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The Founder

Group Captain Sir Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire VC, DFC, OM, DSO (Two Bars) was a Royal Air Force pilot during the Second World War who received the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy, that could be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire was born on 7th September 1917 in the city of Chester. He grew up in Oxford where his father taught at Essex College and later at All Souls. Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire was educated in Oxford at Stowe and Merton College, where he studied law. Leonard entered Oxford University in 1936. While at College his interest grew in flying, at which point he joined the University Air Squadron in 1937. Later that year he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves. In December 1939, after his air training course, he received his Wings, and went on to the Operational Training Unit. When the war broke out he was mobilized to join active duty. He began his operational career in June 1940.

He joined 102 Squadron flying the Whitley Bomber. Leonard did a 5 month stint with this unit. During the hours of darkness on the 12th - 13th November 1940, on a raid on Cologne, his aircraft was hit by a shell which in turn caused a fire on board. Part of the aircraft fuselage was blown away. However he managed to keep the bomber flying and went on to bomb his target and return home. He received a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his bravery under fire.

In January 1941 he was transferred to 35 Squadron flying the Halifax Bomber. This was the start of his second tour of duty. During his tenure with this Squadron, he received his Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and a Bar to DSO (which means the second award of the DSO)

When he was posted for instructional duties in January, 1942, he undertook four more operational missions. . He started a third operational tour in August, 1942, when he was given command of 76 Squadron. While he was with 76 Squadron, he was awarded DSO for the third time (DSO 2 Bars). He was also promoted to the rank of Wing Commander during his time there. He led the squadron with outstanding skill on a number of missions.

By now he had become the youngest and most highly decorated pilot in the RAF. He had also made a name for himself in the field of marking targets and this was to come in handy later.

In March 1943 at the age if twenty-five he became the youngest Group Captain in the RAF. He was appointed as Station Commander of RAF Marston Moor. He started missing operational duties. In October 1943, when a vacancy came up at 617 Squadron, he jumped at the chance. He relinquished the rank of Group Captain at his own request so that he could again take part in operations. He took over 617 squadron on 10th November 1943 at the age of 26 yrs and commenced a fourth operational tour.

He immediately set to work as the pioneer of a new method of marking enemy targets involving very low flying. In June, 1944, when marking a target in the harbour at Le Havre in broad daylight and without cloud cover, he dived well below the range of the light batteries before releasing his marker-bomb. He came very near to being destroyed by the strong barrage which concentrated on him. During his fourth tour which ended in July, 1944, Wing Commander Cheshire led his squadron personally on every occasion, always undertaking the most dangerous and difficult task of marking the target alone from a low level in the face of strong defenses. Wing Commander Cheshire's cold and calculated acceptance of risks was exemplified by his conduct in an attack on Munich in April, 1944. This was an experimental attack to test out the new method of target marking at low level against a heavily-defended target, situated deep in German territory. Munich was selected, at Wing Commander Cheshire's request, because of the formidable nature of its light anti-aircraft and searchlight defenses. He was obliged to follow, in bad weather, a direct route which took him over the defenses of Augsburg and thereafter he was continuously under fire. As he reached the target, flares were being released by our high-flying aircraft. he was illuminated from above and below. All guns within range opened fire on him. Diving to 700 feet, he dropped his markers with great precision and began to climb away. So blinding were the searchlights that he almost lost control of his aircraft. He then flew over the city at 1000 feet to assess the accuracy of his work and direct other aircraft. His own aircraft was badly hit by shell fragments but he continued to fly over the target area, until he was satisfied that he had done all in his power to ensure success. Eventually, when he set course for base, the task of disengaging himself from the defenses proved even more hazardous than the approach. For a full twelve minutes after leaving the target area he was under withering fire but he came safely through. Wing Commander Cheshire had now completed a total of 100 missions. in four years of fighting against the bitterest opposition. He has maintained a record of outstanding personal achievement, placing himself invariably in the forefront of the battle. What he did in the Munich operation was typical of the careful planning, brilliant execution and contempt for danger which earned, for Wing Commander Cheshire, a reputation second to none in Bomber Command.

In 1944, on his completing hundred missions on heavily defended Nazi targets in Germany, Cheshire was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Cheshire went on to be posted in India and then to the United States as a Group Captain.

As representative of Winston Churchill, Cheshire was chosen as the official British observer on board a B-29 aircraft which accompanied the B-29 which dropped the atom bomb on Nagasaki. He was created Baron in 1991.

He had been discharged on medical grounds in January 1946. He founded the Cheshire Foundation homes for the incurably sick. Lord Cheshire died, at Cavendish, on the 31st July 1992 of Motor Neuron disease. His vision of offering choice, opportunity and independence to disabled people is kept alive through the work of the charity that bears his name.