Monday 23 April 2018

Sir Jack Leslie - the war hero who had one foot in the rave

Sir John ‘Jack’ Leslie, who has died at the age of 99 years. Pic: Marc O'Sullivan
Sir John ‘Jack’ Leslie, who has died at the age of 99 years. Pic: Marc O'Sullivan
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Sir Jack Leslie, the Monaghan aristocrat, was a mild-mannered World War II hero who developed a fondness for wild disco dancing in his later years.

Yesterday, the cousin of Winston Churchill who spent five years in a German POW camp died at the family seat, Castle Leslie, at the age of 99.

"The Leslie family are sad to announce that Captain Sir John [Uncle Jack] Leslie passed away peacefully with the dawn chorus surrounded by his family," said a statement from Castle Leslie.

He will be much missed, not only by the Leslie clan but also the regulars who boogied the night away with him in such local night spots as the Hillgrove in Monaghan, the Oasis in Carrickmacross, and the Paragon in Clones.

There, he became a familiar figure in his eighties, cheerfully flailing about in his tweed suit, yellow waistcoat and Tam o'Shanter.

He would race around, moving his arms as though floating in space, with a fixed expression of pure delight.

Sir John Leslie Credit: Twitter
Sir John Leslie Credit: Twitter

His late development as a mature raver led him to celebrate his 85th birthday in a club in Ibiza.

If younger dancers became a little out of control, Jack was unlikely to be fazed - and he put this down to his years as a prisoner of war.

In their tribute, his family described him as a "Knight of Malta, art connoisseur, water colourist, ecologist, disco-dancer and restorer of historic buildings".

In 2002, he made global headlines when he unwittingly announced the wedding plans of Beatle Paul McCartney and Heather Mills.

"They're getting married on Tuesday, but it's a secret," he told the press outside the castle.

He was recently awarded France's highest award, the Legion d'Honneur, for his role in the country's liberation, and dedicated it to all Irish soldiers "who fought and died between the two great wars''.

Having graduated from Cambridge, he went straight to war from a party in St James's Palace in 1940, changing out of a tuxedo into a soldier's uniform.

He commanded a unit taking on the advancing Panzers of the German army near Boulogne-sur-Mer, and held them back for a crucial period. This allowed thousands of other Allied soldiers to be evacuated in the retreat from Dunkirk.

For a time, Leslie was missing, presumed dead.

The Leslies have been in Glaslough since 1665, and trace their ancestry to Attila the Hun.

His father Sir Shane Leslie was a nationalist. Sir Jack's sister Anita had Eamon De Valera as one godfather, and Winston Churchill as the other.

After the war, Sir Jack embarked on a world tour before settling for a time in Rome, where he bought a 1,500-year-old monastery.

Sir Jack never married, and is survived by his nephews and nieces. Once asked the secret of his longevity, he said: "I drink little, I don't eat very much, I have plenty of rests and a disco at least once a month."

Irish Independent

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