John Leake (NAAFI manager)

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John Leake
Birth name John Steven Leake
Born (1949-10-26)26 October 1949
Erdington, Birmingham, England
Died 13 February 2000(2000-02-13) (aged 50)
Plymouth, England
Buried Weston Mill, Plymouth, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
 Royal Navy
Rank Canteen Manager (NAAFI)
Petty officer (Royal Navy)
Unit Devonshire and Dorset Regiment
HMS Ardent
HMS Sutherland
Battles/wars Falklands War
* Battle of Falkland Sound
Awards Distinguished Service Medal

John Steven Leake DSM (26 October 1949 – 13 February 2000) was an English recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal whilst working for the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI), one of only twelve to be issued to the British forces during the Falklands War. Prior to working for the NAAFI, he worked in private security and was a soldier in the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment of the British Army.

Early life

Born in Erdington, a suburb of Birmingham, England, Leake attended Albert Road School in Aston.[1] Leake joined the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, serving with the 1st Battalion of the Regiment in Northern Ireland.[2] As one of his roles, he was an instructor in the use of the General-purpose machine gun.[3]

At the age of 24 he left the British Army to work for private security companies, including for Securicor at Birmingham Airport.[3][4] He was working for locally based IMI plc, when he decided to join the West Midlands Police, but after arriving early for his interview he read a local paper and saw an advertisement for the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI), and decided to apply for a job with them instead.[1][3]

NAAFI career

Petty Officer Leake originally joined HMS Ardent as a civilian NAAFI Canteen Manager. On the declaration of Active Service he volunteered to enrol as a Petty Officer on 15th May 1982. On 21st May 1982 HMS Ardent came under heavy attack by Argentine aircraft. Using his previous Army training, Petty Officer Leake was stationed as a machine gunner. Throughout the air attacks he remained cool and calm even though the ship was being hit by bombs and cannon fire. He fired large quantities of accurate tracer at the attackers and inflicted damage on a Skyhawk. His courage, steadfastness and total disregard for his own safety undoubtedly saved the ship from many further attacks and was an inspiration to all those in the vicinity.

John Leake's DSM Medal Citation, London Gazette, 8 October 1982[3]

By the time the Falklands War broke out in 1982, Leake was serving as a Canteen Manager in the Naval Canteen Service wing of the NAAFI on board HMS Ardent, a Royal Navy Type 21 frigate.[4] His role on board the ship was to run an onboard shop selling confectionery, cigarettes, beer and toiletries to other members of the crew.[4]

The ship was ordered to proceed to Ascension Island, where after three days it proceeded to the Falklands.[4] On the morning of 7 May, he was invited to practice on a general-purpose machine gun, being informed afterwards that he was to take up that role instead at action stations should active service be declared,[3] with his former role of casualty coordinator in sickbay being taken by his Canteen Assistant, Nigel Woods.[5] While en route, active service was declared and Leake signed on to the Royal Navy on a temporary basis, becoming a petty officer in the Royal Navy, but continuing in his previous role as Canteen Manager. Being a member of the Navy allowed him to be covered by the protections of the Geneva Convention.[4]

On 21 May, the Ardent moved into position in Falkland Sound as the lead ship to bombard Argentine positions in order to divert the attention of the enemy force from the British landing in the San Carlo inlet. Leake operated a deck mounted machine gun during the ensuing attacks by Argentine aircraft, and was credited with downing an Argentine Douglas A-4 Skyhawk,[3][4] puncturing the plane's fuel tanks.[5] He continued to man the gun whilst the ship was hit by seventeen missiles and bombs. Along with the remaining crew, Leake abandoned ship, boarding HMS Yarmouth, which pulled alongside the listing Ardent.[4]

Leake was later posted to HMS Sutherland, and died on 13 February 2000 in St Luke's Hospice, Plymouth, from cancer after previously having a kidney removed in an attempt to beat the disease. His funeral took place at the crematorium at Weston Mill, Plymouth on 21 February 2000.[1]

Private life

He married Carole, and together they had a son as well as two sons from Carole's previous marriage. At the time of his death, he was living in Milehouse, Plymouth.[1] He was 1 of 5 brothers: David, Ian, Geoffrey and Stephen


Admiral Sandy Woodward, the commander of the British Naval Force during the Falklands War, wrote about Leake in his memoirs. He said "I was sure there would be many stories of heroism to come out of it, but of them all, I remain most impressed by the conduct of John Leake who manned the machine gun in Ardent. He was not really in the Navy, but, as we say, we are all of one company, the Captain and the NAAFI man. And we all go together."[3]

Following Leake's death in 2000, his medals were put up for auction on 23 September 2011. The initial estimate expected the medals to be sold for up to £50,000.[6] It instead sold for £110,000, beating the previous record paid for a Distinguished Service Medal set at £59,800 in 2003.[4]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Hurst, Ben (19 February 2000). "Falklands war hero is killed by cancer". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  2. ^ "Colchester 1980-1983 (including Armagh 1981 and Kenya 1982)". The Keep Military Museum. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Lot 958, 23 Sep 11". Dix Noonan Webb. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Parsons, Chris (28 September 2011). "World record £110,000 paid for Falklands medal awarded to canteen manager who manned machine gun on doomed ship". Daily Mail. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Woods, Nigel. "'Through Fire and Water' - The Falklands War from the NAAFI Canman Assistant's Viewpoint". HMS Arden Association. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  6. ^ Hartley-Parkinson, Richard (1 September 2011). "Bravery medal of canteen manager who manned machine gun in Falklands War to defend his stricken ship set to sell for thousands". Daily Mail. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
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