Lance Corporal William James Cleland


William James (Jim) Cleland was born on 27 May 1880 in Canal Street, Newry, County Armagh, the fifth of nine children of grocer William James Cleland and his wife Martha (née McBride). He later moved to Belfast where he worked as a carpenter. At some point he enlisted in the Royal Engineers, but purchased his discharged after just 61 days.

On 22 January 1900 Cleland enlisted in the 46th (Belfast) Company, Imperial Yeomanry (No.9474). He served in South Africa in the Boer War, where he was made a prisoner in the infamous surrender at Lindley at the end of May 1900. He managed to escape, however, as narrated in the Newry Reporter of 29 August 1900 under the headline 'Plucky Newry Yeoman':

Mr. Wm. J. Cleland, Canal Street, Newry, received on Monday the following letter from his son, Trooper James W. Cleland, of the Ulster Imperial Yeomanry, who was captured with his company at Lindley, after a hard fight lasting for several days:

"Ladysmith, 3rd August, 1900
"Dear Father and Mother, --I am sure you were all very uneasy about me when you heard we were captured by the Boers. You will be glad to learn that I am now all right. We were all removed to Nooitgedacht [later corrected to Harrismith] and placed in a prison there. The Boers treated us very badly, and had it not been for the British residents around us we would have been starved. After enduring the hardships for some time, I resolved, with several of my companions, to try and make my escape. Accordingly, one night I unscrewed a bar from our prison window, and, after helping my three companions to get out, I followed, and we managed to evade detection. I had to walk over 100 miles before I arrived at Ladysmith. It was a very dangerous and daring undertaking, but we managed it. When I arrived here I was brought before the commanding officer, who gave me a good dinner and then a little whisky and soda, and complimented me on my escape. ... We had five days hard fighting at Lindley. Poor Martin was riddled with bullets. The only Newryman killed was poor Tom Walker. The Boers lost more men than us in the fight. I was three days behind one rock, and I can assure you many a shot I fired in that time. We had only about one day's rations altogether during the five days we were hemmed in, so I can assure you I was not in the best of form. We held on for England's glory, and I hope to do a bit more fighting yet for the old country. I expect to be attached to the 13th Hussars for some time, anyhow, until my company is released."

Soon after he had returned to Newry from the war, Cleland was accepted for service with the Cape Mounted Police. He left for South Africa at the end of August 1901. According to the Newry Reporter:

Mr. Cleland, who has many well-wishers here, was accompanied to the station by a large number of young men, who gave him an enthusiastic send-off. A day or two since he was presented with a heavy gold ring and handsome silver cigarette-case by his friends and companions.

Cleland and his wife Mary (née Smith), later returned to Ireland, living in Belfast, where he resumed work as a carpenter and joiner. They had six children over the fourteen years from 1905.

Cleland enlisted in the North Irish Horse on 7 or 8 September 1914 (No.1158 – later Corps of Hussars No.71256). On 1 May 1915 he embarked for France with D Squadron, which at the time was serving as divisional cavalry to the 51st Division. William's brother Frank was also serving in France, with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. On 29 December that year the Belfast News-Letter reported that:

Mrs. Cleland, 4. Basin Walk, Newry, has received intimation that her son, Private Frank Moore Cleland, 24th Canadian Battalion, was wounded in the thigh in France a few days ago, and is now in hospital in Canterbury. Private Cleland was in Canada for some time prior to the war, and enlisted at Toronto. His brother, Corporal W. J. Cleland, North Irish Horse, who has been long resident in Belfast, has been invalided from the trenches to the Military Hospital, Victoria Barracks, Belfast.

William later returned to his squadron in France, which in May 1916 came together with A and E Squadrons to form the 1st North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to VII, XIX, then V Corps. In January 1918 he was one of sixteen men of the 1st NIH Regiment who transferred to the Tank Corps (No.305668).

Cleland remained with the Tank Corps until the end of he war. He was discharged on 26 February 1919 and granted a partial pension due to disabilities attributed to his war service. At some time later he emigrated to Canada, before moving to the United States.


Private Cleland's name appears on the document Newry's Roll of Honour.