In 1939, Neame went to France to serve as the deputy chief of the General Staff in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). Prior to the start of the fighting, he was appointed to command the 4th Indian Division in Egypt. In 1940 and 1941, Neame commanded British forces in Palestine and Transjordan. In February 1941, he was appointed to head the newly created Cyrenaica Command in Libya. In the previous months, British and Commonwealth forces under Major General Richard O'Connor had smashed the Italian army and advanced into Libya. However, O'Connor's advance was halted when British resources were diverted to Greece. With limited resources at his disposal, Neame was directed to remain on the defensive in Libya.
The British did not expect an Axis offensive for a considerable period. However, Generalleutnant (U.S. equiv. major general) Erwin Rommel disrupted British plans by launching an offensive into Cyrenaica in March 1941. In quick order, Rommel defeated the weak British force and advanced toward Egypt. Theater commander General Archibald Wavell had little confidence in Neame's handling of the operations and sent O'Connor forward to Neame's headquarters. O'Connor was not to supersede Neame but merely to be present to advise the battlefield commander. On 7 April 1941, Neame and O'Connor stumbled into a German patrol while traveling by car in the desert and were taken prisoner. Neame spent the next two years as a prisoner of war in Italy. After the Italian armistice in 1943, he and O'Connor were released from captivity, and they escaped from German-occupied Italy to the Allied lines.
After the war, Neame served as lieutenant governor of Guernsey (1945–1953). He retired from the army in 1947 and died in Kent on 28 April 1978.
Bradley P. Tolppanen
Barnett, Correlli. The Desert Generals. New York: Viking Press, 1961.; Neame, Philip. Playing with Strife: The Autobiography of a Soldier. London: George G. Harrap, 1947.