Leonard Birchall : biography
Air Commodore Leonard Joseph Birchall, CM, OBE, DFC, O.Ont, CD (6 July 1915 – 10 September 2004), "The Saviour of Ceylon", was a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) officer who warned of a Japanese attack on the island of Ceylon during the Second World War. Canada Veterans Hall of Valour. Retrieved: 18 June 2010.
Writing after the war, Winston Churchill called Birchall the "Saviour of Ceylon" and said that if the British fleet had been defeated at Ceylon, then North Africa would have been lost to the Germans. Birchall was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1946, after his return to Canada for his work at prisoner of war camps. The citation, in part, read: "he continually displayed the utmost concern for the welfare of fellow prisoners with complete disregard for his own safety. His consistent gallantry and glowing devotion to his men were in keeping with the finest traditions of the service". Leonard Birchall was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his part in detecting the attack on Ceylon and for alerting the Allies during that 1942 flight. The presentation was made on 29 April 1946 at the Embassy of Ceylon in Washington DC, USA. Mr. Hume Wrong, the Canadian Ambassador to the United States presented the OBE and the DFC to Leonard Birchall, in the presence of the Ambassador of Ceylon, Sir Claude Corea. Photograph in the Ceylon Daily News, 1946. Retrieved: 12 August 2010.
When citizens of his hometown, St. Catharines, Ontario heard Birchall was missing in action, students of Connaught school planted a memorial tree. The Len Birchall Memorial Circle is also in St. Catharines.
In 1950, U.S. President Harry Truman appointed Birchall an officer of the Legion of Merit, saying: "His exploits became legendary throughout Japan and brought renewed faith and strength to many hundreds of ill and disheartened prisoners."
In 2000, Birchall received the Order of Canada. In 2001, he was inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame. He was honorary colonel at the Royal Military College of Canada. Birchall was the only member of the Canadian military to have earned five clasps for his Canadian Forces Decoration (CD), representing 62 years of service with the air force. The only other person with five clasps was Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
As a recipient of the 2001 Vimy Award, Birchall was recognized as a Canadian who made a significant and outstanding contribution to the defence and security of Canada and the preservation of Canada's democratic values. He was also honoured for his years of service to the community, including building a facility in 1993 at a Kingston Girl Guide camp at his own cost. rmcclub.ca. Retrieved: 18 June 2010.
The Leonard Birchall Sports pavilion at the Royal Military College of Canada, in the area of the Navy Bay sports fields, was constructed in his honour, from December 2008 to September 2009. classof1960.rmcclub.ca. Retrieved: 18 June 2010. The road leading to the terminal and hangars at Kingston's Norman Rogers Airport is named Len Birchall Way.
Birchall was honoured in 2009 as one of the 100 most influential Canadians in aviation and had his name emblazoned directly behind the starboard roundel on the fuselage with the others on the 2009 CF-18 Centennial of Flight demonstration Hornet.Lee, Mary. airforce.forces.gc.ca, Issue 2, 2009. Retrieved: 14 August 2010.
His widow Kathleen Birchall donated money to the Air Cadet League of Canada to set up a scholarship in his name. On 9 Oct 2011, 883 Air Commodore Leonard Birchall Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets based in Markham, Ontario was formed.
In 2011, Air Commodore Birchall's name was also added to the wall of honour at the Royal Military College of Canada.
After serving in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, Birchall joined the RCAF in 1937 to train as a pilot.
Second World War
At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Flying Officer Birchall flew convoy and anti-submarine patrols from Nova Scotia flying with No. 5 Squadron. In early 1942, he joined 413 Squadron, then based in the Shetland Islands and flew patrols over the North Sea. After the Japanese successes in southeast Asia, the squadron was sent to Ceylon to provide a reconnaissance force. Veterans Affairs Canada, 23 October 1998. Retrieved: 18 June 2010.
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