French minister of state for veteran affairs Jean-Marc Todeschini has presented one of Ireland’s last surviving second World War veterans with France’s highest honour, the Legion d’Honneur, for his role in liberating the country.
At the French embassy in Dublin, Sir John Leslie (98), a cousin of Winston Churchill, said he accepted the award "on behalf of all soldiers from the island of Ireland who fought and died between the two great wars".
Mr Leslie, whose family owns Castle Leslie in Co Monaghan, enlisted in the second battalion of the Irish Guards in August 1937 and was part of the British Expeditionary Corps that landed in France in May 1940.
After battling for two hours to defend Boulogne Sur Mer against advancing Germans, he was captured and spent the next five years as a prisoner of war. He risked his life while in captivity to send out a postcard to Churchill pleading for a prisoner exchange to allow some of his comrades who had taken ill to be released. The missive hangs in the Imperial War Museum in London.
A monument to the Irish who died in France during the first World War is to be erected at Glasnevin Cemetery by the French government. Mr Todeschini said he expected it would be in place early next year ahead of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. The design may be based on the Ginchy Cross which is now in the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge.