Harris KBE CB DSO, Lieutenant General Sir Ian (Tommy)

Lieutenant General Sir Ian Harris KBE CB DSO, Colonel of The Royal Irish Rangers

Ian Cecil Harris, one of six brothers and three sisters, was born in County Tipperary on 7 July 1910 and spent his early life at Ballykisteen, his father's stud farm in Co Tipperary. He went to Portora Royal School, Enniskillen before entering the Royal Military College Sandhurst as a Gentleman Cadet. He was commissioned on 28 August 1930 as a 2nd Lieutenant in The Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR). There are two accounts as to why he was nicknamed 'Tommy'; the first is said to originate from boxing when a spectator encouraged the young Harris by calling out 'Go on Tommy' and the second from his habit of referring to his Riflemen as 'Tommies', earning the riposte 'Tommy yourself' from a senior officer.

Aged 22, he served with 2 RUR in Sudan and the following year with 1 RUR in Palestine. He remained with 1 RUR as a Lieutenant during tours in Egypt, Hong Kong and Shanghai and on promotion to Captain was appointed Adjutant when the Battalion moved to Rawalpindi, India. From there, the Battalion was deployed to Waziristan and the North West Frontier where Captain Harris was first Mentioned in Despatches. He had by then also gained a reputation as a sportsman at hockey, boxing and, as a natural horseman, excelled at polo.

IWM H038635 2RUR Monty HarrisThe Battalion returned to the UK from India in 1940 and Captain Harris assumed various Staff appointments, including one as a GSO II at South Eastern Command where the GOC was Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery. Following an appointment as a GSO II (Operations) at the War Office, Major Harris was posted to 2 RUR in Scotland. He was appointed Commanding Officer in 1943 and would be responsible for preparing the Battalion for Operation OVERLORD and its post-landing operations in Normandy and beyond. The intensive training from individual to battalion level ensured that everyone from Rifleman knew his job thoroughly - and that he was part of a close regimental fraternity that would inspire respect, admiration and faith in his CO's leadership. Reflecting on 2 RUR's resultant high morale during some of the fiercest fighting during the months that followed, one of Lieutenant Colonel Harris's officers who fought alongside him would recall, 'we took our victories and our wounds as if they were everyday occurrences'. In the spring of 1944, the 3rd Division concentrated in the south of England with the 2nd Battalion moving from Scotland to Droxford, near Southampton. (Above left, General Sir Bernard Montgomery talking to Lt Col Harris during a visit to 2 RUR at Droxford on 19 May 1944. © IWM (H 38635))

At 1200 hours on 6 June 1944, the 2nd Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles waded ashore at Lion-sur-Mer, near Ouistreham, on the Normandy coast. It was a landing wetter than any they had experienced during training as the sea had developed a heavy swell. Although it was in the reserve brigade of the 3rd Division, and the enemy had been driven back off the beaches, it came under fire immediately from shelling and mortaring. Lt Col Harris then led a skilful attack on Cambes-en-Plaine and his battalion led the Allied Armies' thrust into Caen on 9 July 1944.

The 2nd Battalion pushed on towards the line of the River Orne, where the advance was held up before Troarn by stiff German resistance resulting in many casualties. For the Allied Second Army the next phase was the breakout of the Orne bridgehead and the advance to the line of the River Seine. The 3rd Division followed in the wake of the armour and 2 RUR moved south to occupy Vaudry and then Fler. The Battalion moved some two hundred and fifty miles east of the Seine to Hacqueville where it undertook refurbishment and reinforcement followed by a period of intensive training. The next move was two hundred and thirty miles forward into Belgium where 2 RUR executed an Assault Crossing of the Meuse-Escaut Canal. In October, the Battalion pressed on to the line of the River Meuse. There the 3rd Division was required to deal with the remaining pocket of enemy resistance west of the river and the Battalion fought in the actions on the 'Wanssum Pocket' to secure the line of the River Meuse. Lt Col Tommy Harris handed over command of 2 RUR to Lt Col Drummond on 1 January 1945. In recognition of his gallant and distinguished service during 2 RUR’s actions since Operation OVERLORD, he was gazetted a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on 1 February 1945.

He flew to India where he was a GSO I in the 25th Indian Division during its advance along the Arakan coast in Burma. His next appointment was in the 7th Indian Division during its re-occupation of Malaya. Following India's partition and independence, he returned to the UK and attended Staff College before becoming the AQMG Scottish Command, a post he held until 1951. In May that year he assumed command of 6 RUR (TA) in Northern Ireland before becoming the Chief of Staff HQ Northern Ireland. Three years later, in September 1954, he returned to the Malayan jungle to command the 1st Federal Infantry Brigade in operations against the Communist terrorists, particularly in the hostile province of North Jahore, where he commanded units of various races and creeds including British, Gurkha, African, Chinese and Malay troops. He was recognized for his command and leadership of the Brigade by the award of a CBE in the 1958 New Years Honours List.

On his return to the UK in 1957, Brigadier Harris was appointed Deputy Director of Army Staff Duties in the War Office, where he was responsible for the deployment of the Army throughout the world. In February 1960, he assumed the appointment of General Officer Commanding, and Commander, British Troops Singapore, followed in 1963 by a NATO post at SHAPE in Paris as the Chief of Staff Contingencies Planning where his responsibilities included plans for dealing with the Soviet threat to occupy West Berlin. Lieutenant General Harris was then appointed General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Northern Ireland on 9 July 1966, and became a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) on 1 January 1967. It was to be his final command in the Army and he relinquished the appointment on 9 July 1969, before retiring on 20 August 1969.

I C HarrisAs Colonel of The Royal Ulster Rifles from 1962-68, he had been involved in the decisions taken with his opposite numbers in the Inniskillings and Irish Fusiliers to form their succesor regiment, The Royal Irish Rangers. He became the first Colonel of The Royal Irish Rangers, a role that he held from 1968 to 1972.

On retirement, he returned to his family partnership and management of the Ballykisteen Stud and was the Chairman (1977-79) and President (1984-88) of the Irish Bloodstock Breeders' Association. General Sir Ian also became Chairman of the British Support Committee for a memorial garden at Caen and was made an honorary citizen of the city in 1985. Lieutenant General Sir Ian Cecil 'Tommy' Harris KBE CB DSO died in Dublin on 12 March 1999. To mark, in perpetuity, his links with Caen, its people and his role in the liberation of Caen and Normandy, the Trustees of the British Friends of Normandy commissioned a bust of “Tommy” Harris (right) that was erected in the British Garden Memorial in Caen and unveiled during a ceremony on 5 June 2014, an event that was also part of D-Day’s 70th Anniversary commemorations.

(Image (right) of Harris Bust by kind permission of Major (Retired) R J Walker MBE)