Leonard Joseph BirchallOBE DFC CD OOnt DMSc LLD was born at St. Catharines Ontario, son of Joseph Birchall and Emma Elise (Erber) Birchall. In June 1937 he graduated from Royal Military College Kingston ON, and immediately was commissioned in the RCAF.
At the outbreak of war Birchall was flying defensive patrols out of Dartmouth Nova Scotia in Stranraer flying boats. In December 1941 he was attached to the Royal Air Force trans-Atlantic Ferry Command which ferried Canadian (and later USA) manufactured aircraft to Britain. Next, he joined No. 413 Squadron, Coastal Command carrying out coverage of convoys to Murmansk Russia and anti-submarine patrols.
In early 1942 the squadron was transferred to Ceylon and Birchall, who was a Squadron Leader and Deputy Commander was flying one of the lead aircraft. After arriving at their base which was at Lake Koggalo, south of Galle, Ceylon, Birchall and crew with only 24 hours rest, were sent out to carry out an all day patrol. Just at the end of his patrol Birchall sighted the Japanese Navy fleet steaming towards Ceylon, preparatory to launching a surprise air attack on Colombo Ceylon, similar to the one carried out earlier at Pearl Harbour.
Birchall immediately sent off a signal giving the location, speed, course and composition of the fleet. His aircraft was shot down by a Japanese aircraft carrier. However, his signal gave sufficient time to allow preparations to be made for the impending attack which would take place the next day. The result was that the British fleet was able to avoid destruction and Ceylon had time to prepare for defending itself and the Japanese naval aircraft suffered severe losses.
As a result of his alert patrolling and skillful assessment of the situation, Squadron Leader Birchall was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and was given the title "Saviour of Ceylon". Birchall and the remnants of his crew were picked up by the Japanese Navy and they spent the rest of the war in Japanese Prisoner of War (POW) camps.
Upon his release at war's end, the British government named him anOfficer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of his gallantry and leadership as the senior Allied officer in his POW camp.
Following the war's end Birchall held several senior appointments including that ofAir Attache in Washington D.C. and Military Attache at NATO Headquarters Paris France. The USA government named him an Officer of the Legion of Merit. He rose to the rank of Air Commodore and was Commandant at the Royal Military College, Kingston Ontario, for his last four years before retirement from the Canadian Armed Forces in 1967.
In the year 2002 he was inducted as aMember of Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame. Birchall received many other honours and awards which are too numerous to mention here.