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A/C Leonard Birchall

Air Commodore Leonard J. Birchall, CM, OBE, DFC, O.Ont, CD
THE SAVIOUR OF CEYLON
(06 Jul 1915 - 10 Sep 2004)
  

     

     Air Commodore Leonard J. Birchall was born on 06 July 1915 in St. Catherines, Ontario. He enrolled as a student at the Royal Military College of Canada
(RMC)  in 1933 and graduated in 1937. Shortly after graduation, he began training as a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). He joined 413 Squadron in 1942, who were sent to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to do reconnaissance. In April of 1942 while flying a Catalina flying boat as a part of his patrol mission, A/C Leonard Birchall spotted a Japanese fleet headed towards Ceylon; this is where the base for the Royal Navy’s Easter fleet was located at the time. A/C Birchall and his crew managed to send radio message warnings of the incoming attack, before the Catalina was eventually shot down. Although the Japanese attack still took place, his efforts assisted the British in clearing the port of their ships and also inflicting damage to the Japanese. The attack led to the capture of A/C Birchall and surviving crew members, who spent the remainder of the war as Prisoners of War (POW). He spent 3 years in the camp as a POW before he was freed by American soldiers in August of 1945, during his detainment he had kept detailed diary entries of his experiences, which later assisted in war trials.   

At the end of the war, Sir Winston Churchill named A/C Birchall "The Saviour of Ceylon" for his heroic efforts in preventing the British fleet from getting attacked and defeated. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1946 for his work in the POW Camp and the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his efforts in detecting and alerting the allies of the incoming attack on Ceylon.
    
Post War, A/C Birchall served on the Canadian attaché staff in Washington, D.C. and was a member of NATO. He later became the Commandant of RMC in 1963 until he retired from the Canadian Forces in 1967. At this time, he became the Chief Executive and Administrative Officer of the Faculty of Administrative Studies at York University until 1982. When he retired in 1982 he was awarded with the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris cause) from York University.

A/C Leonard Birchall was awarded the Order of Canada, Member (CM) and was inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame in 2001. He was named in 2009 as one of the 100 most influential Canadians in aviation. He sadly passed away on 10 September 2004 in Kingston, Ontario at the age of 89, leaving behind his loving wife, Mrs. Kathleen Birchall. In his memory, The Royal Military Colleges Club of Canada annually present The Birchall Leadership Award, which seeks to carry on a tradition of leadership in his honour.  A national award, The Leonard Birchall Scholarship was introduced in his honour; which presents a $10,000 scholarship towards post-secondary education to any Air Cadet that demonstrates academic success and outstanding performance during their time as a cadet.
 



 He taught the importance of the following: 
  Integrity which gave the confidence and courage for others to follow
Responsibility - to not blame others but to shoulder criticism when required 
Moral Courage - to rely on one's sense of right and wrong




   
A/C Birchall was also awarded other prestigious awards such as Officer of the Legion of Merit, presented by U.S. President Harry Truman in 1950, and Member of the Order of Ontario in 1989. In 2001, he was awarded the Vimy Award in recognition as a "Canadian who has made a significant and outstanding contribution to the defense and security of Canada and the preservation of (its) democratic values."  Another significant award to recognize him for, is the award of his 5th clasp to his Canadian Forces Decoration (CD), representing his 62 years of service to the Canadian Forces. The initial medal is awarded for 12 years of service and a clasp for every 10 years thereafter. Up until March 2016, only one other person had ever held 5 clasps to the CD, who is the Queen Mother herself; Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II. In March of 2016, a third person was added to that list: His Royal Highness, the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the Colonel-in-Chief of The Royal Canadian Regiment.  





The following are all the medals awarded to A/C Leonard Birchall:
Member of Order of Canada (CM), Officer of Order of the British Empire (OBE), Member of Order of Ontario (O.Ont)
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), 1939-1945 Star, Atlantic Star
Africa Star, Pacific Star w/Burma clasp, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with overseas clasp, War Medal
Special Service Medal w/NATO-OTAN Clasp, Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal, Canadian Centennial Medal, Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal
125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal, Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, Canadian Forces Decoration (CD) w/ 5 clasps, Officer of Legion of Merit