John Leale (1892-1969)

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The Reverend Sir John Leale (1892-1969), Jurat, President of the Controlling Committee (Dec 1940-Aug 1945) during the German Occupation, knighted 1945.

Contents

The Early Years

John Leale was born on 14 January 1892 on Bridge Street, St. Sampson’s, Guernsey, to Amelia Susan (née Bird), wife of John Leale. In 1900 he started at Elizabeth College, and went on to take an M.A. in Economics at Jesus College, Cambridge. In 1913 he offered for the Methodist ministry, and entered Richmond College, then becoming an assistant tutor in Didsbury College, Manchester.
From 1916 to 1919 Leale was based at Wesley Hall, Great Ancoats Street, Manchester and served on the staff of the Manchester and Salford Mission. During this time, in 1918, he was ordained at the Manchester Conference.

Military Service

John Leale served with the 1st Battalion, Royal Guernsey Light Infantry as a Temporary 2nd Lieutenant, but resigned in 1918 for reason of ill health.

Marriage

On 9 August 1918 he married Leonie Dorey, daughter of John William Dorey and Léonie Marie (née Poat), of ‘Ormond’, Grandes Maisons Road, St. Sampson’s. They had two children; Paul (b. 1921) and Marian (b. 1923).

Interwar Years

From 1919 to 1920, Rev. John Leale served in the Bolton (Wesley) Circuit, and then from 1920 to 1922 at the National Children’s Home and Orphanage, Faversham, Kent.
In 1922 he returned to Guernsey for health reasons and spent the rest of his ministry as a minister without pastoral charge.
During the interwar years he set up the 'Boys' Club' in St. Sampson’s. He was a friend of Rev. Jimmy Butterworth who was famous for his youth work in London.
In 1928 Rev. Leale took over Leale Ltd. as chairman, on the death of his father Jurat John Leale on 29 May 1928.
In 1930 Rev. Leale was elected People’s Deputy, and in 1934 was elected Jurat of the Royal Court.
By 1937, according to 'Who's Who in Guernsey 1937', Jurat Leale was president of the Finance Committee and a member of the Church Rates Committee, Education Council and Boys' Club Association.
On 1 July 1939 his only son, Paul, was drowned in Bellegreve Bay in a boating accident at the age of eighteen.

World War II and the German Occupation

Liberation and Post-war Career

  • 7 May 1945: Leale summoned to Platzkommandantur for a protest about the premature showing of British flags.
  • 8 May 1945: Leale and Carey summoned to Royal Court at 10.30am to hear that the Germans were handing back the islands to their own authorities. Leale then handed in his resignation, which was refused by Victor Carey, the Bailiff, on 18 May.
  • 9 May 1945: British forces land in Guernsey. Leale greeted at his home ‘Ormond’ by Colonel Power, while still in his dressing gown.
  • 11 December 1945: Knighthoods are announced in the London Gazette for Jurat Leale, along with bailiffs Victor Carey of Guernsey and Alexander Coutanche of Jersey.
  • 1948: Appointed Conseiller.
  • 1952-1961: Appointed Acting Magistrate.
  • 1953: Appointed Lieutenant-Bailiff.
  • 1957: Death of Sir John Leale’s wife, Lady Leonie. His book “The Saint and the Boy: And Twenty Other Stories for Children” is published by Epworth Press.
  • 1960: Appointed Acting President of the States of Guernsey.
  • 1967: Retirement.

Death

On 22 July 1969 Jurat the Reverend Sir John Leale died at the age of 77 in his suite at the Royal Hotel, St. Peter Port.

Tributes

Young Jack Leale, who took over from him (Ambrose Sherwill) for the last years of the Occupation, was a different sort of chap altogether, but in his way as good. He wasn’t warm and lovable as Ambrose was, nor as reckless, but he was a truly honourable man. I write of him as Jack Leale with no disrespect, though he was made Sir John, for I remember him as a long thin boy, who used to sit on the rocks in front of the Hawthorns reading a book. He became a Wesleyan Minister and wasn’t a man who liked wars, or wanted wars; and he didn’t want us to hate anybody, not even the Germans: but he was like steel in his quiet way to get out of them all he thought was fair for them to let us have. When I think of those who was the heads of Guernsey during the Occupation, I am proud to be a Guernseyman; but nowadays when Guernsey is flourishing like the green bay tree, I am not so sure.
G. B. Edwards, ‘The Book of Ebenezer Le Page’

When the files containing some Islanders’ scurrilous allegations against Leale were released in 1996 they caused an outcry from readers of the Guernsey Evening Press. One, from Mrs Miriam Mahy stated that, “The thought of John Leale living well above the ordinary rations would be laughable if it were not a wicked slur on a good man’s name. He was meticulous about accepting nothing above the standard rations. On one occasion his mother sent him a bag of potatoes. These were immediately sent by him to the depôt for distribution. Mrs Dredge of the fish shop offered Mrs Leale a lobster as a treat. It was refused as Mr Leale would not permit any food in the house beyond the ordinary rations.” … “People noticed that from the beginning he refused the use of an official car; a large, well furnished office instead of his tiny room at Hirzel House which was just large enough to take a single chair, a desk and a telephone. He set his own standard at the level of the poorest Islander. He was described by two chroniclers of the Occupation, Bill Green and William Bell as “a man of total honesty and integrity”.
Herbert White. John Leale— Our Foremost Champion, Guernsey Society Review, winter 2005-6

For this frail-looking son of the church to be the bastion between the Germans and the States and people of Guernsey was extremely remarkable. Yet behind the apparent mild façade was a character as strong as steel. He was not to be vanquished by blandishments or threats, and his strength withstood the stresses of the occupying power to a singular degree. In every walk of Island life he was respected. He might have been austere and remote to some, but he had no enemies. He was venerated and regarded with the highest esteem and, with his death Guernsey has lost one who will go down in history as one of its foremost champions.
Obituary, Guernsey Evening Press and Star, 1969

Though a very rich man, he was simple in his tastes, caring nothing for food or drink or conventional pleasures. He had only one human vanity: a liking for clean and well-fitting clothes. He confessed to a weakness for the feel of fresh linen and of a crisply pressed suit. It was a weakness which was to have less and less gratification as the Occupation proceeded, and he was soon as shabby as everyone else…He did not even claim privileges to which his position clearly entitled him, like the use of a car. Every morning he walked the two miles from his home in St. Sampson’s to his office at St. Peter Port, and every evening he walked the two miles back again. If Sherwill had the virtues of a soldier, John Leale had some of the virtues of an ascetic”.
Alan and Mary Seaton Wood, ‘Islands in Danger’, 1955

It was … during the German occupation of Guernsey that he proved himself to be one of the Island's greatest sons. Toward the end of 1940 he was appointed President of the States Controlling Committee in which office he served with absolute integrity. No man was more beloved by the 'occupied' nor respected by the 'occupier' and in recognition of his outstanding services during those difficult years he was knighted in 1945. Although his work as a statesman and administrator occupied so much of his time no one was more regular in attendance at worship and he continued preaching until his last illness. He was a man who loved children and one of his many services to his native Guernsey was the prominent part he played in the formation of clubs for young people. He was by nature a reserved man yet no one passed him unnoticed; the man in authority never lost the common touch. Those in need he never turned away.
Obituary, Methodist Minutes of Conference, 1970

Sir John Leale Avenue off Victoria Road, St. Sampson’s, and Sir John Leale House in Guelles Road, St Peter Port are both named after him.

Sources

  • Report of the President of the Controlling Committee of the States of Guernsey on the activities of the Committee during the five years of German Occupation, Guernsey Weekly Press, Tuesday, 29 May 1945.
  • L. James Marr, Guernsey People, 1984
  • William M. Bell, Guernsey Occupied But Never Conquered, 2002
  • Who’s Who in Guernsey 1937
  • Obituary, Methodist Minutes of Conference, 1970
  • Obituary, Guernsey Evening Press and Star, 23 July 1969
  • Herbert White, ‘John Leale – Our Foremost Champion, Guernsey Society Review, Winter 2005-6
  • Charles Cruickshank, The German Occupation of the Channel Islands, 1975
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