The King’s Shot


Peter Hart recounts the story of a self-effacing British officer whose World War One service saw him brush shoulders with a king

Stewart Montague Cleeve was born in Southsea, Hampshire, on October 20, 1894. The son of a Royal Engineers officer, there was never much doubt as to his destiny in terms of his career. It was a family custom for all fit males to go into the army or navy; in fact, it was tradition. Cleeve remembered: “My brother’s eyes weren’t quite good enough for that, so he couldn’t go, but I went automatically – there was no question about my future from the day I was born.”

Nevertheless, his mother, a skilful pianist, was an equal influence and accordingly, he studied piano and the violin. He was educated at the Rokeby Preparatory school, before being sent off as a boarder to Dean Close School in Cheltenham. Cleeve also joined the Officers’ Training Corps where he rose to the rank of lance corporal and managed to pass his Certificate A, which qualified him for consideration for a commission.

He left school in 1912 and was supposed to go to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich but had terrible difficulty passing the entrance exams. Cleeve said: “History was one of the subjects and I was abominable at it. So much so that the most I ever got was 5/100! My parents were in despair because I twice took the entrance to Woolwich and failed. Then my mother had a brainwave – she knew that all Cleeves had a terrific sense of humour, so she presented me with Heath Robinson’s Monarchs of Merrie England – English history in rhyme and illustrated most amusingly!

Want to read more?

This is a premium article and requires an active subscription.

Existing subscriber? Sign in now

No subscription?

Pick one of our introductory offers