Know Your Neighbours – Air Commodore Leonard Joseph Birchall, Savior of Ceylon

Photo Attribution:  Captain Ellis Landale, St. Catharines Museum, 2007.47.9

Leonard Joseph Birchall was born in 1915 and raised in St. Catharines. He attended Connaught Public School the St. Catharines Collegiate. He attended Post-Secondary School at the Royal Military College between 1933-1937.

Birchall enrolled as a cadet at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston in 1933 and in 1937 Birchall was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Air Force where he was trained as a pilot.

On April 14th, 1942 while flying on patrol south east of Ceylon he and his crew found and gave warning of a Japanese Fleet foiling a surprise attack on the allies. For his actions he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Unfortunately, Birchall was shot down during the same action and he spent the remainder of the War as a Prisoner of War in Japan. For his conduct and courage in defense of his fellow prisoners he was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Following the War he served as a member of the Prosecution team at the War Crimes Trials in Japan. In August 1950 he was made an Officer of the American Legion of Merit.5340-N

Birchall continued to serve following the War as Chief of Air Operations in the RCAF and Commandant to the Royal Military College. In 1968 he was honourably released from the Canadian Forces. In 1968 he gained employment at York University as the Executive Officer of the Faculty of Administration and served in this position until his retirement in 1982.

Birchall became the Honorary Colonel of the 400 Air Reserve Squadron in 1973.  He also received an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Military Science, Royal Military College in 1980 and an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Law, York University in 1982.

Other awards include: The Order of Ontario in 1989; 5th bar for service to the Canadian Forces Decoration in 1996; Inducted as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2000; Inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame in 2001.

Birchall died in 2004.

Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Museum, 2007.47.7



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