The Roman Catholic Diocese of East Anglia in the United Kingdom where Leonard Cheshire lived, is launching a campaign in early September, 2017 to celebrate the centenary of his birth. It is hoped that the campaign will inspire an ongoing community of prayer and eventual canonisation in a process of discovery leading to possible sainthood.
Leonard Cheshire was the most decorated British servicemen in World War II. An RAF pilot, he conducted over 100 bombing missions. He was also the leader of the famous ‘Dambuster Squadron’ (No 617), noted for flying low over the water in sending the skipping bombs towards their target.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1940 (with two bars in 1943 and 1944), the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1941 and the Victoria Cross in 1944. In 1945 he was selected by Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, to represent the British Government as an observer at the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki in Japan.
After the war, Cheshire set up homes for the sick and disabled and eventually there were 80 homes in Britain and 250 worldwide. In 1957 he contracted TB and was hospitalised for two years. Evidently this period intensified his spirituality and in later years, despite the onset and disability of motor neurone disease, he travelled extensively visiting Ryder-Cheshire homes and campaigning for more support for their activities. He dedicated his life to the relief of suffering.
By the time of Cheshire’s death in 1992, there were 270 residential homes in 49 countries in the Leonard Cheshire Disability network. In 1948, aged 31, Cheshire became a Roman Catholic while caring for the sick ex-servicemen. In 1959 he married Sue Ryder who had set up her own network of homes for sick, disabled and elderly people. Thus Ryder-Cheshire came into being. Both were later to become peers and Ryder-Cheshire is known worldwide in working for the relief of suffering through its many homes and outreach centres. In Poland where Sue Ryder worked after the war, she is a national heroine with schools and hospitals named in her honour. There is already a groundswell of support for the cause of her canonisation as well.