Lieutenant-Colonel George Harris Lea


Unit : Headquarters, 11th Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 58116

Awards : Member of the British Empire, Distinguished Service Order, Mentioned in Despatches


George Lea previously served with the Lancashire Fusiliers before acting as Brigade Major in the 4th Parachute Brigade. The 11th Battalion had proved to be something of a problem after a series of administrative mishaps, and also the CO, Lt-Colonel Micky Thomas, was not a firm enough man to whip the Battalion into shape. So in early 1944 he was relieved of his post and replaced with George Lea, who was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. In the coming months he made much progress in bringing the 11th Battalion up to speed.


Lea and his men arrived in Arnhem on the second day of Market Garden. Upon landing, Lea was informed by Brigadier Hackett that the 11th Battalion were detached from the Brigade and were ordered to advance into Arnhem to assist the 1st Para Brigade in their attempt to reach the Bridge. However despite the need for urgency, the Battalion spent several hours outside Divisional HQ until they received orders to move. When the order came they were skilfully led by some Dutch guides, and with their help they avoided a lot of German opposition and met with the 1st Para Brigade during Monday night, having only suffered light casualties. Lea arrived at the 1st Battalion HQ at about 02:30 on Tuesday 19th, and here he conferred with Lt-Colonel Dobie and Derek McCardie of the 2nd South Staffords. It was decided their attack would commence at 04:00, with the 1st Battalion and South Staffords leading the way, while Lea and his men followed on behind in reserve.


The assault was viciously countered with heavy gun and mortar fire, and continuous tank attacks. Both of the leading battalions were effectively destroyed and George Lea was preparing to move his men in to assist, but at 09:00 a vague order arrived on the radio from Major-General Urquhart. Having witnessed the fighting in the area, he decided that the 11th Battalion should not move in to help as it would be an action that would only lead to their unnecessary destruction. Lea ordered his men to hold and it was a further two hours before fresh orders arrived for him. Urquhart now charged the Battalion with the capture of some high ground in the area. It was hoped that with this in their hands, the remainder of the 4th Para Brigade would be able to make a successful attack in their direction. Lt-Colonel Lea gathered the remaining men of the South Staffords, now commanded by Major Cain, and instructed them to capture some other high ground to support their attack.


The 11th Battalion were engaged in heavy fighting by this time and it took several hours for Lea to disengage his men from the battle, but were able to begin moving away by 14:30. Unfortunately the Germans realised their intention and caught the whole Battalion out in the open and cut them apart with tanks and mortars. Only 150 men managed to get away from the slaughter, however George Lea was not amongst them. He had been wounded and was captured.


After the war in 1946, Lieutenant-Colonel Lea commanded the 15th (British) Parachute Battalion until it was disbanded in December of that year. During the 1950's he commanded the 22nd SAS during the Malaya Emergency, and for his conspicuous conduct during this campaign he was made a Member of the British Empire, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Mentioned in Despatches.


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