‘George was a real pillar of the community and will be sadly missed’

George Samuel Lapsley MBE TD (1923 - 2013). Lt. Colonel, 5th (Co. Londonderry) Battalion, Ulster Defence Regiment.

Wednesday, 13th November 2013, 10:00 am
89-year old ex service man George Lapsley and former school teacher who passed away on Thursday.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.

George Samuel Lapsley was born in County Waterford, Ireland in 1923 the son of James Porter Lapsley and Edith Lapsley.

The Lapsleys’ were originally a farming family from County Donegal. In 1920 George’s father travelled from Donegal to Dublin join the Royal Irish Constabulary and was posted to Waterford where he met and married his wife.

When the RIC was disbanded after partition in 1922 George’s father had to leave Southern Ireland for his own safety. In 1923 he joined the newly formed Royal Ulster Constabulary. His father was posted to Mountpottinger RUC Station in 1928 and on promotion to Sergeant the family moved to the police house in Eglinton, County Londonderry.

Young George grew up in the Londonderry area and during the early war years he attended Foyle College and then went on to Magee University.

At the start of World War 2 George was just 16 years of age when he altered his date of birth to show that he was 18 years old so that he could join the Local Defence Volunteers. He went to Hollywood Military Barracks where he was issued with his first uniform and trained as a Vickers Machine Gunner. This was to be the beginning of a very long and successful Military career.

One day in 1943, while playing rugby in Belfast, he went to a recruiting office in Clifton Street and joined the Royal Navy and was subsequently sent to Devonport to train.

Whilst stationed at Devonport there was a call for volunteers to go to Australia and George immediately volunteered. It was a bit of a con because the RN actually wanted men for Burma and Ceylon. They stopped off in Ceylon for training as RN Landing Parties using flat bottomed landing craft. These craft were then deployed along the Burma coast as far as Rangoon.

George saw active service in Burma and he was one of the last remaining members of the Burma Star Association in Coleraine and a life-long member of

the Royal British Legion.

George met Peggy in 1942 whilst she was serving in the WRENS and they married in 1946.

At the end of the war George came home to Northern Ireland. He enrolled on a Teacher Training course at Larkfield Teacher Training College where he attained his teacher qualification and went straight into teaching – a vocation he loved dearly – right up to his retirement at 65 as Headmaster of Limavady Central Primary School.

Along with his teaching career George found time to serve in the Territorial Army when in 1957 a couple of friends approached George and said that the local TA Unit in Coleraine were short of officers. He joined 206 Battery which was based at Artillary Road in Coleraine as a Troop Commander. Many of the World War II veterans from the original Coleraine Battery were serving in the TA.

George was promoted to the rank of Major and was the Battery Commander before he retired from the Territorial Army in 1969 at the age of 46.

In 1969 the troubles in Northern Ireland were escalating, and in November, one month after leaving the TA, an army officer friend from England wrote to him asking him to join a new army unit being formed to replace the RUC “B” Specials.

It was to be called the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).

On the last day of March 1970 the “B” Specials were stood down and the Ulster Defence Regiment commenced operational duties to become the longest serving operational Regiment in the British Army.

In 1992 the UDR was amalgamated with the Royal Irish Rangers to form the Royal Irish Regiment.

After the initial recruiting phase Major George Lapsley was given the task of forming a Company to be based in Coleraine. With just over forty men operating out of Nissan huts at Macosquin – “E” Company, 5th Battalion of the Ulster Defence Regiment was born.

With the help of George, the MOD purchased Laurel Hill House in Coleraine where the Company was re-located to. “E” Company grew to over 200 men and

women and was one of the largest Companies in the Regiment.

On promotion to Lt. Colonel - George moved to Battalion Headquarters in Ballykelly and there he played an important role with senior Regular Army Officers in the planning of UDR and Regular Army operational tasks throughout County Londonderry until his retirement from the UDR.

His military service was marked with the award of the MBE in 1973 and he and Peggy went to Buckingham Palace to receive the award from the Queen.

However his retirement from the UDR and “operational duties” did not entirely end his service career. He immediately got involved in the Regimental Association which had been formed primarily to look after the welfare of former members and serving members of the Ulster Defence Regiment.

George was a founding member of the Coleraine Branch of the Regimental Association and Chairman for 15 years.

“Leading from the front” he inspired the Branch Officers to seek Government funding to open a Welfare Office in Coleraine - which for the past 14 years has provided a vital service to the ex-military community. Coleraine were the only Branch ever to take this bold step – under George’s leadership.

George loved the trips arranged by the Coleraine Branch – going to places like The Somme, visiting London and marching at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, the trip to Poland to the concentration camps at Auschwitz. He enjoyed the Historic tours of Dublin and the many day trips throughout the Provence.

The Rugby Club was another facet in George’s life. He loved all sport and rugby in particular. As a young man he played for Coleraine Rugby Club and went on to captain the “Firsts”. He was Captain of the Club in 1953 and he was instrumental in helping the club purchase the grounds at the Lodge Road some years later.

Golf was another of George’s great sporting passions. As a lifelong member of Castlerock Golf Club there was nothing he liked better than strolling

around the local courses.

George was of course a devoted husband and family man and he loved Peggy, his son Michael, daughter-in-law Rosie, grandchildren Louise and Matthew and great- grandchildren Oliver, Mika, Julie, little George and Jack.

Married to Peggy for 67 years and they were inseparable. They travelled the world together up to just a few years ago – and have visited USA, South

America, Africa, all parts of Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.

At 80+ George was still a world traveller. It was only a few years ago whilst in the Far East he visited Burma and stood on the Bridge

over the River Kwai - on Remembrance Sunday - with his Regimental green blazer and UDR beret – a proud moment for George.

Unfortunately in the last few years George has had a few battles with ill health which he fought bravely until he finally succumbed on Thursday 1st November after a couple of weeks in Coleraine hospital.

George was a real pillar of the community and will be sadly missed – but not forgotten – by many people.