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Clonroche WWII war hero dies in Kenya


Leslie John (Paddy) Deacon.

Leslie John (Paddy) Deacon.

Leslie John (Paddy) Deacon.

A CLONROCHE man who was awarded the Military Cross for his role as one of the first officers of the 8th Army to break through the Gustav Line in the Abruzzo region of Italy in December 1943 in one of the great World War II battles, has died at the age of 96 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Major Leslie John (Paddy) Deacon, who was awarded an MBE, was a 22-year-old lieutenant and a platoon commander in the 4th Battalion the Parachute Regiment as the Allied forces fought their way through central Italy over rough mountainous terrain in extremely harsh weather conditions.

Assisted by ground reconnaissance carried out by the Italian partisan Maiella Brigade, Deacon's platoon supported Allied aircraft in the destruction of German artillery positions which were bombarding surrounding towns, including the town of Casoli, thereby opening up the advance on Monte Cassino.

In December 2013 Deacon was honoured in a special ceremony attended by the President of the Italian Senate, the Mayor of Casoli and representatives of the 4th Battalion the Parachute Regiment during which he was awarded citizenship of Casoli and a plaque recording his courageous actions was unveiled in the town square.

Paddy Deacon was born in Bridgenorth, Shropshire, on March 27, 1921. His mother, Eileen Ryan, was travelling back to her home in Clonroche. On her way to the ferry she went into labour at Bridgenorth. Subsequently the young Deacon, whose father Stanley Deacon emigrated to the United States after his birth, stayed with his grandparents in Wexford and was educated through Irish, at Clonroche National School until he was 14.

Returning to England he finished his education in south London. On leaving school he joined a typographical company in Fleet Street as a management trainee. Deacon befriended the Surrey and England cricketer, Jack Hobbs, who had a sports shop on Fleet Street. Hobbs suggested that, with the threat of war, he might join the armed forces. In 1938 he joined the London Irish Rifles, a territorial regiment, as a private soldier. At weekend training camps his companions included the actor David Niven and Britain's future Prime Minster Anthony Eden.

While at a training camp in Ramsgate Deacon, still in his teens, put to sea with two colleagues in a pleasure craft, armed with a bren machine gun, and helped in the evacuation of Dunkirk. He was posted to Gibraltar as a sergeant with the 8th Battalion the Kings Regiment (The Liverpool Irish). He applied for a commission and joined an officer training unit in North Wales. He was commissioned in the Royal Irish Fusiliers in 1942 and posted to a training battalion in Kilkeel in Northern Ireland. At his insistent request Deacon was seconded to the Parachute Regiment at Aldershot. For the rest of the war he served with in the 4th Battalion the Parachute Regiment.

After the Italian campaign Deacon parachuted into southern France as part of Operation Dragoon. He then saw action in Greece where he was responsible for the prison in Athens holding Greek collaborators, resulting in the prison undergoing heavy attacks from Greek partisans and civilians. While in Greece he also witnessed the death by sniper fire of his close Irish friend, a medical doctor, whom he had radioed for urgent help for an injured member of his platoon. With the end of the war in Europe, Deacon was onboard a ship which was to be part of the planned invasion of Japan. However when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima the ship was diverted to Palestine where he became involved in controlling the growing activities of the insurgents.

In Palestine Deacon met and married Barbara Winifred Parker, known as 'Bar', from the Wirral, Cheshire, when she was serving with the Women's Royal Air Force. He was posted to Lisburn, Northern Ireland as a staff officer, before returning to the Royal Irish Fusiliers and transferring to Egypt where he saw action in the Sinai. He then served Gibraltar and Germany before being sent to Kenya.

In 1954 the Royal Irish Fusiliers were assigned for a short time to Korea where Deacon served as a company commander. With the regiment subsequently ordered to Kenya, he arrived at Mombassa in January 1956. He commanded the British Forces operations against the Mau Mau in the Aberdares in Central Kenya. The following year, he was awarded an operational MBE. At his death Paddy Deacon was the oldest surviving member of the Royal Irish Fusiliers whose motto was Faugh a Ballagh - Clear the Way.

With a young family consisting of a son and two daughters and having decided to remain in Kenya, Deacon retired from the regular army. He joined the Kenya Regiment which was transforming to territorial status, served seven years and was appointed Second in Command. He joined the East African Power and Lighting Company in Nairobi then one of the region's largest employers and played a significant part in the company's development, establishing a training school, and overseeing the Kenyanization programme as Kenya moved toward independence.

On leaving Power and Lighting in 1974, Deacon became a consultant with the personnel recruitment and training consultancy established by another Irishman, S G Hawkins. He was one of the founders of the Federation of Kenya Employers. In the early 1960s he and the national trade union organasitation, the Kenya Federation of Labour, were in opposite camps, but greatly respected each other. Mboya invited Deacon to lecture on man management at the Federation of Labour's headquarters With Kenya's independence came many remunerated and voluntary appointments. He served six years on the Industrial Court, was a governor of the Kenya Polytechnic, Chairman of Coates (EA) and a board member of Securicor (Kenya).

Deacon was Chairman and Commandant of the Royal British Legion, setting up the 'Askari Appeal' to assist the families of Kenyan soldiers who had served in the British army during and after the Second World war.

In recognition for his work with the President's Award scheme he was awarded the Order of the Burning Spear, (MBS) one of Kenya's leading civil decorations.

He retained his closeness to Ireland over all the years and had a fine singing voice, one of his favourite songs being the 'Croppy Boy'. He was the Chairman of the Kenya Irish Society and in 2000 the society presented him with a lifetime achievement award.

Deacon was a board member of the Kenya Jockey Club and was also a race steward. His love of sport endured over the years and, with the his loss of sight in his early 80s, he had sports programmes on television commentated upon live or reports read from the papers by friends and his dedicated helpers in the retirement home where he and his wife moved in 2000. Only weeks before his death he telephoned his son-in-law to establish the name of the Irish number 9 who had been selected to join the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

Throughout his long life and varied career, Paddy Deacon was seen by many as a fine example of that generation in which courage, leadership, inspiration and integrity were so much part of who they were.

Paddy Deacon's wife, Bar, died in Nairobi in October 2016 aged 101. His son, Michael, predeceased him in 1986. He is survived by his daughters Maureen Havelock and Elizabeth Ball and eight grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.

Wexford People