Remembering John Leake, NAAFI Canteen Manager during Falklands War

On May 12th 1982, 3,000 Welsh and Scots Guards and Gurkha Rifles embarked on the QE2 at Southampton Docks to the sound of military music, brave smiles, cheerful waves and tears. For many, it was also their last cup of tea, shared beside NAAFI Wagons standing in the shadow of the great ocean liner.

It was a long day for the NAAFI team manning the Wagons, who were among the first on the scene. At two minutes past four, QE2 slipped her moorings and sailed for less friendly territory, while helicopters hovered above her and those on the dockside waved and cheered until the ship was out of sight.

During the conflict, national media hailed NAAFI Canteen Manager, then 32-year-old John Leake, as a ‘NAAFI Tiger’ and hero of the Falkland Islands task force. He was hailed for his part in the battle and to save the crippled frigate, HMS Ardent from further enemy attack. As Argentinian war planes continued firing at the burning, sinking ship, he manned a machine gun in the last act of defiance.

As the battle raged, the first NAAFI staff landed at Ajax Bay, where they quickly established a bulk issue store and worked for two months in makeshift premises in cold, wet and difficult conditions.

The staff slept on the floor with only their sleeping bags and the rain would shower down on them through a large hole in the roof. Working diligently throughout the conflict for seven days a week without a break, they moved from job to job enduring the harsh weather conditions and frequent bombing raids. They did not leave until after the island was safely back in British hands.

The team of the NAAFI Club in Portsmouth were on the docks to welcome home the returning troops and prepared and distributed thousands of snacks and refreshments from the mobile canteen on the jetty. Refreshments included thousands of sausage rolls and scotch eggs, many pounds of apples and of course gallons of piping hot NAAFI Tea.

After the conflict, over 100 NAAFI employees received the South Atlantic medal for their service. John Leake was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal whilst working for NAAFI and was one of only twelve to be issued to the Armed Forces during the war.

John sadly passed away in Plymouth in 2000, but his memory remains in the minds of those who work for NAAFI to this day.

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