History

Our founder

‘[We] need to set our sights high, to be satisfied with nothing less than the best, and to commit ourselves totally and unreservedly to participate in the struggle to build a more liveable world.’ — Leonard Cheshire

Portrait photo of Leonard Cheshire in his 70sLeonard Cheshire was born in 1917 and like many young men and women, signed up to fight for his country in the Second World War. He was assigned to Bomber Command and became one of the RAF's youngest commanding officers. His legendary war career included eight months leading No. 617 Squadron - the Dambusters - and he became the most highly decorated bomber pilot when he was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1944.

At the end of the conflict, Leonard realised that he was one of the lucky ones and was seized with a desire to make the world a better place. Many ventures failed until he received a call from a local hospital, asking if an acquaintance who was dying could come and live with him. This started a lifetime of humanitarian work with disabled people, fighting injustice and working towards a society in which everyone is equally valued.

‘In war Leonard Cheshire was a hero. In peace he served his nation no less well.’ — Sir John Major

Leonard Cheshire married Sue Ryder in 1959 and they made their home in the Suffolk village of Cavendish - although both spent much of the year away visiting their humanitarian projects around the world. Leonard was admitted to the Order of Merit in 1981 and made a life peer in the House of Lords in 1991. He took the title Baron Cheshire of Woodhall in the County of Lincolnshire, in memory of his time serving at RAF Woodhall Spa. Leonard died from the effects of motor neurone disease on 31 July 1992, at the age of 74.

More information about our founder’s life can be found in this academic article written by our archivist.

‘A shining example of what a human being can achieve in a lifetime of dedication.’ — HM the Queen