Is Operation Mincemeat’s Jean Leslie Dead or Alive?

Directed by John Madden, ‘Operation Mincemeat’ is a thrilling war drama movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It is based on Ben Macintyre’s eponymous book and depicts an incredible deception operation by British intelligence during World War II. To divert German troops from Sicily so that the Allied forces can invade, Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu and Flight Lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley from the Twenty Committee execute a brilliant plan.

The duo plants fake documents on a corpse and places it in enemy territory so that it can be noticed by the Germans. With the documents, they aim at convincing the Germans that the Allies have given up on Sicily and shall invade Greece instead. While they manage to procure a corpse, it is MI5 clerk Jean Leslie’s contribution that helps authenticate their plan. Since most of the movie is based on a true story, the audience wonders whether Jean is a real person too. Let’s find out, shall we? SPOILERS AHEAD.

Is Jean Leslie a Real MI Clerk?

Yes, Jean Leslie is based on a real person. In the movie, she is depicted as a young widow who works as an MI5 clerk, to whom Charles is secretly attracted to. For the preparations for Operation Mincemeat, he and Ewen obtain the corpse of Glyndwr Michael, a homeless man who died from consuming rat poison. They proceed to create a fake identity for him and name him Major William Martin. However, to create a proper backstory, they require a woman’s photograph which they can pass off as Pam’s, who is Major Martin’s fake fiancée.

Thus, Charles approaches Jean and borrows her photo for usage, and she eventually becomes a crucial part of the team. In real life, Nancy Jean Leslie was a beautiful 19-year-old MI5 clerk whom Ewen Montagu recruited in February 1943 to pose as Pam in the actual Operation Mincemeat. She supplied a photograph of her posing in a swimsuit and was given the identity of Major Martin’s fiancée Pam. As per Ewen and Charles’ cooked-up narrative, she was a government employee whom he had met five weeks before his death and proposed to.

Born on November 20, 1923, at Andover, Hampshire, Jean’s father was Sir Norman Leslie, Bt, a director of Cable & Wireless. Though she had no formal education, she was extremely fluent in French, an attribute that most likely landed her a job with the MI5 in 1941. Aged 18 at that time, Jean worked in the counter-intelligence and double agent section of MI5. Her duties included examining reports from Camp 020, the wartime internment center at Ham, Surrey, where enemy spies were interrogated, and passing on any relevant information to her seniors.

Furthermore, Jean was considered extremely gorgeous and charming, which led to them pretending to be Pam and Bill (Major Martin) in reality and engaging in what appeared to be a casual romance. According to Ben Macintyre’s book, Jean shared that Ewen began sending her passionate letters signed as Bill and took her out for dinners and movie dates. She too sent him another copy of her swimsuit photograph signed as Pam and accompanied him to his farewell before he left for America to be with his wife and kids.

Image Credit: National Archives/The Telegraph

Ewen kept in touch with Jean via written correspondence till several years later. She, on the other hand, married Colonel William Gerard Leigh in November 1946, after a brief courtship. He was a reputed officer in the Life Guards and later became the chairman of the Guards Polo Club. The couple traveled extensively after the war and went on to have two daughters and two sons together. In addition, Jean became a part of numerous charities and developed an interest in gardening. She and her husband led a wonderful life till his death in 2008.

Is Jean Leslie Dead or Alive?

Image Credit: Jean Gerard Leigh/Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War II

88-year-old Jean Gerard Leigh (née Leslie) died on April 3, 2012, and is survived by her four children. In 1951, before Ewen published his written account of Operation Mincemeat, he asked Jean’s permission to use her swimsuit photograph to describe Pam. It was not before 1996 that Jean’s story became known, as she publicly admitted her role in Operation Mincemeat after a local council officer deduced her connection to it. Though not widely spoken of, her significant contribution helped secure the Allies’ victory and has shaped the course of history.

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