Obituary: Lt-Gen Sir Ian Harris

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The Independent Culture
IAN HARRIS commanded the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR) on D-Day 1944 and led them with considerable courage through some of the fiercest fighting in the months that followed. He had trained his men particularly well, knitting them into a close fraternity and inspiring in them an admiration and respect for him and faith in his leadership. As a consequence morale seldom faltered in his battalion and as one of his officers who fought alongside him was to recall, "we took our victories and our wounds as if they were everyday occurrences".

"Tommy" Harris led a skilful attack on Cambes and his battalion led the Allied Armies' thrust into Caen on 9 July 1944 where after a tough fight they later celebrated with the Canadians and the liberated population. For the next six months the battalion was seldom out of action, with a difficult assault crossing of the Meuse-Escaut Canal and further winter battles in Holland, in particular at Wanssum where casualties were high.

Harris was one of six brothers and three sisters, and spent his early life on his father's stud farm in Co Tipperary. Educated at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, he was commissioned into the Royal Ulster Rifles in 1930. He joined the First Battalion in Belfast and it was during a boxing match there that a spectator called out "Come on, Tommy" to encourage him. The name stuck.

Before the outbreak of the Second World War he enjoyed the life of a young subaltern with postings in the Sudan, Palestine, Egypt and Hong Kong, where he became Adjutant, while from 1937 to 1939 he was on the North West Frontier. He was a natural horseman and excelled at polo.

He returned to the UK when war broke out and held a series of staff appointments before being given command of the 2nd Battalion which he left in the battlefields of Holland at the end of December 1944.

From the bleak Dutch winter he was flown to India to become GSO 1 of 25 Indian Division in its tortuous advance down the Arakan coast in Burma. He was then sent to 7 Indian Division in its re-occupation of Malaya and remained in India to see through its independence. On his return to the UK he attend Junior Service Staff College before becoming AQMG Scottish Command until 1951.

In May that year he returned to his native Ulster to take command of 6 RUR (TA) before becoming Chief of Staff HQ Northern Ireland. Three years later he returned to the Malayan jungle to command the 1st Federal Infantry Brigade in searching out and destroying Communist terrorists. Through constant and intensive patrolling, gradually the terrorists were denied success.

On his return to the UK he was appointed Deputy Director of Staff Duties in the War Office, where he was responsible for executive deployment of the Army throughout the world. In 1960 he was made GOC Singapore and District and in 1963 he became Chief of Staff Contingencies Planning at Shape in Paris where he was in charge of Nato plans for dealing with the Russian threat to occupy West Berlin. Aware of his impending retirement, with his wife he bought some land in the South of France. His last military appointment was one he delighted in, for he became GOC Northern Ireland. Sadly by the time of his retirement from the Army in 1969, an ever-darkening shadow was enveloping the province.

As Regimental Colonel of the RUR he became deeply involved with the amalgamation of the three regiments that went to form the Royal Irish Rangers, steering it through with a combination of steely tenacity and charm, and becoming Regimental Colonel from 1968 to 1972.

On his retirement he became Chairman of the British Support Committee for the Memorial Museum at Caen, as well as being made an honorary citizen. He returned to his family partnership and management of the Ballykisteen Stud. He became Chairman (1977-79) and President (1984-88) of the Irish Bloodstock Breeders' Association

Tommy Harris never forgot those who served with him, and along with his wife, who had great flair and organisational skills at fund- raising, continued to work for the welfare of his former troops. He was a man of great humour and had a vast reservoir of kindness and warmth.

Ian Cecil ("Tommy") Harris, soldier and bloodstock breeder: born Golden, Co Tipperary 7 July 1910; DSO 1945; Chief of Staff, Northern Ireland 1952- 54; Commander 1 Federal Infantry Brigade, Malaya 1954-57; Deputy Director of Staff Duties, War Office 1957-60; CBE 1958, KBE 1967; GOC Singapore 1960-62; CB 1962; Chief of Staff Contingencies Planning, Shape 1963-66; GOC-in-C, then GOC NI Command 1966-69; married 1945 Anne-Marie Desmotreux (one son, and one son deceased); died Dublin 12 March 1999.

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