Lieutenant GeneralSir Philip NeameVC, KBE, CB, DSO, KStJ (12 December 1888 – 28 April 1978) was a British Army officer and recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was also the winner of an Olympic Gold medal, making him the only person to win both this and the Victoria Cross.
Neame was born in Faversham and died in Selling. He was educated at Cheltenham College.
Neame graduated from the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Royal Engineers in July 1908. He was promoted lieutenant in August 1910, and saw service with the 15th Field Company, Royal Engineers, during the First World War. Early in the war at the First Battle of Ypres in October 1914, Neame experienced first hand in the trenches the inadequacies of the official British issue hand-grenades against the German standard and set about creating an alternative. Royal Engineers started devising home-made hand grenades made from empty jam tins filled with rivets, hobnails and loose metal. The explosive was usually two small bits of gun-cotton with a detonator and the necessary bit of fuse projecting from the end of the jam tin. Under the leadership of Neame, Royal Engineer sappers were kept busy in the first winter of the war manufacturing as many as were needed.
Neame was 26 years old, and a lieutenant in the 15th Field Company, Corps of Royal Engineers, when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross:
On 19 December 1914 at Neuve Chapelle, France, Lieutenant Neame, in the face of very heavy fire, engaged the Germans in a single-handed bombing attack, killing and wounding a number of them. He was able to check the enemy advance for three-quarters of an hour and to rescue all the wounded whom it was possible to move.
Neame was interviewed at length on the action for the book "Forgotten Voices". He had been asked by the Commanding Officer of a frontline infantry battalion – West Yorkshire Regiment – to go forward and strengthen the defences in a recently captured German trench. "When I got there I saw the officer in command who said the Germans were counter-attacking with bombs, that his own bombers had all been wounded and that the bombs that were left would not go off. So I went up to talk to one of the remaining bombers...and discovered that he could not light our own bombs because there were no fuses left." Neame knew how to light a grenade by holding a match-head on the end of the fuse and striking a match box across it. He got to the front and commenced lighting and throwing grenades into the German trenches in the two different directions of the German counter-attack. Neame held the trench for forty-five minutes whilst the West Yorks evacuated their wounded back to the previous British frontline trench.
After a short period as a staff officer (GSO3) from October 1915, he was appointed Brigade Major to 168th (Infantry) Brigade, 56th (London) Division, in February 1916, staffing this post through the Somme offensive, including the actions at Gommecourt 1 July and Leuze Wood 9 September, until relinquishing it for another Staff (GSO2) assignment in November 1916. He was promoted to brevet major in the 1917 New Year honours list. In June 1918, Neame moved up to s senior staff post (GSO1) with a temporary rank of lieutenant colonel.
Neame received further Mentions in Despatches in January and December 1917 and was also honoured by the French government with the Legion d'honneur (Croix de Chevalier) in January 1919, and the Croix de guerre in July. He was also awarded the Belgian Croix de guerre. In June 1919 an announcement appeared in the London Gazette giving him as one of the names "to be brevet lieutenant-colonel on promotion to substantive major" but the gazetting of brevet lieutenant-colonel did not appear until June 1922 and his substantive rank was only promoted from captain to major in January 1925.
He was a member of Great Britain's 1924 Olympic Running Deer team at Paris and is the only Victoria Cross recipient who has won an Olympic Gold Medal. The Running Deer competition was one of the shooting events at the games. It involved teams of four (firing single shots), where a moving target simulated the animal.
Neame was appointed Brigade Major of an Infantry Brigade at Aldershot in January 1924 and then saw service in India with the Bengal Sappers and Miners from 1925 before attending the Imperial Defence College in 1930. In June 1932 Neame was promoted full colonel (skipping the substantive lieutenant-colonel rank) and became a General Staff Officer 1 in the Waziristan District in India. This appointment came to an end in December 1933 whereupon he was on half pay without appointment until May 1934. In July 1934 he was given temporary brigadier rank to take up an appointment as Brigadier General Staff with Eastern Command in India. In 1938 he was promoted to major-general and returned to England as Commandant of the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich in 1938. He was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in January 1939.
While Commandant at the military college Neame had been given to understand that should war be declared, he would be appointed as Chief of General Staff to the British Expeditionary Force's putative C-in-C John Dill. In the event, Lord Gort was appointed C-in-C with Henry Pownall as CGS and Neame as his deputy responsible for operations and staff duties. Neame was heavily involved in organising defences and planning for the campaign to come but in February 1940 however, he was posted to Egypt to command 4th Indian Infantry Division. In August 1940 he was made General Officer Commanding Palestine and Trans-Jordan in the acting rank of lieutenant-general where his responsibilities were mainly focused on internal security (the police force was under his orders).
In February 1941 during the North African Campaign he was appointed General Officer Commanding-in-Chief and Military Governor of Cyrenaica which had been captured during Operation Compass. Neame's command had been stripped of much of its battle-experienced units either for re-fitting or to take part in the Battle of Greece and was left with little or no air support. Neame's two main formations were the newly fielded British 2nd Armoured Division and 9th Australian Division. The armoured formation, recently arrived from Britain, was under-strength, lacking training and equipment adapted for desert conditions. It proved no match for the newly introduced Panzer Group Africa under the command of General Erwin Rommel. The Australians, while well led by Leslie Morshead, were not fully trained and were very short of transport. Neame lacked accurate intelligence and was hampered by over-extended lines of supply. With poor handling of his troop dispositions and lacking control from a headquarters remote from the action, Neame was outfought and after 2nd Armoured Division disintegrated was forced to direct his forces to fall back to avoid being cut off. While navigating to newly established headquarters Neame and his travelling companions Lieutenant-General Richard O'Connor and Brigadier John Combe were captured by a German patrol. Disaster was averted for the Allied forces by the successful orderly withdrawal of the Australian division to Tobruk where they were joined by 3 Indian Motor Brigade and the remnants of 2nd Armoured Division to organise a defensive perimeter which defied Rommel's every attempt to breach it.
While a prisoner in Italy, first at Villa Orsini near Sulmona, then at Castello di Vincigliata PG12 near Florence where he helped with a number of escape attempts with colleagues, including O'Connor, Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart, a fellow VC recipient, and Brigadiers John Combe and Edward Todhunter. After the successful escape of six officers through Neame's tunnel in April 1943, in which two New Zealander Brigadiers James Hargest and Reginald Miles made it successfully to Switzerland, the Italians, in reprisal, sent his batman Gunner Pickford (Royal Horse Artillery), to another camp. Following the Italian Armistice in September 1943, Neame was released but faced a hazardous journey of several hundred miles through country by that time occupied by the Germans to reach Allied lines. Having hidden the manuscript which he had been writing in captivity of his memoires (to be recovered after the war) Neame's party including Air Marshal Owen Boyd and Richard O'Connor made their way south with the help of friendly Italians. Eventually hiring a boat at Cattolica they made their way to the port of Termoli which by the time of their arrival on 20 December had fallen to the Allies.
Arriving back in the UK on 25 December having travelled via Tunis (and interviews with Generals Dwight Eisenhower and Harold Alexander and also Winston Churchill) Neame found there was no job available for him in the army but he remained on the Active List until the end of the war in his substantive rank of major-general. In August 1945 he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey in the local rank of lieutenant-general where he served until 1953. He also held the honorary posts of Colonel Commandant of the Corps of Royal Engineers from February 1945 to 1955 and Honorary Colonel 131 (Airborne) Engineer Regiment from January 1948. He was knighted KBE in June 1946 and made a knight of the charitable order of St. John in the same year. In January 1955 Neame was appointed a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the County of Kent, a ceremonial role.