Lindsay Merritt Inglis was born at Mosgiel, Otago, on 16 May 1894, the son of James Hunter Inglis, a bank agent, and his wife, Annie Kirkland. He was educated at Waitaki Boys’ High School (1907–13), where he was head prefect and captained the school’s First XI and First XV. In 1913–14 he studied law at the University of Otago. He also served in the 2nd (South Canterbury) Regiment, being commissioned as a lieutenant on 9 October 1913.
Inglis joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 30 April 1915 and was posted to the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. After serving in Egypt his battalion was sent to the western front in April 1916. On 15 September 1916 it attacked the Flers trench as part of the Somme offensive. He commanded his company with considerable skill and bravery, for which he was awarded the Military Cross. In March 1917 he was transferred to the New Zealand Machine Gun Corps, and commanded a machine-gun company until his discharge in April 1919.
He returned to New Zealand in 1919, where he married his fiancée of many years, Agnes May Todd, at Wellington on 3 December; they were to have two daughters. Inglis completed his law studies in 1920 and the family settled at Timaru, where he set up practice as a solicitor and rejoined his territorial battalion. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel commanding the 1st Battalion, Canterbury Regiment, in May 1926, and colonel commanding the 3rd New Zealand Infantry Brigade in July 1931. He retired from the Territorial Force in July 1936.
On the outbreak of the Second World War Inglis immediately volunteered, undergoing a thyroid operation in October 1939 to make him fit for active service. He took command of the 27th (Machine Gun) Battalion in December 1939. From August 1940 he occupied a variety of brigade commands, assuming command of the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade on Crete on 17 May 1941, immediately before the German invasion. In common with most other senior New Zealand officers, Inglis’s performance on Crete was uninspired. He was General Bernard Freyberg’s emissary to the War Office to report on the Crete campaign, where he was critical of Freyberg. He commanded the 4th Brigade throughout the ill-conceived Crusader offensive in late 1941. His brigade was able to break through to Tobruk (Tubruq), but on 1 December much of it was overrun by German tanks at Belhamed.
In June 1942 Inglis’s brigade was rushed to the desert south of Mersa Matruh in an effort to stem an Axis advance. Taking up positions at Minqâr Qaim the New Zealand Division was attacked by German tanks on 27 June. The British armour on the flanks retreated precipitately, leaving them surrounded; that evening Freyberg was wounded in the neck. Inglis assumed command of the division in the worst conceivable situation. Plans were quickly formulated for an immediate breakout. That night Inglis successfully led the division out in one of the epic battles of the campaign.
On 10 July Inglis was instructed to prepare an attack against the Ruweisat Ridge. Planning was inadequate; most glaringly, Inglis’s request that British armour be placed under his command was refused. Nevertheless, he was given assurances that it would support the New Zealand attack. The assault began at 11 p.m. on 14 July. After heavy fighting the New Zealand infantry took the ridge, but the situation was confused, and enemy pockets held out. There was no sign of the expected British tanks. German tanks attacked the New Zealanders at dawn. The situation demanded urgent action, but Inglis’s headquarters was too far to the rear to exercise a decisive influence on the battle. The British armour remained unmoved, despite the increasingly frantic efforts of some New Zealand officers to have them come to the rescue. For the rest of the day German tanks rolled over the New Zealand positions and at nightfall the remnants of the two New Zealand infantry brigades were withdrawn. It was one of the worst disasters of the war for the division, with some 1,400 casualties.
Seven days later another attack was mounted on German positions in the El Mreir depression. Yet again, assurances of British armoured support were not fulfilled and the New Zealand infantry was overrun by German tanks. Inglis was furious, and made it clear that the New Zealand Division would not participate in any further attacks. Exhausted and ill, he left for Cairo on 8 August.
Inglis spent the next 15 months reorganising the 4th Brigade as an armoured brigade, briefly serving as divisional commander in June–July 1943 in Freyberg’s absence. In November he became ill with chronic dysentery and was returned to New Zealand. He rejoined the 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade in Italy in March 1944. There was little opportunity for him to command the brigade in battle, as he found his armoured units being detached to support the infantry brigades. The divisional commander of choice in Freyberg’s absence was now Brigadier Howard Kippenberger. When Kippenberger was wounded, Inglis was passed over once more, command going to Brigadier Ike Parkinson. In September 1944 Brigadier Steve Weir was appointed temporary commander of the division. This was too much for Inglis. He regarded it as a personal insult, asked to be relieved of his command and was returned to New Zealand. He was made a military CBE in 1944.
In 1945 the New Zealand government agreed to contribute staff to the Allied Control Commission for Europe, and Inglis, with his extensive legal and military experience and knowledge of German, was appointed president of a military government court in the British zone of occupied Germany. He took up his appointment on 9 July 1945. His role was to preside over criminal cases brought by Germans involving the Allied occupying powers, and cases dealing with Allied nationals. On 7 February 1947 Inglis was appointed chief judge of the commission’s Supreme Court, with the nominal military rank of major general – in effect the highest civilian judicial official in the British-occupied zone of Germany, a post he held until August 1950.
Following his return to New Zealand, Inglis took up a position as stipendiary magistrate at Hamilton on 10 August 1953; he retired 12 years later. A tall, intelligent man of strongly held opinions, his later life was blighted by the heavy drinking that earned him the nickname ‘Whisky Bill’. He died on 17 March 1966, survived by his wife and two daughters.