James Le Mesurier

James Le Mesurier

James Gustaf Edward Le Mesurier

(1971-05-25)25 May 1971
Died11 November 2019(2019-11-11) (aged 48)
Istanbul, Turkey
OccupationArmy officer
Known forCo-founding Syrian White Helmets
Military career
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1990–2000
UnitRoyal Green Jackets

James Gustaf Edward Le Mesurier OBE (25 May 1971 – 11 November 2019)[1] was the British co-founder of the White Helmets, a volunteer civil defence organisation in the Syrian Civil War. He was a British Army officer in the 1990s and also worked with the United Nations peacekeeping force in the former Yugoslavia.[2] He was also the director of the non-profit Mayday Rescue Foundation.[3][4]

Early and personal life[edit]

Le Mesurier was born on 25 May 1971 at RAF Changi in Singapore.[5][6] He was the son of Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Havilland Churchill Le Mesurier, of the Royal Marines,[7] and had an older sister.[6] Actor John Le Mesurier was a relative.[5] He was educated at Northaw prep school, Canford School and went to Ulster University sponsored by the army but for security reasons finished the final year of his degree at Aberystwyth University.[5]

Le Mesurier was married three times, the first two ended in divorce. He had two daughters with his second wife.[8][9] In 2018 he married Emma Winberg,[9][10] who is a director of Mayday Rescue and formerly a Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomat.[5][11]

Military and government service[edit]

On 9 September 1990, Le Mesurier was commissioned into the Royal Green Jackets,[10] British Army, as a second lieutenant (University Cadetship); the British Army was sponsoring him through university.[12] Having graduated from university, he was appointed second lieutenant (on probation) on 20 June 1993 upon entering the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.[13] At Sandhurst he graduated top of class and won the Queens’ Medal award.[7] He was promoted to lieutenant on 11 August 1993,[14] and to captain on 11 August 1996.[15] He served with the Royal Green Jackets in Northern Ireland, and as an intelligence officer in Bosnia and Kosovo.[5][10] In 1999 he worked as a Return and Reconstruction Task Force Officer at the Office of the High Representative in the former Yugoslavia.[16] He retired from the military on 1 June 2000.[17]

Le Mesurier then worked for a year as a United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo Policy Advisor in the former Yugoslavia.[16][2] He then became the Head of the Jericho Monitoring Mission for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 2002 to 2004, responsible for monitoring six Palestinian prisoners.[7][18] Subsequently, he took an Advisor role at the Embassy of the United States, Baghdad.[16]

Private security work[edit]

From 2005 to 2007, Le Mesurier worked for the British headquartered Olive Group (later merged into the U.S. Constellis Group).[16]

From 2008 to 2012, he worked for Good Harbor Consulting[16] run by Richard A. Clarke, formerly National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism under U.S. Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. His work included training the United Arab Emirates (UAE) oil and gas field protection force, designing security infrastructure for Abu Dhabi, and safety and security for the 2010 Arabian Gulf Cup in Yemen.[19][20]

From 2012 to 2014, Le Mesurier worked for the UAE consultancy Analysis, Research, and Knowledge (ARK),[9] which stated its goal was to "help realise the legitimate political, social and economic aspirations of conflict-affected communities".[16][21] In 2013, with the Turkish NGO AKUT Search and Rescue Association, ARK started training non-governmental Syrian civil defence teams in Turkey, funded by the UK, U.S. and Japanese governments and managed by Le Mesurier.[22][23][24]

Work with the White Helmets[edit]

Foundation and activities[edit]

Le Mesurier founded and was the director of Mayday Rescue, a charity that trained and supported Syrian volunteers in emergency response, including search and rescue of bombed buildings, and medical evacuation.[1][3] The volunteer group developed into the White Helmets (a nickname for the Syria Civil Defence – not to be confused with the official Syrian Civil Defence Forces), an organisation which was founded in 2013.[1] By 2015, it was reported to have more than 2,700 volunteers. Le Mesurier told Al-Jazeera that by 2015 they had saved more than 24,000 people. "At the time, I was working in Istanbul ... and got together with a group of Turkish earthquake rescue volunteers", Le Mesurier told Al-Jazeera.[25]

Mayday Rescue reported that between 2014 and 2018 it received funding of $127 million, $19 million of which came from non-government sources and the remainder from Western governments.[26]

In 2018, the UK agreed to give asylum to some of the 500 White Helmets members and relatives who had been evacuated to Jordan, following lobbying by Le Mesurier. The UK government justified the decision by noting that "The White Helmets have saved over 115,000 lives during the Syrian conflict".[7][27]

In the 2016 Birthday Honours, Le Mesurier was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) "for services to Syria Civil Defence and the protection of civilians in Syria".[28][29]

Russian and Syrian disinformation campaign[edit]

The Times reported that Le Mesurier was "the subject of an intense black propaganda campaign for years by pro-Assad activists and Russian diplomats".[30][31] The New York Times reported that the group and Le Mesurier were the target of "unfounded conspiracy theories".[3] It was alleged that Le Mesurier's British Army background meant that he was effectively operating as a British state agent.[32] Janine di Giovanni has written the claim he was a spy lacks any evidence.[33] The accusations, from those who are opposed to any Western involvement in Syria and are backers of the Assad regime, include bloggers connected to the English-language Russian media who claim the White Helmets and Le Mesurier were intending to push for regime change in Syria.[34][35] Ben Nimmo, of the social media analysis company Graphika, said such claims began around 2015 with the involvement of Syrian and Russian forces in the War, and increased after their military began the Siege of Aleppo in late 2016 with their targetting of hospitals, a potential war crime, which the White Helmets witnessed and were by now able to provide video evidence.[36]

A week before Le Mesurier died, he was accused on Twitter by Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Maria Zakharova of being a former MI6 agent with "connections to terrorist groups".[30][31] The UK Permanent Representative to the UN, Karen Pierce described Le Mesurier as a "true hero". She denied the charges, saying that they were "categorically untrue. He was a British soldier."[37]

"If you make the decision to risk your life, to save other people, it goes against radicalization", Le Mesurier told di Giovanni in an article for Newsweek in 2016. "They’ve emerged as the representative of the average, good Syrian."[38]


On 11 November 2019, Le Mesurier was found dead in the street at 4:30 in the morning (1:30 GMT) in the Kemankeş Kara Mustafa Paşa neighbourhood of Beyoğlu, Istanbul, as a result of what appears to have been a fall from his balcony.[39][40][41] Le Mesurier was found with fractures to his head and legs.[42] Le Mesurier's wife said they had only a short while earlier gone to bed at 4 a.m., taking sleeping tablets.[10] Later The Times reported that the Turkish police were treating the death as suicide, based on information from Le Mesurier's wife and his recent medical history, and that no forensic, autopsy or CCTV evidence indicated otherwise.[43][44][45][46] On 14 November 2019 Le Mesurier's body was repatriated to London, while the Turkish investigation continued.[47]

Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria, reportedly believes Le Mesurier was murdered by Western intelligence services.[36]


  1. ^ a b c Trew, Bel (11 November 2019). "James Le Mesurier: White Helmets backer found dead near his home in Istanbul". The Independent.
  2. ^ a b "Syrie. Les Casques blancs, héros ordinaires de la guerre civile". Courrier international (in French). 11 June 2015. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Yee, Vivien (11 November 2019). "James Le Mesurier, Backer of Syrian White Helmets, Is Found Dead in Turkey". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  4. ^ Jan, Maria (21 August 2015). "Q&A: Syria's White Helmets". Al Jazeera Media Network. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e "James Le Mesurier obituary". The Times. London. 13 November 2019. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  6. ^ a b Rough Index to the Le Mesurier Family, 2010 (PDF), p. 273
  7. ^ a b c d "James Le Mesurier, founder of MayDay Rescue, whose 'White Helmets' first-response teams saved thousands of lives in Syria - obituary". Daily Telegraph. 13 November 2019. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  8. ^ Speare-Cole, Rebecca (11 November 2019). "White Helmets backer James Le Mesurier 'found dead in Turkey'". Evening Standard. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Chulov, Martin (13 November 2019). "James Le Mesurier obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 14 November 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d "James Le Mesurier, British ex-army officer who trained Syria's White Helmets, found dead in Istanbul". The Daily Telegraph. 11 November 2019. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  11. ^ Winberg, Emma. "Emma Winberg – Strategy Director, Mayday Rescue". Skoll Foundation. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  12. ^ "No. 52323". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 November 1990. p. 17192.
  13. ^ "No. 53466". The London Gazette (Supplement). 25 October 1993. p. 17153.
  14. ^ "No. 53794". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 September 1994. p. 13203.
  15. ^ "No. 54545". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 October 1996. p. 13341.
  16. ^ a b c d e f "James L. – Founder / Director at Mayday Rescue Foundation". LinkedIn. Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  17. ^ "No. 55866". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 June 2000. p. 6154.
  18. ^ Sturcke, James (14 March 2006). "Monitors in a Jericho jail". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  19. ^ Bryan Schatz (10 December 2014). "The Most Dangerous Job in the World: Syria's Elite Rescue Force". Men's Journal. Archived from the original on 5 November 2016. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  20. ^ James Le Mesurier (14 December 2010). "Lessons learnt from Yemen's dark horse triumph as Cup host". The National. Abu Dhabi. Retrieved 11 November 2019. James Le Mesurier is an expert in strategic urban security at Good Harbor Consulting based in Abu Dhabi
  21. ^ "Values and Goals". Analysis, Research and Knowledge. Archived from the original on 11 August 2015.
  22. ^ Lucas, Scott (7 October 2016). "Who are Syria's White Helmets and why are they so controversial?". The Coversation. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  23. ^ Ibrahim Seaga Shaw; Senthan Selvarajah, eds. (2019). Reporting Human Rights, Conflicts and Peacebuilding: Critical and Global Perspectives. Springer. p. 42. ISBN 9783030107192. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  24. ^ "Train Urban Search and Rescue Teams". Analysis, Research and Knowledge. Archived from the original on 11 August 2015. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  25. ^ Jan, Maria (21 August 2015). "Q&A: Syria's White Helmets". www.aljazeera.com. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  26. ^ Review of the monitoring systems of three projects in Syria: AJACS, White Helmets and NLA (PDF). Policy and Operations Evaluation Department (IOB) (Report). Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. August 2018. pp. 23–24, 43. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  27. ^ Wintour, Patrick (22 July 2018). "UK agrees to take in some White Helmets evacuated from Syria by Israel". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  28. ^ "No. 61608". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 2016. pp. B25–B26.
  29. ^ Sanchez, Raf; Cheeseman, Abbie; Oliphant, Roland (11 November 2019). "James Le Mesurier, British ex-army officer who trained Syria's White Helmets, found dead in Istanbul". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  30. ^ a b Spencer, Richard (11 November 2016). "British ex-Army man behind Syria's White Helmet rescuers found dead". The Times. Retrieved 11 November 2019. (subscription required)
  31. ^ a b York, Chris (11 November 2019). "White Helmets Founder James Le Mesurier 'Found Dead In Home'". HuffPost UK. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  32. ^ Oliphant, Roland (10 February 2019). "How an ex-Army officer inspired by The Great Escape masterminded the evacuation of White Helmet rescuers from Syria". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  33. ^ di Gioanni, Janine (14 November 2019). "The Brief and Inspiring Life of James Le Mesurier". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  34. ^ Di Giovanni, Janine (16 October 2018). "Why Assad and Russia Target the White Helmets". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  35. ^ "Syria's White Helmets: All we care about is saving lives". The National. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  36. ^ a b Sengupta, Kim (15 November 2019). "James Le Mesurier death: Co-founder of White Helmets besieged by funding worries and Russian propaganda campaign against him". The Independent. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  37. ^ "Key backer of Syrian 'White Helmets' James Le Mesurier found dead in Istanbul". ABC News. Australia. 12 November 2019. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  38. ^ Di Giovanni, Janine (27 January 2016). "The Most Dangerous Job on Earth". Newsweek. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  39. ^ Kottasová, Ivana; Tuysuz, Gul (11 November 2019). "Backer of Syria's White Helmets found dead in Istanbul". CNN. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  40. ^ Safi, Michael (11 November 2019). "British founder of White Helmets found dead in Istanbul". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 11 November 2019 – via www.theguardian.com.
  41. ^ Evans, Zachary (11 November 2019). "British Founder of Syrian 'White Helmets' Aid Organization Found Dead in Istanbul". National Review. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  42. ^ "James Le Mesurier, White Helmets co-founder, discovered dead in Turkey". BBC News. 8 November 2019.
  43. ^ Spencer, Richard (15 November 2019). "White Helmets founder James Le Mesurier's death being treated as suicide, say Turkish police". The Times. London. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  44. ^ Safi, Michael (13 November 2019). "No signs of foul play in death of White Helmets founder, say Turkish police". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  45. ^ "Probe launched into death of former British military officer". Hürriyet Daily News. Istanbul. 11 November 2019. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  46. ^ Huseyin Bagis; Halil Demir (12 November 2019). "Le Mesurier thought of suicide before his death: Wife". Anadolu Agency. Istanbul. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  47. ^ "White Helmets founder's wife barred from leaving Turkey". The Washington Post. Associated Press. 14 November 2019. Retrieved 15 November 2019.