Ballarat Civic Hall Tells a Ryder-Cheshire Story

Original 1964 poster advertising Leonard Cheshire's Public Meeting in the Ballarat Civic Hall
Original 1964 poster advertising Leonard Cheshire’s Public Meeting in the Ballarat Civic Hall

 The Ballarat Civic Hall is gathering stories for historical records. The Ryder-Cheshire Foundation Victoria Ballarat Support Group was asked to add their story to the collection, as it was back in 1964 that its birth took place when Leonard Cheshire visited Ballarat.

The late Group Captain Lord Leonard Cheshire of Woodhall VC, OM, DSO, DFC and the late Baroness Sue Ryder of Warsaw CMG, OBE. set up the Ryder-Cheshire Foundation in 1959.

Leonard Cheshire was Britain’s most highly decorated WW2 airman. He was a British observer at the atomic bomb raid on Nagasaki. His reaction to the war led him to undertake humanitarian work as his contribution to peace.

Sue Ryder served in the Special Operations Executive in WW2 with responsibilities in Poland. Witnessing the terrible destruction after the war, she set up homes in Eastern Europe to help and sick, homeless, disabled and destitute people especially those from concentration camps.

In the year immediately following WW2 separate Sue Ryder and Leonard Cheshire Foundations were established. Leonard and Sue met due to their shared compassion for those suffering. After meeting they married and then set up the Ryder-Cheshire Foundation. It was in 1959 that their first combined home, Raphael, at Dehradun in Northern India, was established. The Ryder-Cheshire Foundation was started in Australia soon after.

‘On Tuesday 5th May 1964 a meeting was called in the Lower Civic Hall in Ballarat where Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC, OM, DSO, DFC, Famous Bomber Pilot, was scheduled to address a Public Meeting on his experiences for the lepers and sick in India. Due to overwhelming public response, the meeting was rescheduled to the Big Hall from the original venue of the Little Hall’.

It was recorded in The Ballarat Courier on Wednesday 6th May 1964, that 900 people attended the event. The Mayor, C R Webb, chaired the meeting.

This meeting was a major milestone in the historical stories of the Ballarat Civic Hall; as a meeting place for community, as part of Ballarat’s history and as the beginnings of the Ryder-Cheshire Foundation in Ballarat. It was from this meeting that inspiring leaders from the Ballarat Community took up the challenge from Leonard Cheshire and formed a charitable Support Group and this group continues today after more than 50 years.

Leonard Cheshire was described by Mr J Hurley, the Inaugural President of the Ballarat Support Group, as being ‘the most impressive man I have ever met in his humanity, faith, complete dedication to his work and for his selflessness.’

At the Civic Hall meeting Leonard suggested, ‘that organizations and schools in Ballarat might like to adopt a child or patient on a personal basis.’ He also said of the Ballarat audience on that night ‘that it was by far the best audience he had had the privilege of addressing and thanked the Mayor for gracing the occasion.’

‘The Chairman of the local committee, Mr W Fogarty, announced that the committee for McCallum House, Centre for Mentally Retarded Children, had offered to financially adopt a mentally afflicted child at Raphael.’

A Civic Reception on the same day was attended by representatives of the Leonard Cheshire Visit Committee, Ballarat Christian Social Week, Community Aid Abroad, 8th Battalion Association, Ballarat Legacy, Ex-Naval Men’s Association, Victorian Teachers’ Union, Air Force Association, Apex Ballarat and the Returned Serviceman’s League. This gathering indicated the exceptional Ballarat Community representation and highlighted the importance of Leonard’s visit to Ballarat.

Leo Rennie
Ryder-Cheshire Foundation Victoria Ballarat Support Group

NOTE: all quotes were taken form The Ballarat Courier, 1964