b. 09/04/1887 Muswell Hill, London. d. 15/08/1971 Highgate, London.
Brett Mackay Cloutman (1891-1971) was born on 9th April 1887 in Muswell Hill, London, the son of Alfred Benjamin Cloutman and Clarissa Jane Cloutman. Brett was educated at Berkhamsted School, Bishop’s Stortford College and London University where he was a member of the Royal Engineers contingent of the university’s Officers’ Training Corps.
At the outbreak of World War I Cloutman enlisted as a Rifleman in the Rangers (12th Battalion, London Regiment), reached the rank of Lance-Corporal, and in 1915 was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Kent (Fortress) Engineers, a Territorial Force unit. In 1916, whilst on leave he married Margaret Hunter.
Cloutman, by then Acting Major in command of the 59th Field Company, Royal Engineers, was awarded the Military Cross for an action in September 1918 at Banteux, France, when he made a personal reconnaissance under heavy machine-gun fire to ascertain the possibilities of bridging the Canal de L’Escaut.
A few weeks later the action took place for which Cloutman was awarded his VC. On the 6th November, 1918, at Pont-sur-Sambre. Major Cloutman, after reconnoitring the river crossings, found the Quartes Bridge almost intact but prepared for demolition. Leaving his party under cover he went forward alone, swam across the river, and, having cut the “leads” from the charges, returned the same way, despite the fact that the bridge and all approaches thereto were swept by enemy shells and machine-gun fire at close range. Although the bridge was blown up later in the day by other means, the abutments remained intact.
The bridge had been prepared for demolition by the Germans, and was well defended. By cutting the wires, Cloutman prevented the enemy from blowing it up at the time. He was seen at the bridge, however, and escaped under an intense fire from its guards. The fact that the abutments were not destroyed later meant that the bridge could be more quickly replaced by the Allies.
This was the last act to be awarded a VC in the First World War. After the war Cloutman became a lawyer and was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1926. In World War II he served again in the Royal Engineers and received a mention in despatches. He became a King’s Counsel in 1946 and in 1947 he was appointed Senior Chairman of the War Pensions Tribunal. He was Senior Official Referee of the Supreme Court of Judicature (now the Senior Courts of England and Wales) 1954-63. He was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 1957. He was Master of the Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers 1939–40 and 1965–66.
Cloutman died aged 80 on the 15th August 1971 in Highgate, London, and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. His ashes were interred in his brother’s grave at Norfolk Cemetery on the Somme. His medal group including the VC, MC, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Italy Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, King George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953, are held by the Royal Engineers Museum, Chatham.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL ENGINEERS MUSEUM, CHATHAM, KENT.
BURIAL PLACE: GOLDERS GREEN CREMATORIUM, LONDON. ASHES IN HIS BROTHER’S GRAVE IN NORFOLK CEMETERY, THE SOMME.
Kevin Brazier – Images of the Golders Green Crematorium Map and Plaque
Richard Pursehouse – Image of his VC Stone in Hornsey, London.