Second world war veteran Sir John Leslie dies aged 99
Leslie family, owners of Castle Leslie estate, post on Facebook that ‘Uncle Jack’ has passed away
Sir John Leslie at the French embassy in Dublin, where he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur in 2015. Photograph: Brian Hutton/PA Wire
Sir John Leslie, one of Ireland’s last surviving second world war veterans, has died aged 99.
Sir Jack, a cousin of Winston Churchill, died at home with family at his side.He was due to celebrate his 100th birthday in December.
Sir Jack, 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.
The Leslie family posted on the Castle Leslie Estate Facebook page on Monday morning that Sir John Leslie, also known as ‘Uncle Jack’, had died in his sleep.
“The Leslie family are sad to announce that Captain Sir John Leslie Bt (age 99) passed away peacefully in his sleep this morning with the dawn chorus surrounded by his family,” wrote the post.
The family has created a Sir John Leslie Appreciation page where people can post messages of condolence.
In November last year, Mr Leslie joined family and friends at the residence of the French Ambassador in Dublin, where he was presented with France’s highest honour, the Legion d’Honneur, for his role in liberating the country.
Sir Jack said he wished to accept the award on behalf of all soldiers from the island of Ireland who fought and died in the two great wars.
Sir Jack enlisted in the Second Battalion of the Irish Guards in August 1937, at the age of 21. As a second Lieutenant in the Irish Guards, he commanded a unit at Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1940 that took on the advancing Panzers of the German army and held them back for several days allowing thousands of other British soldiers to be evacuated from Dunkirk.
He was taken prisoner and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany.
It was believed for a time that he had been killed in action.
During his captivity, he risked his life to spirit out a postcard to his cousin Mr Churchill pleading for a POW exchange to allow some of his comrades in the camp who had taken ill to be freed.
The missive hangs in the Imperial War Museum in London. In 2009 he published his memoires Never A Dull Moment.
Sir Jack became an international news sensation in 2002 as his castle hosted Sir Paul McCartney’s wedding to Heather Mills.
With the global media gathered at the gates of the estate near Glaslough he announced the superstar’s nuptials were taking place behind the gates but that it was “a secret”.
Known for his love of house music in his later years, he celebrated his 85th birthday in 2001 by travelling to Ibiza to party at Privilege, then the world’s biggest nightclub.
The family said this taste in music was “perhaps one of the most endearing of Uncle Jack’s hobbies”.
“Each week he would visit the local night club to dance to the “boom boom” music. He quickly gained respect in the clubbing community to the extent there is a nightclub named after him in Clones, Co Monaghan,” they said.
His family said he was blessed with an astonishing memory for people, places and events and he was interviewed many times and appeared in a number of documentaries.
He will be buried in a private burial enclosure next to the estate church of St Salvator where he has already prepared his tombstone.
After being released from German captivity in 1945, he travelled the world before settling for some time in Rome, where he bought a 1,500-year-old monastery. He became the 4th Baronet of Glaslough and Pettigo at Castle Leslie when his father died in 1971.
Jack Leslie survived his older sister, the author Anita Leslie (Anita King d.1985) and his younger brother, Desmond Leslie (d.2001). His father was a first cousin of the former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. His mother, Marjorie Ide, was the daughter of Henry Clay Ide, a former Governor-General of the Philippines.
Additional reporting from PA