Story 93

Spontaneous and utterly generous

In my role as No. 617 Squadron Association historian, I’ve found a recollection about Leonard Cheshire from a wartime contemporary.

Group of RAF personnel 35 squadron 1941 in front of aircraft

Like many others I have read, this account demonstrates his totally professional yet caring approach. It also shows how Leonard Cheshire earned the respect and dedication of those under his command.

I’ll leave the rest to Air Marshal Sir John Whitley. Sir John was the Station Commander at RAF Linton-on-Ouse when Leonard was serving here with No. 35 Squadron in 1941.

‘I remember Leonard as a most unusual personality; mature for looks and years and very determined on some things. Always with perfectly good reasons for the things he said or did, and a most exceptional Squadron Commander who went out of his way to get the best results.

‘Cheshire was not in in the ordinary mould of Squadron Commanders, yet his was obviously one of the finest, best knit and happiest teams.

‘The reason for it, I soon discovered. He had the secret of making his men contented and keeping them that way however hard he drove them. Rations were as important as bombs. He liked people and made a point of going out of his way to help. Welfare is a clumsy word. Something more human — spontaneous and utterly generous.

‘Often Leonard would be found chatting over a cup of tea at the dispersal point with the fitters and mechanics, or handing round cigarettes. He had the enviable knack of showing his appreciation without losing a shred of his authority or position. It rather increased their respect and admiration for him…

‘Cheshire’s briefings were clear, concise, factual and arresting. Everything was cut and dried, like a lecturer, the manner of an expert whose mind has worked increasingly over a problem and found the best answer.’

Cheshire was not in in the ordinary mould of Squadron Commanders, yet his was obviously one of the finest, best knit and happiest teams.