 and other names can be found on different local memorials and in cemeteries and church yards. Victoria has done very well to uncover the following fascinating story of a soldier who has not been commemorated locally in any form whatsoever.


Claude Rex Cleaver is not recorded on any of the memorials in Wirral but he did live in West Kirby for several years as a youth. His eldest brother Harold Willoughby Cleaver (1879-1950) married an elder sister of NICHOLAS ALBERT ROY VAN GRUISEN, one of those recorded on the Grange Hill War Memorial. He is the only known soldier with a West Kirby connection to have died in East Africa during the Great War.

He was born on 12th July 1885 in Toxteth Park, Liverpool the third son and fifth child of Harris Peugeot Cleaver (1853-1925) and Helen Frances Phoebe Makin (1852-1887). Both sides of the his family had enjoyed extremely comfortable middle class life styles for several generations, generally employing at least 3 household servants, and occasionally as many as nine, so he was brought up in relative luxury. His father had succeeded his grandfather William Cleaver (1811-1880) as Clerk to the Liverpool Board of Guardians, which was roughly equivalent to being the chief executive of the council. There was real wealth on his mother’s side of the family, where his maternal great grandfather Charles Shaw (1792-1865) was a very successful jeweller, merchant and nail maker in Birmingham. The Cleaver TB Hospital in Heswall was the idea of his father and named for the family. 

The Cleaver Hospital in Heswall: opened on 2nd October 1902 and closed in 1983 from here.

The Cleaver Hospital in Heswall: opened on 2nd October 1902 and closed in 1983 from here.

Unfortunately his mother died when he was just two years old, giving birth to his youngest full sister Nellie. His father was remarried to Ellen Sarah Rohrweger (1857-1934) a year later. Ellen came from a similarly privileged background, although somewhat more adventurous in that her father was German and her mother’s family had strong Canadian and Caribbean connections. Harris Peugeot Cleaver and Ellen had 3 children, two of whom survived infancy, so Claude Rex Cleaver was brought up alongside his half siblings Geoffrey Harris Cleaver (1891-1970) who served as a Captain in the Royal Artillery during the war, and May Florence Cleaver (b1897). 

Probably as children Claude Rex and his siblings saw more of their nannies than of either their mother or step mother, as would have been normal for their class at that time. In 1891 the family were living at 1 Princes Park Terrace, Princes Park, Liverpool. At some time after January 1897 when May Florence was born, the family moved to ‘Clavis’, Meols Drive, West Kirby, just opposite St Andrew’s Church. The family was still there when sister Beryl married Charles Townley Graham on October 1906 at St Bridget, and also on 12th April 1909 when brother Percy Alan was married to Nina Maitland at Bogawantalawa, Ceylon. They had moved back to Liverpool by 1911 when the family including Claude Rex (presumably on home leave) were living at 13 Devonshire Road, Toxteth Park.  

Claude Rex attended Mostyn House School, Parkgate and then from 1899 to 1903 he was educated at Churchill House at Shrewsbury School. He followed this by training as an army officer at Sandhurst. On 5 August 1905 he joined the Indian Army. According to the Indian Army Quarterly List for January 1912, he attained his then rank of Lieutenant on 5 November 1907. In 1912 he was stationed in Calcutta as an officer of the 29th Punjabis.

29th Punjabis' Badge

29th Punjabis’ Badge

Claude Rex Cleaver's Medal Card

Claude Rex Cleaver’s Medal Card

His Medal Card appears to suggest that Claude Rex Cleaver was only entitled to the 15 Star. It seems probable that he actually arrived in Africa about November 1914 as a member of Indian Expeditionary Force C with his regiment, and he seems by then to have been promoted to Captain. Their original purpose was to protect the railway line from Mombasa to Uganda.

Indian Soldiers in German East Africa taken from here.

Indian Soldiers in German East Africa taken from here.

The following notes on his death were kindly supplied by James Willson of Tsavo Guerrillas who has published a book on the war in East Africa and who runs battlefield tours there:

Captain Claude Rex Cleaver, 29th Punjabis Regiment, was severely wounded and captured by the Schutztruppe during the engagement at Mbuyuni, Tsavo-Serengeti plains on the morning of 14 July 1915 during an ill conceived attack on a well dug in German defensive post that lay 20 miles inside British territory astride the Maktau to Taveta caravan route. He died of wounds on 19 July 1915 in the Moshi German Hospital and now buried in the Moshi CWGC cemetery. His commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Henry Allan Vallings and 21 sepoys were killed during the same engagement.

He is also memorialised in Liverpool Town Hall, Shrewsbury School and on the Mostyn House Roll of Honour, which is now housed at Charterhouse School along with their memorial Carillon of Bells. From his Indian Probate Records it is known he had a piano in India. It would be nice to think it was one made by the Van Gruisen family firm, and it shows him to have been a somewhat more rounded individual than the average Indian Army Officer is often portrayed as. He was also charitable leaving money to the men of his regiment. 

Birth: 12 July 1885 at Liverpool
Death: 19 July 1915 in hospital at Taveta, German East Africa
Addresses: 1 Princes Park Terrace, Liverpool (91); Clavis, Meols Drive, West Kirby (06); 13 Devonshire Road, Toxteth Park (11); Calcutta, India (12)
Occupation: Indian Army officer
Unit: 29th Punjabis, Indian Army
Rank: Captain
Medals: 15 Star, Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: Moshi Cemetery, Tanzania, Liverpool Town Hall, Shrewsbury School, Mostyn House School Roll of Honour
Sources:  CWGC, MC, DA, Census: 91, 11, Shrewsbury School website, Mostyn House website, Indian Army Quarterly List 1912, FIBIS website, PR, Probate




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