Irish war hero Sir John Leslie awarded Legion of Honour
Uncle Jack article here
Sir John Leslie served during the Battle of France in Boulogne-sur-Mer Barbara McCarthy
Sir John Leslie, a 98-year-old Second World War veteran, is to be honoured with France’s highest medal, 75 years after he served as an officer with the Irish Guards.
Sir Jack, as he is popularly known, served during the Battle of France in Boulogne-sur-Mer. He received a letter from the French ambassador to Ireland this week stating that he has been appointed a knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour. He will receive the medal at a bestowal ceremony.
Jean-Pierre Thébault, the ambassador, said that Sir Jack had made a “significant personal contribution in the defence of the freedom of France”.
Mark Leslie, his nephew, researched Sir Jack’s achievements during the past year and surprised him with the letter at Castle Leslie, in Co Monaghan, on Tuesday night. The Times was in attendance at the event.
“You remember how I got some important papers from you, well, I gave them to the ambassador of France. He has a special interest in you. He is looking for Irish war heroes who may not have had the recognition they deserved during the war,” Mr Leslie said. “It’s a belated recognition after five years of prison, and that horrendous battle at Boulogne-sur-Mer, 75 years later.”
Sir Jack, the 4th Baronet of Glaslough, was born in New York in 1916 and came to Ireland with his parents when he was three. He is a first cousin once removed of Sir Winston Churchill, the former British prime minister.
He served as a guard at the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Palace before going to fight in France in 1940. He was captured the same year and spent five years in prisoner of war camps.
“Uncle Jack basically went straight to war from a party in St James’s Palace,” said Mr Leslie. “There was no one left to fight and Winston Churchill needed men, so they got the Irish guards to France.”
“There was no word from him for six weeks, so it was assumed that he had died heroically fighting against the Germans, but then the family heard he had been captured and was a prisoner of war in Germany,” he said. “He kept quiet that he was related to Churchill, as it would have drawn negative attention to him, but after five different camps where he had to endure appalling conditions, he sent Mr Churchill a postcard. It was an act that could have got him killed, but he did it so his men would be saved.”
“They were in a poorly way due to lack of food and desperate conditions. Jack is too modest, he would never tell you how brave he really was,” he said.
The letter was never acknowledged, but in 1945 General Patton’s army liberated the prison camp at Moosberg, Lower Saxony, in Germany, and Sir Jack and his men were released.