Cunliffe-Lister, The Hon. John Yarborough


The Hon John Yarborough Cunliffe-Lister was born on 10th June 1913, the elder son of Viscount Swinton (F 1897-1902) and Countess Swinton (nee Boynton) of Swinton, Masham, Yorkshire.   His father was a Conservative MP, President of the Board of Trade 1922-3 and 1924-9, Secretary of State for the Air 1935-8, Cabinet Minister Resident in West Africa 1942-4, Minister for Civil Aviation 1944-5 and Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations 1952-5; he died in 1972.

His brother was Squadron Leader the Hon. Philip Ingram Cunliffe-Lister (F 1931-1933) who served with 608 Squadron and 521 Squadron.  On July 17th 1943, along with Pilot Officer 135287 A. Pat Kernon, he took off from RAF Oakington in Mosquito IX LR502; the next morning, he made a forced landing in Germany after his aircraft ran out of fuel following a navigational error. He and his navigator evaded capture for four days, but were rounded up and sent to a transit camp for Air Force Prisioners of War before going to Stalag Luft 3 at Sagan, where he remained until the end of the war. He died in 1956.

John Cunliffe-Lister came to Southgate House in September 1926, leaving in 1931 to spend some time in Germany.   He then went up to Trinity College, Oxford to read PPE.  On 28th May 1936 he married Anne Irvine Medlicott, the sister of his greatest Wykehamical friend, J J Medlicott (F 1927-1932) and daughter of Canon Robert Medlicott (F 1883), Canon of Winchester Cathedral and Rector of Burghdene, near Newbury.

He joined the Staffordshire Yeomanry in 1939, and found himself in a unit still mounted on horses.    In December that year they were mobilised for overseas service with 6 Cavalry Brigade of 1st Cavalry Division. although by August 1941 they had been equipped with tanks.  Ordered into the Western Desert on 14th June 1942, 8th Armoured Brigade, as they now were, left El Khataba on 16th June  and were in Mersa Matruh on 19th June.   The Germans, however, had just broken through the British Gazala Line and the Allies were in retreat.  Tobruk fell on 22nd June, British units disintegrated in the retreat and Libya was lost.    A defensive line was formed at El Alamein.  On 8th August the Staffordshire Yeomanry were inspected by Sir Winston Churchill and General Sir Alan Brooke.   A frequent visitor was General Montgomery, newly appointed Commander of the 8th Army.  They saw their first action at the Battle of Alam Halfa on 1st September when they engaged enemy guns and tanks, destroying three enemy tanks  and knocking out a number of enemy anti-tank guns.

By now, Cunliffe-Lister had been promoted to Major and the Regiment was in training for its role as the spearhead armoured unit in the attack planned for late October: the Battle of El Alamein.  On the night of 23rd October 1942 the Staffordshire Yeomanry moved up to their positions, reaching their start line at midnight.  During the course of the following day they claimed 17 enemy tanks and two anti-tank guns.  However, in attempting to advance, the Yeoman were enfiladed (where gun fire and shells are directed from the side down the length of the line) causing the Staffords to lose 9 Crusader tanks and 2 of their Sherman tanks.

On November 2nd, the breakthrough occurred, and the Staffordshire Yeomanry began their advance and pursuit of Rommel’s forces, which would not end until the surrender of Axis forces in May 1943.

They saw action again on 13th – 15th December 1942, at El Agheila, destroying 7 enemy tanks and 3 guns.    Tripoli was captured by the British 8th Army on 23rd January.

The advance in Tunisia followed with an assault on the Mareth Line, led by the Staffords.  They succeeded in breaching the line, and as the Regiment advanced towards the coast they encountered the  German rear guard and destroyed 6 enemy tanks, for the loss of one Sherman.

On 8th April they encountered more enemy tanks, including 13 of the new Tiger tanks, but during the advance on Enfidaville, probably on 12th April, Cunliffe-Lister was severely wounded during concentrated shelling from the enemy, and died shortly afterwards.  He was buried in grave VIII.B.10 of Enfidaville War Cemetery.  His commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Eadie, wrote of him that in circumstances in which deeds of conspicuous gallantry were everyday occurrences, he had again and again been lost in admiration of Cunliffe-Lister’s fine qualities.

Cunliffe-Lister left two sons, the elder of whom, David Yarborough Cunliffe-Lister (G1950-1955), was born in 1937, and went on to become Lord Masham of Ellington. The other son was Nicholas John Cunliffe-Lister (G1952-1957), born in September 1939.

War: World War 2

  • Surname: Cunliffe-Lister
  • Forenames or initials: Hon. John Yarborough
  • House: F
  • Years in School: 1926-1931
  • Rank: Major
  • Regiment: Staffordshire Yeomanry
  • Date of Birth: 10th June 1913
  • Date of Death: 14th April 1943
  • How Died: Killed in Action
  • Location in War Cloister: Inner F1
  • Decoration: NA
  • Burial Site: Enfidaville War Cemetery: Grave VIII.B.10