Leese, Sir Oliver, born 27-10-1894 in London, 2nd Baronet, a barrister and the first of four children of William Hargreaves Leese (later 2nd Baronet), a barrister, and Violet Mary Sandeman. He was educated at Ludgrove and Eton. In 1909, while at Eton, he joined the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC). He was wounded three times, the last during the Somme offensive in 1916, an action in which he was Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the DSO . After the war, he remained in the army being promoted captain in 1921 and attended the Staff College, Camberley from 1927 to 1928. In November 1929 he was appointed as Brigade Major to 1st Infantry Brigade (Guards) and was formally promoted to major a few days later. He was promoted to brevet lieutenant-colonel in July 1933. From 1932 to 1938 Leese held a number of staff appointments and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in December 1936, brevet colonel in September 1938 and colonel in October 1938. In September 1938 he was posted to India to be a GSO1 instructor at the Staff College, Quetta. He had succeeded to the baronetcy on his father’s death on 17-01-1937. Leese returned to the UK from India in March 1940. It had been planned for him to command a brigade in Norway but with the German invasion of Western Europe in May, he was sent to join Lord Gort’s
headquarters as Deputy Chief of Staff of the British Expeditionary Force. He evacuated from Dunkirk with Gort on 31 May. On his return to the UK Leese was ordered to form and train a large brigade group, 29th Infantry Brigade, nicknamed “Frozen Arsehole“ . In December 1940 he was appointed acting Major General and given command of the West Sussex County Division which included 29th Brigade. A month later he was moved to command of the 15th Scottish Division. In June 1941 he was given command of the Guards Armoured Division during its formation and training. In September 1942 he was sent at the request of Eight Army commander Bernard Montgomery to North Africa to assume command, as an acting Lieutenant-General, of the Eighth Army’s XXX Corps , commander Neil Ritchie . Richie died old age 86, on 11-12-1983, in Toronto. Montgomery had formed a good opinion of Leese when he had instructed him at Staff College in 1927 and 1928 and had also been impressed by his work at GHQ in France. Leese commanded the Corps for the rest of the campaign which ended with the Axis surrender in May 1943 in Tunesia. He was mentioned in despatches for his services in North Africa. The Corps then took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 before returning to the UK after the Sicily campaign, which ended in August, to prepare for the planned invasion of Northwest Europe. Leese was promoted to temporary Lieutenant-General in September. Leese in 1943 receiving his knighthood in the field from King George VI .Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery pictured in North Africa sometime in late 1942 with his three corps commanders, from left to right: Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese, GOC XXX Corps, Lieutenant-General Herbert Lumsden, GOC X Corps, Lieutenant-General Bernhard Montgomery, Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, GOC XIII Corps Herbert Lumsden in January 1945 he was on board the U.S.S. New Mexico (BB-40) observing the bombardment of Luzon.The USS New Mexico, while supporting the pre-invasion shelling of Lingayen Gulf, was hit by a Japanese kamikaze on the bridge killing not only her commanding officer, Captain Robert Walton Fleming but also 29 others including Lieutenant General Herbert Lumsden.
On 24-12-1943, however, Leese received a telegram ordering him to Italy to succeed Montgomery as Eight Army commander as Montgomery was to return to the UK in January 1944 to prepare for the Allied invasion of Normandy, Leese commanded the Eighth Army at the fourth and final Battle of Monte Cassino in May 1944 (when the bulk of the army was switched in secret from the Adriatic coast to Cassino to strike a joint blow with the United States Fifth Army) and for Operation Olive on the Gothic Line later in 1944. His rank of Lieutenant-General was made permanent in July 1944. In September 1944 he was appointed to succeed George Giffard as the Commander-in-Chief of Eleventh and assumed command in November, by which time the Army Group had been renamed Allied Land Forces, South-East Asia. Giffard died age 78, on 17-11-1964. Leese viewed the existing command structure as inefficient and proceeded to appoint former members of his Eighth Army Staff. The methods of the two staffs differed and the newcomers were resented. As was expressed it in his memoirs, “His staff, which he brought with him… had a good deal of desert sand in its shoes, and was rather inclined to thrust Eighth Army down our throats.” Leese’s command covered three separate groups: the Northern Combat Area Command under US Lieutenant General, Daniel Sultan, Fourteenth Army under Lieutenant-General William “Bill”Slim in central Burma and finally, further south in the Arakan, Indian XV Corps under Lieutenant-General Philip Christison .Christison died very old age 100, on 21-12-1893, in Scotland. Through the year-end he fought a successful campaign which led to the capture of Rangoon by an amphibious landing, Operation Dracula in early May 1945. Slim had turned Fourteenth Army into an effective military force and had commanded a highly successful campaign from the relief of Imphal to the recapture of Rangoon including the destruction of the Japanese forces in Burma. However, Leese believed that Slim was very tired (he had asked for leave once Rangoon had been taken and proposed to the Supreme Commander South East Asia, Louis Mountbatten and the CIGS, Alan Brooke, that he should be replaced by Philip Christison, who had amphibious experience and so would be well suited to leading the army in the planned seaborne landings in Malaya, leaving Slim to take over the new Twelfth Army with the less demanding task of mopping up in Burma. Leese misread the reactions of Brooke and Mountbatten and having then met Slim to discuss the proposals came away believing Slim had agreed to them. In fact, Slim reacted by telling his staff he had been sacked and wrote to Leese and Claude Auchinleck, the C-in-C India, to say he would refuse the new post and resign from the army in protest. Once the news circulated within the Fourteenth Army, mutinies and mass resignations of officers were threatened. Leese was obliged to reinstate Slim when the Supreme Commander South East Asia Mountbatten, although he had authorised the original proposals, now refused to support him. Mountbatten subsequently approached Alan Brooke (who had always doubted Leese’s suitability for the role) and they agreed that Leese should be removed. He was succeeded by Slim. Leese retired from the army in January 1947 and became a noted horticulurist, writing books on cacti and keeping a well noted garden at his house, Lower Hall in Worfield, Shropshire.
Death and burial ground of Leese, Sir Oliver William Hargreaves..
Following amputation of his right leg in 1973, Leese moved into Wales into a house called Dolwen at LLanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, near Oswestry and Sir Leese died there after a heart attack on 22-01-1978, aged 83, and was buried at Worfield parish church.