Jock Lewes

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Jock Lewes
Birth nameJohn Steel Lewes
Born(1913-12-21)21 December 1913
Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India
Died30 December 1941(1941-12-30) (aged 28)
Cyrenaica, Italian Libya
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service1935-1941
Service number65419
UnitRifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own)
Welsh Guards
L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade
Battles/warsWorld War II
MemorialsAlamein Memorial

Lieutenant John Steel "Jock" Lewes (21 December 1913 – 31 December 1941) was a British Army officer prominent during World War II. He invented an explosive device, the eponymous Lewes bomb, and was the founding principal training officer of the Special Air Service.[1] Its founding commander, David Stirling said later of Lewes: "Jock could far more genuinely claim to be founder of the SAS than I."[2]

Lewes was born in Calcutta to a British father, chartered accountant Arthur Harold Lewes, and an Australian mother, Elsie Steel Lewes. He grew up in New South Wales and attended The King's School, Parramatta.[1]

Lewes attended Christ Church, Oxford from September 1933 where he read PPE. Lewes was the President of the Oxford University Boat Club in 1936–37, but gave up his place in the 1937 Blue boat which ended up winning the 1937 University Boat Race, ending a 15-year Cambridge winning streak.[3][4] While an undergraduate, Lewes travelled to Germany and became an admirer of Hitler and the Nazi State, before casting off his illusions after the events of Kristallnacht.[5]

Lewes was first commissioned as a University Candidate to the General List on 5 July 1935 whilst a student at Oxford.[6] At the outbreak of World War II he was briefly transferred to a Territorial Army unit, the 1st Battalion, Tower Hamlets Rifles, Rifle Brigade on 2 September 1939 before joining the Welsh Guards on 28 October 1939.[7][8]

In 1941, Lewes was in a group of volunteers assembled by Stirling to form a unit dedicated to raiding missions against the lines of communication of Axis forces in North Africa. For counter-espionage purposes, this platoon-sized was initially named "'L' Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade".

To destroy Axis vehicles, members of the SAS surreptitiously attached small explosive charges. Lewes noticed the respective weaknesses of conventional (blast) and incendiaries, as well as their failure to destroy vehicles in some cases. He improvised a new, combined charge out of plastic explosive, diesel and thermite. The Lewes bomb was used throughout World War II.[3]

Jock Lewes was killed in action in December 1941. He was returning from a raid on German airfields when the Long Range Desert Group truck he was travelling in was attacked by a lone Fighter-bomber heavy fighter. Lewes was fatally wounded in the thigh by a 20mm round from the fighter and bled to death in about four minutes. He was buried on the site where the attack happened but the whereabouts of his grave are now unknown. He is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial.[4]

Lewes was engaged to marry Mirren Barford, an Oxford undergraduate, at the time of his death.


  1. ^ a b Army News [Australia], 11 January 1945, p3.
  2. ^ Lewes, John (15 March 2001). Jock Lewes: Co-Founder of the SAS. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books. ISBN 9781844156153.
  3. ^ a b McPherson, Fiona (2004). "'Lewes, John Steel (1913–1941)'". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/74291. Retrieved 21 February 2008.
  4. ^ a b "Commonwealth War Graves Commission – casualty details, John Steel Lewes". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 21 February 2008.
  5. ^ Hill, Amelia (23 July 2000). "SAS founder was a Nazi sympathiser". The Observer. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  6. ^ "No. 34177". The London Gazette. 5 July 1935. p. 4345.
  7. ^ "No. 34685". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 September 1939. p. 6338.
  8. ^ "No. 34719". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 October 1939. p. 7254.


  • Cowles, Virginia. The Phantom Major.
  • Wise, Michael, ed. Joy Street: A Wartime Romance in Letters