General Sir James S Steele GCB KBE DSO MC LL.D

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James Stuart Steele was born at Templecorran, Ballycarry County Antrim on the 26 October 1894 to Samuel and Rachel Steele. Sadly, his father died of pneumonia in 1896 when James was just over 1 year old. James was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Queens University, Belfast where he was in the Officer Training Corps.

At the outbreak of the First World War, having been given a temporary commission as 2nd Lieutenant in September 1914, he was posted to the 7th Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles with whom he landed in France in December 1915. He received a Regular Commission in May 1916 and took part in the Battle of the Somme, Messines and Passchendaele.

In April 1917 he was Mentioned in Despatches and in August 1917 awarded the Military Cross the Citation for which reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion
to duty in volunteering to go out and
clear up the situation when the
battalion was suffering severe casualties
and no messages had got back from the
front line. By crawling from shell hole
to shell hole, he got in touch with all
companies and brought back good

James Steele was seconded to the Indian Army with whom he served throughout the remainder of the war both in India and the North West Frontier.

In 1923 he was promoted to Captain. He graduated in December 1928 at the Staff College, Quetta, India and in 1929 was posted to the home establishment at Aldershot followed by a posting to the 1st Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles in June 1929.

Sir James Stuart Steele from NPGDuring 1930 - 1931 he was at the Staff College, Camberley, Surrey and in January 1932 was promoted Brevet Major and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel in July 1936.

As Major Steele he was appointed Deputy Assistant Adjutant General, Eastern Command HQ in September 1935. In 1937 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel (left)* and transferred to the 1st Battalion The Sherwood Foresters with whom he served in Jamaica and the Arab Revolt in Palestine in 1939.

Promoted to Colonel in June 1939 Colonel James Steele became the Assistant Adjutant-General at the War Office, London during which time he signed the Executive Order dated 31st August 1939 for the mobilisation of the British troops in the Second World War.

In November 1939 he took command of 132 Infantry (Surrey and Kent) Brigade serving in France and Belgium and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in July 1940 for his part in the engagement and subsequent withdrawal and evacuation from Dunkirk.

From February 1941 to April 1942 he took command of the 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division and commanded II Corps as acting Lieutenant General from April 1942 to September 1942. He became Deputy Chief of Staff for Middle East Command in 1942 and Director of Staff duties in the War Office in 1943 and was appointed a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (CB) in October.

In April 1944 he was again Mentioned in Despatches in the Middle East campaign and was also involved in the planning of the Normandy Landings. He was promoted to substantive Major General in September 1944.

Steele Marshal TitoPromoted to Lieutenant General in 1946, and appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE), he was appointed British High Commissioner and Commander in Chief of the Army in Austria where the 1st Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles, which formed part of the 38th (Irish) Brigade, was on garrison duties in Vienna.

At the invitation of Marshal Tito (right), on 8 September 1947, he and Lady Steele arrived at Bled in North Yugoslavia. The visit coincided with the signing of an agreement on the disposal of Yugoslav displaced persons in Austria and Germany. As a result of the visit the attitude of the British and Yugoslav Forces on the Austrian frontier became more co-operative and friendly. [To watch General Steele's visit, click on the MovieTone newsreel and then click on your back browser to return to this VMG page.]

Gen Steeles RibbonsOn the 22 September 1947 he was appointed Adjutant-General to the Forces and in the same year took up the position of Colonel of the Royal Ulster Rifles during which time he was Guest of Honour at the Amalgamation Parade of the 1st and 2nd Battalions held at Ballykinlar on the 1st May 1948.

He was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) in January 1949 and retiring in October 1950, he also relinquished the appointment Aide-de-Camp General to HM King George VI, he continued as Colonel of the Royal Ulster Rifles until 1957.

General Sir James Steele died on the 24 July 1975 at Stourpaine, Dorset and his funeral was held in Blandford Forum. As he had requested, his ashes were brought back home to his beloved Ballycarry.

[This article is reproduced by kind permission of its author, Christine Beggs, who is the volunteer assistant curator for The Royal Ulster Rifles' collection]

Lieutenant Colonel J S Steele, 1937 - CC Image Licence Creative Commons, © National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG x85430)