Lieutenant Colonel Leigh Alexander

Alexander pre-war (

Leigh Alexander was born in South Africa in 1898.  He was trained at the Officer Cadet College in Quetta before joining the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Gurkha Rifles in 1917, serving with them on the North-West Frontier.  He was with the 1st Battalion of his Regiment (which had become the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles in 1921) in the early part of the Second World War in Iraq and Iran.  He transferred to the 2nd Goorkhas in May 1942 to command the 3rd Battalion on the First Chindit Expedition, Operation Longcloth.

Major George Dunlop of the Royal Scots, who commanded No 1 Column during Longcloth, later wrote about Alexander:

‘Although he stood up to the hardships remarkably well, he was forty-five, twenty years my senior, and too old for this kind of operation.  He found the strain greater than any of the rest of us, chiefly because he did not recuperate after hard marching.  The younger ones recovered remarkably after a good sleep, but he never did.  Furthermore he never fully recovered from the shock of No 2 Column’s catastrophic contact with the enemy at Kyaikthin on 2 March.  Despite this he kept going until the bitter end.  He might well have turned back after Kyaikthin as many of his people had done.  I do not think that any others who have written about the Chindits have ever given him due credit for being the stouthearted and good companion he was.’

That Alexander was a good man who was struggling with the physical demands of the expedition is also shown in the following extract from ‘Safer than a Known Way’ by 2nd Lieutenant Ian MacHorton.  Alexander had to tell him he would be left behind after being badly injured in the hip:

‘Firmly he rested his hand on my shoulder. I knew that what he was about to do could not have come easily to him. “I know what you’re thinking my boy”, said the Colonel, his voice soft with compassion, “do you think you can possibly keep up?”  I saw nothing but pity and a deep understanding in his eyes.  Behind the pity there was exhaustion, the unutterable tiredness and frayed-nerves look which told of the great burden of responsibility weighing down upon him and which had been on him for many weeks now in the midst of the jungle.’

Alexander was killed shortly after re-crossing the Irrawaddy on 25 April 1943.  His body was recovered after the war and is buried in the Taukkyan War Cemetery just north of Rangoon.  He left a wife and three children.  One of his grandchildren visited the cemetery in 2016 with two of Alexander’s great-grandchildren to pay their respects.


Click here to return to Distinguished Sirmooris index page.