TRIBUTES have been paid to a decorated veteran who started his Army career as a teenager guarding Nazi war criminals.

Devoted family and friends attended the funeral yesterday of Joe Leeming, of Rowntree Avenue, York, at Sheriff Hutton Church. He was 79.

Mr Leeming joined the Army in 1951 and guarded war criminals in Berlin, including top Nazi Rudolph Hess, before being posted to Korea with the 1st Battalion Durham Light Infantry and later taking part in the Egyptian campaign.

He was a member of the Korean War Veterans Association, and the proud bearer of the Korea Medal, the Korean United Nations Medal, the Territorial Army Volunteer Reservist Medal Long Service Medal and the Imperial Service Medal.

In 2006, he was also granted the General Service Canals Zone Medal for his efforts in the Suez Campaign between 1953 and 1955 – more than 50 years after his service fighting in the Egyptian conflict in which 300 British soldiers were killed.

About 200,000 British troops, later termed “the forgotten army”, served in the canal zone during the 1951 to 1955 emergency.

The Ministry of Defence and the Army Historical Branch carried out a number of reviews in the 1990s, before Tony Blair announced in 2003 that a medal would be awarded. At the time Mr Leeming, who received his medal in a parcel on Christmas Eve, told The Press: “I’m glad that at last our efforts have been recognised. People high up have been campaigning for the medal for years and it took a long time for it to go through the Government.”

The father of six children – Michael, Susan, John, Robert, Joanne and Richard – he was also a grandfather and great-grandfather. He returned to Britain in 1955 and worked for the Ministry of Defence at Strensall.

Richard Leeming, his youngest son, said his father never missed a Remembrance Service in more than 50 years, and his family was incredibly proud of him.

“He liked to talk about his exploits and his medals which he has left to his grandson Jack, my son, who is 12.”

Mr Leeming said his father had long enjoyed good health and had still been riding his bike until a year ago.

“He knew many people and had a lot of friends. He enjoyed everyone’s company, and was a well-kept man, always smart.”