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John Edmund Leister

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Died: 14 November 1942

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Ted Leister had enlisted into the Territorial Army around 1937. He joined the locally recruited 210th Field Company of Royal Engineers as a driver and had the serial number 2072828.

John Edmund, known as ‘Ted’, was born on 8th July 1920, his parents being John Henry and Ruth (née Moore) Leister. After leaving The Pells  School, Lewes, Ted’s first job was as a gardener’s boy at Southover Manor School, Lewes. He subsequently worked for Stones Bakery in The Cliffe and whilst there joined the Cliffe Bonfire Society. He was married to Joan and they had one son who died in an accident at school at the age of ten. The family home was  at 2 Downsview, Rushey Green, Ringmer.

Along with his contemporaries, Driver Leister knew that being a member of the Territorials was not just a weekend pastime. With the uniform came a commitment to defend his country in times of crisis. During September 1939 Britain mobilised and called up the Territorial Army and Reservists. Many a young man was at the annual fortnight training camp during August 1939 and, if fortunate, rejoined ‘civvy street’ some six years later. Ted Leister was part of the British Expeditionary Force sent to France to try and stem the invading German Armies. As part of that force of brave British servicemen he was compelled to retreat in the face of overwhelming odds and found himself at Dunkirk. Ted was one of the 338,000 men lifted from the beaches by a flotilla of boats sent out from England between 28th May and 6th June 1940.

 

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John Leister is third from the left in this group

 

North Africa was to be the next theatre of war for Ted Leister as part of the 8th Army. The 210th Field Company, Royal Engineers, commanded by Major J.H. Read, left Caterham and sailed from England for the Middle East via Capetown on 29th May 1942. They arrived at Khataba Station nearly two months later on 21st July and joined 44th Division. Following the Battle of El Alamein, which lasted from 23rd October until 4th November 1942, the British Army commenced the pursuit of Rommel’s retreating forces. The 210th Field Company was by then under the command of 7th Armoured Division and had been engaged upon extensive minefield clearance duties. Most of the mines were German but some were British and no less deadly for that. During the course of the battle Driver Leister was badly burned trying to extinguish a fire in a lorry on 24/25th October.

 

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The original cross marking John's Grave at El Alamein Military Cemetery

On 14th November they had a day to themselves to get their kit into order. It was, in Army parlance a dhobie day, with the added attraction of make and mend! Of course, during a War one is never off duty and certain military jobs had to be done. One such job was removing a large quantity of disarmed but still very explosive German anti-tank Tellermines to a safe area. The engineer assigned the task of driving the deadly cargo was sick and Ted volunteered to take his place behind the wheel despite his own injuries. The lorry struck an undetected mine beside the road and the whole load of mines went off in the resultant explosion. Driver John Leister and seven of his comrades in the sub-section who travelled on the lorry were killed. The remains of Ted and those others who could be identified were buried in El Alamein Military Cemetery.

 

Adapted from Valiant Hearts of Ringmer by Geoff Bridger: Ammonite Press, 1993