It is with sadness we record the passing of Sir Jack Leslie on 18 April 2016 at his home in Glaslough, Co Monaghan. The Society was delighted to receive Jack as our guest of honour at a World Wars Remembrance Event held in Parkanaur in November 2011.
The night was focused upon the personal reminiscences of family who’s loved ones had been involved in the two World Wars. It was a very powerful night charged with emotion, none more than when Jack got up to speak about his own experiences as a soldier and prisoner of war. As an audience we were aware of Jack’s age, then just weeks from his 95th birthday, and I suppose we felt we should be understanding of what could be reasonably expected from a man of such an age. However, as Jack stood at the lectern tall and determined the years seemed to slip away as he began to speak.
Jacks voice spoke eloquently, clearly and with such volume and authority that everyone in the room was gripped with what he had to say. He spoke of those moments in June 1940 leading up to his battalion’s surrender as they fought a desperate rear-guard action at Dunkirk. Jack’s job as an officer was to support his men in what I’m sure they realised was a doomed mission. Their job was to delay the advancing German Panzers long enough to allow tens of thousands of their comrades to escape from the beaches to their rear. Eventually the time came to surrender and Jack and his men prepared themselves to be taken captive.
As an audience we were all aware of the sense of history as Jack recounted the horrors of his experiences as he and his men where marched away from the front back east to where they would eventually be imprisoned; in Jacks case until 1945. His recollections where painted with such clarity it wasn’t hard to imagine what he described of the carnage of the roads leading away from Dunkirk as thousands of refugees mingled with advancing columns of German soldiers. Everywhere there was destruction. He recounted an episode where a shell landed near them on the road and when they came too all around where the dead and injured, many of them civilians.
Jack and his comrades would endure many hardships before he was released in 1945 but he retained an obvious love of life which we are all joyfully aware of. We owe so much to Jack and his generation, there determination and resilience but most especially their desire to survive the most appalling adversity. We will all remember grandparents and great grandparents like Jack who have sadly passed on but it is important that we do what we can to honour their memory and learn from their experiences in all aspects of our lives.