Peter Cleasby-Thompson was born on 20 July 1913 and attended the Royal Military College as a gentleman cadet. He was granted a commission on 31 August 1933 and served as a 2nd Lieutenant, initially on the unattached list for the Indian Army.

He joined the Lancashire Fusiliers on 8 December 1934 and served with the Regiment in India, Palestine and China until 1939. At the outbreak of war he was at the Regimental Depot, Bury, Lancashire.

He fought in France and Belgium with a Territorial Battalion, and was fortunate in being one of the few survivors who were evacuated from Dunkirk.

Soon after his return to the UK, and by now a Temporary Captain, he volunteered for the airborne forces at its formation in 1940, and took command of B Troop, No 2 (Parachute) Commando, the embryo from which the Parachute Regiment was born.

Towards the end of 1940, he formed part of a group which made the first demonstration of what British Parachute Troops might one day accomplish at Shrewton on Salisbury Plain, set before a gathering of War Lords and distinguished spectators. The men dropped near Shrewton and at once set about seizing their objectives. For this purpose Peter Cleasby-Thompson, commanding members from 'B' Troop, commandeered a large limousine and in it, 'surprised the bridge-guard' at Shrewton. It was not until later in the day that he discovered that the car belonged to one of the more distinguished of the spectators, His Royal Highness, Prince Olaf of Norway! This was the beginning of Peter's "PARA" career. 

As the airborne forces expanded and restructured No 2 Commando was redesignated as 11 SAS Battalion and then 1st Parachute Battalion, in August 1941, on the formation of 1st Parachute Brigade.  By now a Major, Peter took command of R Company with Sam Steadman as Acting Company Sergeant Major. 

He spent a three month spell, in 1942, as the Chief Instructor at the Airborne Forces Depot and School before returning to R Coy and the 1st Battalion in September, shortly before they embarked for North Africa. 

Peter fought with the battalion throughout the North African Campaign, and the cold wet winter in Tunisia where the Battalion suffered very heavy casualties. He was awarded the Military Cross for his part in a brilliant ambush of a German armoured column, and used a captured scout car to carry his wounded back for treatment. The citation for his award records:

“On the 17 Nov, this officer was ordered to take a mobile column and harass enemy lines of communication between S’NSIR - MATEUR.
On the l8th December Major CLEASBY-THOMPSON by skilful use of the troops under his command was successful in destroying a strong enemy reconnaissance force of 3 eight wheeled armoured cars and three reconnaissance cars. The complete enemy force was completely destroyed and the crews of the cars either killed or taken prisoner. None of the enemy were allowed to escape and the vehicles were left unfit for further use with exception of one which was brought back to our own lines. Our casualties were one slightly wounded. The success of the entire operation was due to the magnificent example of Major CLEASBY-THOMPSON’s determination to close with the enemy and his courage and gallantry in face of heavy enemy fire. He had also to overcome opposition by the French at S’NSIR who would give him no assistance and refused to lift the mines from the road to allow his Platoon to go through.” 

He took over command of the 1st Battalion some time later when Lieutenant Colonel Alastair Pearson was stricken with malaria. He fought with the 1st Battalion in Sicily and up through Southern Italy, from where the Battalion was brought home to recuperate and reform into the Brigade which ultimately went to Amhem. 

During this training period, he was posted to the Staff College in Australia, at Canberra, and went from there as Liaison Officer with the Australian Army to New Guinea, where tropical jungle terrain created an extra dimension of endurance to the arduous campaign.

After a brief period back in England, his parachute and jungle warfare experience was applied to the planning at Supreme Allied Command South East Asia HQ in Ceylon, for the attack against the Japanese in Malaya, but this predicted ordeal was forestalled by the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which compelled the Japanese to surrender. 

He then became GSO1 (Air) for 44 Indian Airborne Division until February 1946, when he was posted back to the UK, to run the Parachute Course Administration Unit (PCAU). While doing a night jump at the school he broke his leg, and for a while afterwards his movements around the offices were beaconed to his subordinates by the thud of his plaster cast on the floor as he walked!

Peter spent a year in Hong Kong, followed by another in Malaya, as Brigade Major to the Gurkha Infantry Brigade during the emergency.

He returned to the UK and became Commanding Officer of 13 PARA (TA) from 1952 to 1954 before moving to the School of Land Air Warfare as GSO1. 

Promoted to Colonel in 1958, he concluded his Regular Army career as Colonel, General Staff, Malta Command in 1962. 

A stint at the Army Museums Ogilby Trust in London was followed by two years in Sutherland.

In 1969, Colonel Peter returned to work for the Army in a civilian capacity as Commandant of the Stanford Training Area in Norfolk. As this entailed the care of pheasants and a trout stream, as well as supervision of a beautiful training area, he was able to combine his greatest interests, the Army, field sports, and nature conservation. He derived enormous satisfaction and contentment from this role until his untimely death in 1980, while walking the training area with binoculars in hand.

Read More

Related People


Make a donation to Airborne Assault ParaData to help preserve the history of The Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces