Dempsey, Miles “Lucky” “Bimbo”

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Dempsey, Miles, born 25-12-1896 in Cheshire, was educated at Shrewsbury School where he captained the first eleven Cricket team in 1914. On leaving Shrewsbury he joined Princess Charlotte of Wales’s Royal Berkshire Regiment. He served on the Western Front in France during the First World War, where he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery.attended the Royal Military College in Sandhurst during the first war. After the war, in 1919, Dempsey played two first-class cricket matches for Sussex against Oxford University and Northamptonshire. Between 1926 and 1932, he also played Minor Counties Championship cricket for Berkshire.

By the start of World War II Dempsey had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel and was commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment . In November he was promoted to command of the 13th Infantry Brigade, attached to the 5th Infantry Division  under command of Sir Richard Amyatt Hull , itself part of the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) in France. Hull died age 82 on 17-09-199 in Pinhoe, Devon. In common with other Allied units, his brigade was forced back to Dunkirk, where it provided part of the rear-guard for the evacuation. For his part in the evacuation, Dempsey was awarded the Distinquished Service Order.

In December 1942 he was promoted to Lieutenant General and commanded XIII Corps of the British Eight Army  under command of Neil Ritchie  during the North African Campaign against Field Marschall Erwin Rommel. Ritchie died old age 86 on 17-12-1983 in Toronto. Dempsey subsequently helped to plan the Invasion of Sicily and led the assault on Sicily in 1943. Dempsey later led the invasion of Italy across the Strait of Messina, in which his troops advanced more than 300 miles (480 km) to the north before linking up with American troops at Salerno.

In North Africa, Sicily and Italy, Dempsey had gained a reputation for his expertise in Combined Operations. This prompted Bernard Montgomery, here with Dempsey and Omar Bradley  his commanding officer in North Africa and Sicily, to select him to command the British Second Army  in January 1944. The Second Army was the main British force (although it also included Canadian Army units) involved in the D-Day landings, making successful assaults at Gold, Juno and Sword beaches on 6 June 1944.

The successful assaults were followed by a battle of attrition during which the Anglo-Canadian forces were frustrated by determined German resistance. This fighting forced the transfer of vital German units away from the eventual American break-out. Second Army made a rapid advance across northern France into Belgium, liberating Brussels and Antwerp in September 1944. On 15-10-1944, during a visit to the Second Army, King George VI knighted Dempsey on the battlefield. Because of the fast and successful advance over more than 200 miles in a week Dempsey got the nickname “Two Hundred Miles” Dempsey.

The Second Army crossed the Rhine on 23-03-1945 , and Dempsey here with Field Marshal Alan “Brookie” Brooke  was the first British Army commander to do so. On 07-04-1945, The  Illistrated London News carried a full front page of a specially commissioned portrait painting of Dempsey by artist Arthur Pan. In May, Dempsey’s men captured Bremen, Hamburg and Kiel. At 11.00 am on 3 May, a delegation of senior German officers led by General Admiral Hans Georg von Friedeburg arrived at Dempsey’s Tac HQ and after questioning it appeared that Friedeberg was a representative of General Wilhelm Keitel and Admiral Karl Donitz who wished to surrender. In typical fashion Dempsey sent them on their way to report to Montgomery which led to the formal surrender the next day at Lüneberg Heath.

After the end of the war in Europe, Miles Dempsey was appointed to the command of the British Fourteenth Army  and GOC in C Malaya Command and then Land Force Commander, South East Asia. The Japanese surrendered shortly afterwards. Within his command were 123.000 British and Dutch prisoners and nearly 750.000 captured Japanese.

Miles Dempsey was considered to be a highly competent officer. He asserted a very effective control over the British Second Army without taking the limelight. This was despite the stalemate in Normandy and the failure to advance beyond Antwerp and thus ensure that German forces remained isolated.

In 1946 he was appointed British Commander in Chief of Middle East Land Forces. He was made a General in 1946. Dempsey retired from the British Army in August 1947. In 1950, he was given a ‘shadow’ appointment as Commander In Chief, British Home forces. He was Colonel Commandant of the Royal Military police, the Special Air Service (1951–1960) and the Princess Charlotte of Wales Royal Berkshire Regiment.

In 1948, Dempsey married Viola O’Reilly , the youngest daughter of Captain Percy O’Reilly of Coolamber, County Westmeath, Ireland. The couple lived at “The Old Vicarage”, Greenham, Newbury, Berkshire, and later rented “Coombe House”, Yattendon, Berkshire. When the former house was requisitioned as part of the US Airforce base, President Dwight Eisenhower personally arranged compensation to be paid to his friend and wartime colleague.

He was Chairman of the Race Course Betting Board, H&G Simonds, Greene King and Sons (the first non-family chairman) and Deputy Chairman of Courage. Dempsey declined to write any memoirs about his military experiences. He ordered that his diaries be burned.

Death and burial ground of Dempsey, Miles “Lucky” “Bimbo”.

 After returning to England from visiting a nephew in Kenya, Dempsey was diagnosed with cancer. He died soon afterwards, on 04-06-1969, at the age of 72, almost exactly 25 years since the Normandy landings. He is buried at Yattendon, churchyard, in Berkshire.

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