Thomas Wynford Rees

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Thomas Rees
The War in the Far East- the Burma Campaign 1941-1945 SE3257.jpg
Born12 January 1898
Cardiff, Wales
Died15 October 1959 (aged 61)
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Indian Army
Years of service1915–1948
RankMajor General
Unit73rd Carnatic Infantry
125th Napier's Rifles
6th Rajputana Rifles
Commands held3rd Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles
10th Indian Infantry Brigade
10th Indian Infantry Division
19th Indian Infantry Division
4th Indian Infantry Division
Battles/warsWorld War I
World War II
AwardsCompanion of the Order of the Bath (5 July 1945)[1]
Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (1 January 1931)[2]
Distinguished Service Order (15 February 1919)[3]
DSO (9 July 1941)[4]
Military Cross (24 September 1918)[5]
Mentioned in dispatches (WWI)
MID (1924)
MID (1936)
MID (1937)
MID (30 December 1941)[6]
MID (24 June 1943)[7]
MID (5 May 1946)[8]
Other workHon. Colonel Welch Regiment TA unit(28 August 1951)[9]
Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Monmouthshire (15 January 1955)[10]

Major General Thomas Wynford Rees CB, CIE, DSO & Bar, MC, DL (12 January 1898 – 15 October 1959) was an officer in the British Indian Army during World War I, the interwar years, World War II, and after it.

Early life and military career[edit]

The son of the Reverend T. M. Rees, he passed out from the Officer Cadet College, Quetta and was commissioned into the British Indian Army in November 1915 in the 73rd Carnatic Infantry.[11][12]

In September 1916, he was transferred to the 125th Napier's Rifles and was promoted to lieutenant a month later.[12][13]

During World War I he was awarded the DSO and MC and was mentioned in dispatches. The citation for his DSO, published in the London Gazette on 29 July 1919 reads:

For conspicuous gallantry throughout the day on September 19th, 1918, during the attack on the Turkish position about Tabsor, and especially after passing through the last objective into open country. Collecting various details of four different units up to a total of about 80 men, he organised them into parties, charged in face of strong opposition, and took two trenches, capturing about 50 prisoners and two field guns. Subsequently, when mounted on a captured pony, he saw a third field gun escaping, whereupon he galloped after it and, single-handed, captured the gun and team complete. He set a magnificent example to all units by his initiative and utter disregard of danger.[14]

The citation for his MC, published in the London Gazette on 24 September 1918 reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in charge of a patrol. He pushed on with half his patrol, and charged a line of enemy rifle-pits in face of considerable bombing, springing into a rifle-pit himself and shooting one of the enemy, after which he pursued the remainder for a short time with his patrol.[5]

Between the wars[edit]

Between the two world wars he spent much of his time serving on the North West Frontier of India, being mentioned in dispatches three more times. He served a term as private secretary to the Governor of Burma, Sir Charles Alexander Innes KCSI CSIE for which he was appointed Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) in the 1931 New Year's honours list.[2] In December 1937 was made brevet lieutenant-colonel for "distinguished services rendered in the field in connection with the operations in Waziristan, during the period 25th November, 1936, to i6th January, 1937".[15]

World War II[edit]

During World War II, Rees fought in the East African Campaign, the North African Campaign, and the Burma Campaign. He was awarded a second DSO and mentioned in dispatches twice.

As head staff officer of the 4th Indian Infantry Division (GSO1) he organised the division's highly successful action during Operation Compass in the Western Desert in 1940.[16] The division then played a key role in defeating the Italian imperial forces in Eritrea during the East African Campaign during which time he was promoted to command Indian 10th Infantry brigade, part of Indian 5th Infantry Division which was fighting alongside 4th Indian Division. 10th Brigade played a leading role in the Battle of Keren, the decisive battle of the campaign.[17]

The 5th Indian Division left East Africa in March 1941 spending periods in Iraq, Egypt and Cyprus. In March 1942, Rees was promoted acting major-general[18] to command 10th Indian Infantry Division which was at the time in Iraq. Two months later the division was sent to the Western Desert to reinforce the Eighth Army.[17]

Lieutenant General Sir William Slim and Major General T. W. Rees are cheered by troops as they leave Mandalay in a jeep, March 1945.

Controversially, during the Eighth Army's retreat from the Battle of Gazala, Rees was relieved of command of the division by his Corps commander William Gott. The division, having been employed piecemeal during the battle, was ordered to consolidate near Mersa Matruh on the Egyptian border and hold off the Axis advance for 72 hours. Rees responded that the division had only just come together and that defensive works were still inadequate. He therefore doubted the division's ability to hold off a full-scale attack despite the addition of an extra brigade (2nd Free French Brigade). Gott told Rees he lacked resolution for the job and sacked him. Claude Auchinleck, the C-in-C, doubting that Rees was irresolute (but obliged to support his senior commander) gave Rees the job of organising the defence of Cairo in case of an Axis breakthrough. Shortly thereafter Rees's fears were confirmed when 10th Indian division's position was overrun.[17] When the Axis threat to Cairo faded, Rees was sent back to India.

Major General T. W. Rees (on the left) talking with Lieutenant General Sir Oliver Leese, 19 March 1945, wearing a red scarf.

In the autumn of 1942 Rees was appointed to command Indian 19th Infantry Division. Although the division was not sent to the front line in Burma until November 1944, from this date until the end of the war it was in continuous action, gaining a formidable reputation for itself and Rees, who was seen as one of the army's most offensively-minded generals.[16] His army commander, Bill Slim was later to write:

[19th Indian Division was] literally led by their dynamic commander, Pete Rees, known to his British troops as the 'Pocket Napoleon'… What he lacked in inches he made up by the miles he advanced...he was an inspiring divisional commander. The only criticism I made was to point out that the best huntsmen did not invariably ride ahead of their hounds.[19]

After World War II[edit]

From 1945 to 1947 Rees commanded the Indian 4th Infantry Division and from August to September 1947, he commanded the neutral Punjab Boundary Force tasked to maintain law and order in the Punjab which was to be divided during the transfer of power to India and Pakistan. The force was too small to control such a large area, particularly since the police forces either disintegrated or became polarised. Despite the Boundary Force's best efforts full-scale riots and massacres took place. The scrupulous neutrality shown by Rees's force brought serious criticism from the politicians of both sides and it was disbanded in early September 1947, two weeks after independence.[20] Rees has also been criticised for refusing to heed the advice of "Military Advisors" and "Alternate Military Advisors" from the Indian and Pakistani sides on the grounds that they were junior to him.[21]:106–107

Promoted to the permanent rank of major-general in 1947,[22] Rees took the job as head of the Military Committee of the Indian Emergency Cabinet until he retired from the army in 1948.[23]

He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Monmouthshire on 15 January 1955.

Army career[edit]


Rees was married in 1926 to Agatha Rosalie Innes, only daughter of Sir Charles Alexander Innes (1874–1959), a career India Civil Service officer and Governor of Burma from 1927–1932. They had one son, the Cabinet Minister Peter Wyford Innes Rees Rees (later Lord Rees), and one daughter.

John Masters noted in one of his autobiographies (The Road Past Mandalay) that Pete Rees was an abstinent (he "spoke softly, never swore, never drank, did not smoke." but also, "always wore a small kind smile"). According to Masters, Rees was a polyglot and spoke English, Welsh, "Urdu, Marathi, Pushtu, Burmese, and Tamil. Now he asked me to teach him Gurkhali, and soon he knew enough to cause a look of startled pleasure to cross many a stolid Gurung face." Masters also said of Rees that he had a "rare, personal gentleness and unfailing good manners".[39]


  • Jeffreys, Alan; Anderson, Duncan (2005). The British Army in the Far East 1941–45, p. 47. Oxford: Osprey. ISBN 1-84176-790-5. Retrieved 4 August 2008.
  • Mackenzie, Compton (1951). Eastern Epic. London: Chatto & Windus. OCLC 1412578.
  • Masters, John (1961). The Road Past Mandalay.
  • Mead, Richard (2007). Churchill's Lions: A Biographical Guide to the Key British Generals of World War II. Stroud: Spellmount. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0.
  • Smart, Nick (2005). Biographical Dictionary of British Generals of the Second World War. Barnesley: Pen & Sword. ISBN 1844150496.
  • Slim, Field Marshal Viscount (1972) [1956]. Defeat into Victory. London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-29114-5.


  1. ^ "No. 37161". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 July 1945. p. 3491.
  2. ^ a b "No. 33675". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1930. p. 7.
  3. ^ "No. 31183". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 February 1919. p. 2365.
  4. ^ "No. 35209". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 July 1941. p. 3883.
  5. ^ a b "No. 30915". The London Gazette (Supplement). 24 September 1918. p. 11306.
  6. ^ "No. 35396". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 December 1941. p. 7354.
  7. ^ "No. 36065". The London Gazette (Supplement). 22 June 1943. p. 2863.
  8. ^ "No. 37558". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 May 1946. p. 2218.
  9. ^ "No. 39347". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 September 1951. p. 5115.
  10. ^ "No. 40391". The London Gazette. 25 January 1955. p. 512.
  11. ^ a b "No. 29483". The London Gazette. 22 February 1916. pp. 1960–1961.
  12. ^ a b Jeffreys, Alan (September 2011), "Rees, Thomas Wynford (1898–1959)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  13. ^ "No. 30267". The London Gazette. 4 September 1917. p. 9153.
  14. ^ "No. 31480". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 July 1919. p. 9682.
  15. ^ "No. 34462". The London Gazette. 10 December 1937. p. 7737.
  16. ^ a b Mead (2007), p. 372
  17. ^ a b c Mead (2007), p. 373
  18. ^ "No. 35550". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 May 1942. p. 2021.
  19. ^ Slim 1972, p. 390.
  20. ^ Mead (2007), pp. 374–375
  21. ^ Khanduri, Chandra B. (2006). Thimayya: an amazing life. New Delhi: Knowledge World. p. 394. ISBN 978-81-87966-36-4. Retrieved 30 July 2010.
  22. ^ "No. 38134". The London Gazette (Supplement). 25 November 1947. p. 5636.
  23. ^ Mead (2007), p.375
  24. ^ "No. 29588". The London Gazette. 19 May 1916. p. 4985.
  25. ^ "No. 32806". The London Gazette. 16 March 1922. p. 2078.
  26. ^ "No. 33087". The London Gazette. 25 September 1925. p. 6207.
  27. ^ "No. 33214". The London Gazette. 22 October 1926. p. 6755.
  28. ^ "No. 33200". The London Gazette. 10 September 1926. p. 5910.
  29. ^ "No. 33626". The London Gazette. 18 July 1930. p. 4503.
  30. ^ "No. 33964". The London Gazette. 28 July 1933. p. 5049.
  31. ^ "No. 34007". The London Gazette. 22 December 1933. p. 8319.
  32. ^ "No. 34112". The London Gazette. 7 December 1934. p. 7929.
  33. ^ "No. 34140". The London Gazette. 8 March 1935. p. 1636.
  34. ^ "No. 34264". The London Gazette. 13 March 1936. p. 1661.
  35. ^ a b "No. 34385". The London Gazette. 23 December 1938. p. 8184.
  36. ^ "No. 34462". The London Gazette. 10 December 1937. p. 7737.
  37. ^ "No. 34582". The London Gazette. 23 December 1938. p. 8184.
  38. ^ "No. 36112". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 July 1943. p. 3427.
  39. ^ Masters, John (1961). The Road Past Mandalay. pp. 285–288.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
William Slim
GOC 10th Indian Infantry Division
March–June 1942
Succeeded by
John Nichols
Preceded by
Douglas Stuart
GOC 19th Indian Infantry Division
Succeeded by
Post disbanded
Preceded by
Charles Boucher
GOC 4th Indian Infantry Division
Succeeded by
Post disbanded