Captain John Cloudsley-Thompson

War on Land - Allied: British and Commonwealth
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John Cloudsley-Thompson as an Orderly Officer with the 4th County of London Yeomanry in El Amiriya, October 1941
John Cloudsley-Thompson as an Orderly Officer with the 4th County of London Yeomanry in El Amiriya, October 1941

Born in May 1921, at Murree in India, John Cloudsley-Thompson was educated at Marlborough and Pembroke College, Cambridge. His war experiences began at the outbreak of hostilities by assisting his father, who was Medical Officer of Health for Lambeth, in organising the casualty clearing stations in the borough.

John had been a member of the Officer Training Corps at school. Along with school friends, he volunteered for the army at a Reception Unit in Reading in September 1939. Cloudsley-Thompson indicated his preference for the Royal Tank Regiment as 'I would rather drive than march in the infantry and also I would like to see what I was shooting at and therefore not serve in the R.A.!' After a spell in the Local Defence Volunteers and Home Guard, which he joined while waiting to be called-up, John remembers the great fire raid on London, 29 December 1940, in which he was caught, while attempting to return from leave to his training regiment at Tidworth. After further training at Sandhurst, John was commissioned into 4th Queens Own Hussars. After a call for volunteers he transferred to the 4th County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) who were due to leave for overseas service with 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats) within a week. He went with his friend, David Gotch, and was pleased to receive a warm welcome.

Whilst in a camp in the desert outside Alexandria, John suffered a bout of bacillary dysentery and recovered in hospital. Fearing that he would be sent to a convalescent camp and miss the coming battle, he wrote an SOS letter to his Colonel requesting him to facilitate a return to the Regiment. This was organised in time for him to take part in Operation Crusader in November 1941. By this time, John was B Squadron Transport Officer, in charge of delivering supplies of food, ammunition and petrol for the tanks. He experienced the confusion of desert battle conditions while trying to supply the Squadron and ended up running into the South African Division, warning them that German tanks (21st Panzer Division) were in close proximity.

Italian M13, El Gubi, November 1941.
Italian M13, El Gubi, November 1941.

After Christmas 1941, while the Regiment was stationed at Beni Yusef, John was promoted to Tank Commander and spent his 21st birthday in the desert celebrating with a party complete with cake made by the mess staff. Shortly after, John's tank, a Crusader A15 Mark VI, was knocked out during the Knightsbridge battle and the crew were all injured or killed. John himself suffered a severe leg injury and was evacuated to Tobruk Hospital. After recuperating in South Africa, John's next posting was as Gunnery Instructor at Sandhurst. Despite paralysis in his leg, with which he suffers to this day, John 'wangled' a medical upgrade in order to take part in the Normandy landings on board an LCT with nine tanks. Heading through Villers-Bocage the Reconnaisance tanks ahead of RHQ, which was then under John's command, were hit. RHQ also came under attack. John's tank, a Cromwell, was hit by fire from the Super-Tiger of SS-Hauptsturmführer M. Wittman and the crew forced to bale out. They took shelter in a cellar and went through a dramatic game of hide-and-seek for four days, before managing to rejoin the Squadron, bringing with them important intelligence information on the positions of German tanks and troops in the vicinity. After taking part in the Caen offensive of July 1944, John returned home to his new wife, Anne and they subsequently had three sons.

Post-war, John Cloudsley-Thompson completed his education at Cambridge and was appointed to a lectureship at King's College London. He later became Professor of Zoology at the University of Khartoum and is now Professor Emeritus at Birkbeck College, University of London. He has written over fifty books and is a specialist on desert reptile and arthropods.

We are honoured to preserve the Second World War material and memories of both Anne and John Cloudsley-Thompson in the Centre's archives and both now feature on our Website.

ME 109, November 1941.
ME 109, November 1941.

The November Handicap, 1941 Dawn.

The Stukas screamed towards us out of the rising sun, their bombs hurtling earthwards like vicious black eggs. A crash, clouds of yellow and black smoke swirling slowly upwards and they had gone. I changed the empty Bren magazine while machine-gun and rifle fire crackled all round. Then another winged silhouette came towards me. The black crosses on its wings were quite visible. Aiming off to allow for its speed, I pressed the trigger again. More bombs and a lorry burst into flames: black smoke reflected their ruddy glow. There was a distant drone of engines and then silence. The attack was over.

(Extract from the Royal Armoured Corps Journal Vol 10 (4) 1956)

Cloudsley-Thompson's first tank crew. Trooper Webb (P.O.W.), Trooper J. Sagar (K.I.A.), Trooper P J Baldwin (K.I.A.) and Trooper Taylor (K.I.A.)
Cloudsley-Thompson's first tank crew. Trooper Webb (P.O.W.), Trooper J. Sagar (K.I.A.), Trooper P J Baldwin (K.I.A.) and Trooper Taylor (K.I.A.)
'Brew up' on the 'F' Route, January 1942.
'Brew up' on the 'F' Route, January 1942.