Poppy In memoriam Poppy

Lieutenant Leslie Ernest McNeill




Leslie Ernest McNeill was born in Brighton, Sussex, in 1887, the fourth of seven children of retired Australian sheep-farmer Adam McNeill and his wife Janetta (both Irish-born). In the early 1900s he spent some time in Australia, and in England served for three years in the King's Colonials Imperial Yeomanry.

Around 1910 his father and some of his family moved from England to Gardenvale, Stranocum, County Down. Leslie joined them there in 1911 or 1912.

McNeill enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Belfast on 18 August 1914 (No.1010), soon after his friend James Greer - both could have applied for and received commissions, but were unwilling to wait. They embarked for France on 21 August with C Squadron, seeing action during the retreat from Mons and advance to the Aisne. Their commanding officer Lieutenant Barrie Combe wrote on 24 September in a letter to his wife:

Greer [&] McNeil the two gentlemen recruits who you saw at the Northern Counties Hotel have proved a great success. They are two of the best men I have got. Also I have a son of Dr Darling in my Troop and a young Coey – all good men.

On 7 October 1914 McNeill was promoted to lance corporal, and on 7 December he and Greer were commissioned as 2nd lieutenants. McNeill was posted to the 3rd (Prince of Wales) Dragoon Guards.

On 15 March 1915 the Belfast News-Letter carried the following story:

News to hand shows that a Ballymoney officer, Lieutenant Kenneth M. Greer, 3rd Dragoon Guards, ... has had a thrilling experience in the trenches. Having been engaged for about a week in the advance trenches, one afternoon a bullet from the enemy struck the peak of his cap, passed through his hair, and pierced the back of his cap without injuring him in any way. Lieutenant McNeill, of the 4th Dragoon Guards, a native of Gardenvale, Stranocum, who was near at the time, was shown the cap, and it was resolved to keep it as a memento. It may be mentioned that Lieutenants Greer and McNeill have seen active service since the outbreak of hostilities. Not being content to wait for commissions, both young men volunteered in the North Irish Horse, and were thus enabled to proceed on active service at once. They received their commissions while in France in December last.

McNeill was promoted to the rank of lieutenant on 20 March 1916. In the early months of 1917 he became ill and on 23 May he left his unit for treatment in the UK. A medical board at the 4th London General Hospital on 12 June reported that:

Since he joined the service he has had a winter cough. This winter cough was worse. Became more & more tired, lost 3 stone in weight & admitted to hospital May 1917. Physical signs of tuberculosis infiltration at the upper part of either lung. T.B. present in the sputum. No history of previous lung trouble.

The board concluded that the tuberculosis, contracted while McNeill was in France in 1917, was so severe that he would only ever be fit for light duties at home, and recommended he be sent to a sanatorium once his temperature stabilised. On 16 June he was admitted to the Nordrach-on-Dee sanatorium at Banchory, Scotland. He remained there through 1917 and 1918, his condition gradually improving but the TB remaining. At the end of 1918 he was moved to the Home Sanatorium at West Southbourne, near Bournemouth. A medical board held at Bournemouth of 10 February 1919 found:

... evidence of extensive tuberculosis infiltration of both lungs ... The Board consider him permanently unfit for any further military service.

Lieutenant McNeill died at the Home Sanatorium on 25 March 1919 due to tuberculosis and influenza. The Belfast News-Letter reported on 31 March 1919 that:

Treatment and care had apparently just set him right when he succumbed to an attack of influenza. He was a fine soldier and "a very gallant gentleman."

He was buried at Sanderstead (All Saints) Churchyard, Surrey, England. His grave lies west of the Church. The gravestone inscription reads:



Lieutenant McNeill's older brother Sydney Adam O'Neill served before the war as a half-company commander in the Dervock F Company of the UVF's 2nd Battalion, North Antrim Regiment. On 7 October 1914 he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Royal Irish Rifles, serving in the 11th (Service) and 18th (Reserve) Battalions.


Image kindly provided by Steve Rogers, Project Co-ordinator of the The War Graves Photographic Project, www.twgpp.org.