About Us





More Features

People, Places & Events



Book Reviews




Captain Bobby Cleveland-Stevens
Late Welsh Guards
by Paul de Zulueta
formerly Welsh Guards

Bobby Cleveland-Stevens, who has died a few months short of his centenary, led a life with little to distress or vex him. After his wartime experience, however, few would begrudge him his subsequent carefree and jolly life. Bobby said his was the first tank to enter and liberate Brussels on 3rd September 1944 and, although he’s not the first Welsh Guards officer to claim such an accolade, it may well have been true. He had endured three months of bitter fighting in Normandy where the 2nd Battalion had sustained over 100 casualties, and where he was to witness the death of his close friend and fellow troop commander, the remarkable artist Rex Whistler. In recognition of his fortitude, the French State awarded Bobby the Légion d’Honneur.

Bobby’s early life was full of promise. He was a scholar at Westminster School, from where he won an exhibition to read Law at Christ Church, Oxford. Like many of his contemporaries, who had looked back on the horrors of the Great War, he became a pacifist and conscientious objector in the 1930s. But he was also a realist remarking ‘the purpose of a pacifist is to prevent war but it was too late for that and I decided to join the most efficient, civilised, and agreeable of Regiments which, by all accounts, was the Welsh Guards’. A family friend, Sir John Phillips, introduced him to the then Regimental Lieutenant Colonel, the redoubtable ‘Chicot’ Leatham, a former Grenadier, who chose officers who he thought should be both warriors and convivial company, famously remarking, ‘I know an officer when I see one and I don’t need to be told by any of these new-fangled Officer Cadet Training Units whether he’s any dammed good’.

Adversity brings lasting friendships and Bobby found many kindred spirits among the eclectic bunch of Welsh Guards wartime officers. He struck up an immediate friendship with Rex Whistler, the brilliant decorative artist, who wrote an illustrated letter of application to ‘Chicot’ Leatham outlining the value to the Regiment of his artistic training. Bobby recalled Rex breaking strict radio silence as the 2nd Battalion was training for Normandy in Yorkshire, ‘Oh do look everyone, what a marvellous sunset, all those golds and blues’.

Just a few months later, on 1st July 1944, Bobby found himself chatting to Rex as they leaguered up after fierce fighting near Bayeux. Rex went over to talk to his troop sergeant whose tank was a 100 metres away and was hit by a mortar shell. It was a huge personal loss to Bobby. He fought on with the 2nd Battalion but was wounded himself by a mortar shell in the back of the neck and spent the last days of the war in a hospital in Celle.

After the war ended, and he had recovered, he was made Education and Welfare Officer where the Battalion was stationed at Bensburg near Cologne. The appointment suited his creative talents. The Battalion choir flourished once again, and he even put together a string quartet to play chamber music in the Officers’ Mess. Bobby recalled one amusing vignette when he found himself involved in releasing German prisoners of war, who were a little restive so the Brigadier felt he should give them a Monty style ‘pep talk’. ‘Now look here, I want you to settle down, you are the elite of the German Army and you’re being guarded by the elite of the British Army, The Welsh Guards’. Bobby asked the Brigadier if that was all he wanted to say, to which the Brigadier replied, ‘Yes, yes, that’ll do the trick, I just wanted a word with them’.

Bobby, discharged in late 1946, returned to Oxford to complete his Law degree and qualify as a barrister. He never pursued his Law career although he possessed the intellect, attributes and temperament to grasp its highest reaches. He was, in the idiom of the day ‘very well orf’ on his mother’s side of the family. Ironically, given his wartime record, his mother’s family were German Jews and owned substantial vineyards in Hochheim on the Main, the heart of the Rheingau wine region. History does not relate how they kept hold of the estates, perhaps the German High Command enjoyed a fine glass of Hock too much. To prevent looting at the end of the war, the estates were in the American Zone, Bobby drove with his Commanding Officer, Jim Windsor, Lewis, to persuade the local American commander to put up signs at the vineyards’ entrance, Out of Bounds to US Personnel.

Bobby’s subsequent life was a little hazy but certainly enjoyable. He had a small business providing decorative trays for Harrods and spent his time equally between France and Sloane Square. He had a long, loving relationship with his partner, Pieter, who had been in the Dutch resistance. Pieter died in 2002. In his last years, Bobby was well cared for by his nieces. Anyone from the Regiment, who visited him in his beautifully appointed flat in Sloane Square, would be invited to enjoy a very good glass of Hock, regardless of the time of the day.

Bobby’s prized possession was a painting by Rex Whistler of Bobby’s gun muzzle entitled Phoenix Rising from the Ashes.

© Crown Copyright