The Soldier o’ Fortune

Colonel Jack Leckie, D.S.O.
16th (Canadian Scottish) BattalionLeckie_J

Colonel “Jack” was dashing, impulsive, with the stocky build which indicated great reserves of physical strength, and the temperament of the man of action ready for any adventure. And of adventures he had more than the considerable share which generally is met with by members of his calling. He passed along the most beaten paths of land, sea and air, and ventured on others, of which the majority of humankind know nothing outside of story books.

(Urquhart, History of the 16th Battalion CEF, 1932, 97)

Born in Acton-Vale, Quebec on 19 February 1872, John Edwards Leckie was a soldier, mining engineer, adventurer, world traveler and treasure hunter. In August 1914, he joined the 16th Battalion and served as second-in-command to his brother, Lieutenant Colonel R. G. E. Leckie. Both had graduated from the Royal Military College and served in the Boer War. Jack had won the Distinguished Service Order for gallantry in the South African campaign.

After Robert Leckie was promoted to brigadier general in August 1915, Jack assumed command of the Canadian Scottish. According to 16th Battalion chronicler, Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Urquhart, “A strong affection existed between the two brothers, but in physical frame and characteristics they were totally unlike.” Whereas Robert was reserved, shy and slightly aloof, Jack was an outgoing man of action and adventure.

A poet for the battalion trench journal the Brazier wrote:
Come call your boys together,
Major Jack,
They will follow to the death,
Where you lead them, when you need them,
Major Jack

In November 1916, Leckie left the front for England and took command of the 14th Brigade, which later disbanded. He was given charge of the 2nd Reserve Brigade until April 1918, when he began preparing for a new assignment to Russia. In summer 1918, Leckie joined a multi-national task force to Murmansk with the objective, in the words of Winston Churchill, “to strangle at birth the Bolshevik State.” After the aborted Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, Leckie returned to Canada in September 1919.

During the postwar, he was also involved in revolutions and civil wars through his mining operations in South America. In the 1930s, he led a futile hunt for $90 million worth of Spanish gold said to be buried in an island off Costa Rica. Leckie also hoped to fight in the Chinese Revolution, reasoning, “I would like to get over. I’m not married you know—so it doesn’t matter.”

Leckie eventually did get married in 1946. Colonel John S. Tait of the 29th Battalion was his best man.

Leckie died in Port Hope on 7 August 1950.

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