Major-General Denis Arthur Beckett OBE CB DSO

19 May 1917 - 06 Aug 2016

  • OBE medal
  • Distinguished Service Order medal
  • Companion of the Bath medal
  • Africa Star medal
  • Italy Star medal

Major General Denis Arthur Beckett was an officer in the 1/4 Battalion of the Essex Regiment, 3 PARA and 2 PARA. 

Beckett was born in Wanstead, Essex on May 19, 1917 and attended Chard School in Somerset. His father was Archibald Beckett. After a time as a reporter with the Stratford Express he joined the Honourable Artillery Company in 1939, before commissioning into the 1/4 Battalion of the Essex Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant. He joined them in Sierra Leone, also serving in the Middle East, North Africa, Italy and Greece during the Second World War. 

Whilst he was with the Essex Regiment, Becket was awarded a DSO at the battle of Monte Cassino for his actions on March 19, 1944. He is listed here as a War Substantive Captain (Temporary Major). His citation reads:

"On 19 Mar 44, during the fighting at Cassino, this officer, in command of a company of his battalion, displayed gallantry and leadership of  a most conspicuous and outstanding nature. In the early hours of 19 Mar, his company which had already been involved in fighting for some three days, together with another company of the unit, both much reduced by casualties, had been relieved on the features pt. 193 (castle) - pt.165 preparatory to becoming reserve companies for the attack of their battalion on the monastery. The holding of Pt. 193 (castle) was vital to the major operation then in progress for the capture of Cassino. Shortly before zero hour for the attack on the monastery, the enemy began a sudden, strong and determined counter-attack on Pt. 193 (castle). Major Beckett at once appreciated the vital necessity of holding this feature, and, although himself relieved of the commitment, immediately took charge of his own and the other company, the commander of which had become a casualty, and led them into the task of beating off the enemy. Though himself twice wounded, he displayed great bravery and inspiring leadership in assisting the proper garrison to defeat this counter attack. 

Thereafter he became the outstanding personality of the defence. The enemy continued his counter-attacks and attempts at infiltration throughout the day, and during these Major Beckett was wounded a third time, and his personal movement severely restricted. He continued, however, leading and organising the defences so effectively that all these attacks were defeated with heavy loss to the enemy. Finally in the evening, when the enemy blew down a containing wall trapping some twenty of the garrison under it, Major Beckett led a party to their rescue under close and intensive fire, and only desisted in his attempts to dig out the survivors when the close-range sniping of the enemy and his MG fire made it impossible to continue the efforts by daylight. 

[Shortly after this there was a mutual amnesty with the Germans allowing for casualties to be recovered]

All through the day, the clear and cheerful reports sent back by this officer to his commander were a model of accuracy and spirit. The successful defence of Pt. 193 (castle) at this stage of the battle for Cassino was undoubtedly due to the magnificent leadership and inspiring gallantry, without thought of any personal risk, displayed throughout the day by this officer. 

Note: Owing to his immediate commander having become a casualty during this day, this citation is initiated by me [Brigadier D.R.E.R Bateman] . I had close and personal knowledge of Major Beckett's actions throughout the fighting, and in slang parlance would describe it as "V.C. stuff")".  

After the war, Beckett became an instructor at the School of Infantry and was then DAA and QMG at the Independent Parachute Brigade Group. He was Chief Instructor at Victory College, Sandhurst and the Staff College, Camberley before joining 3 PARA  in 1956 as their second-in-command. During the Suez crisis, he helped plan the assault on El Gamil airfield. Beckett subsequently commanded 2 PARA from 1958 to 1960, and was awarded an OBE in 1960. 

Thereafter Beckett was at the Joint Services Staff College (60-61) and commanded the 19th Infantry Brigade group (61-63). He spent a year at the Imperial Defence College (1964), then became deputy adjutant general at HQ BAOR (65-66) and finally chief of staff at HQ Far East Land Forces (66-68). His last appointment was as Director of Personal Services for the Army (68-71). He retired from the Army in 1971, and was awarded a CB in the same year. 

In his retirement, Beckett was a trustee of the Airborne Forces Museum Aldershot from 1985-1994. He married twice; firstly to Elizabeth Edwards in 1946 and secondly, in 1978, to Nancy Hitt, who survived him along with a son from his first marriage. He died on August 6, 2016. 

Compiled with information from:

Daily Telegraph Obituary

Airborne Assault Archive (Box 2 C3 27.1.14)

Profile image courtesy of Daily Telegraph 

London Gazette

Article written by Alex Walker 

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Service History

  • 1940
    Temporary Major Essex Regiment (Second Lieutenant)
  • 1946
    Essex Regiment (Lieutenant)
  • 1946
    Essex Regiment (Captain)
  • 1952
  • 1956
    Second In Command (2-i-c) The 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (3 PARA) (Brevet Lieutenant Colonel)
  • 1958
    Commanding Officer (CO) The 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA) (Lieutenant-Colonel)
  • 1960
    Joint Services Staff College (Lieutenant-Colonel)
  • 1961
    19th Infantry Brigade Group (Colonel)
  • 1963
    Imperial Defence College (Colonel)
  • 1965
    Deputy Assistant Adjutant General HQ BAOR (Colonel)
  • 1966
    Chief of Staff HQ Far East Land Forces (Major-General)
  • 1968
    Army (Director Personal Services) (Major-General)
  • 1971
    Army (Major-General)
Maj Gen Denis Arthur Beckett OBE CB DSO


  • Maj-Gen Denis Arthur Beckett OBE CB DSO Obituary

    Maj-Gen Denis Arthur Beckett OBE CB DSO Obituary

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