Leonard Cheshire

Leonard Cheshire

Leonard Cheshire, the elder of two sons of Geoffrey Chevalier Cheshire, an academic teaching law at Oxford University, and his wife, Primrose Eleanor Barstow, was born in Chester, on . At the time his father was a member of the Royal Flying Corps serving on the Western Front.

His biographer, Andrew Boyle, has pointed out: "There was something almost adult at times in his intuitive desire to please. Yet when he was seven and had been a pupil for two years at Miss Owen's, a private preparatory school in Oxford, he began to show signs of possessing an independent mind of his own... Though he was never sullen or huffy, his mother lost patience with his habit of dreamy moodiness. It seemed unnatural in a boy so young, and clashed with the infectious gaiety and touching thoughtfulness which often characterised him."

In 1925 Cheshire was sent to Dragon School. His headmaster, A. E. Lynam, commented that he was "not terribly good at anything". However, Lynam did send a letter of recommendation to John Fergusson Roxburgh, the headmaster of Stowe School: "The parents are both specially nice people.... The boy is definitely not up to first-rate Scholarship form... but his progress in the last two years makes it apparent that he is one of those rather late developers, who is likely to come on exceedingly well later... Leonard is just the sort of boy whom I am sure you will regard as an ornament to Stowe, and as such I think he is worth capturing."

Cheshire was very happy at Stowe and was greatly impressed by its teachers, especially T. H. White, Stowe's head of English. White had already published several books and he was eventually to become a full-time writer. One of the boys commented that "White was then I suppose in his late twenties and a fairly bohemian figure... He had an old open black Bentley and a red setter and among the boys enjoyed a reputation exciting, faintly discreditable and much envied." The boys were shocked by his open agnostic beliefs. White's biographer, Sylvia Townsend Warner, has argued: "Notably free from fearing God, he was basically afraid of the human race." According to J. K. Rowling, White's books strongly influenced the writing of her Harry Potter books.

Cheshire later recalled: "He was quite an influence on me... I remember he got us to write an essay on something I'd seen happen... And he gave me very high marks indeed. He said I couldn't write at all - which was true - but in this case I'd written something very good indeed, because he was an eyewitness account... I was very impressed by Tim White. I liked him very much, and learnt quite a bit from him." After the praise received from White, Cheshire began to consider the possibility of being a writer.

John Fergusson Roxburgh claimed that Cheshire was a fairly successful student: "As a schoolboy Leonard was very successful in the ordinary sense of the word - that is, he became Head of his House, a School Prefect, a member of the Sixth Form... and Captain of Lawn Tennis - but any first-rate boy can expect a career of that kind at his Public School, and I cannot remember that Leonard made more impression on his generation than several others did... I personally was much attached to him, and I felt for him not only affection but respect. There was something about him - was it perhaps a kind of moral dignity? - which made it inconceivable that he would think or do anything that was below top level. He knew how to make other people do the right thing too, and his courteous, even gentle, manner covered a pretty tough will, which made him a strong ruler in his house and an effective prefect in the school."

Cheshire joined the Debating Society and like most of Stowe's students was fairly sympathetic to the emergence of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. On 8th March, 1933, the boys passed the motion: "That in the opinion of the House a Fascist regime would be the best form of government for my country" by a large majority. However, Cheshire's views changed after a visit by Gilbert Murray to the school where he gave a talk on the work of the United Nations: "I belonged to a generation which in a hazy kind of way recognized the debt it owed to those who had gone before, but which rejected war as a means of solving differences between nations and believed that war in Europe was a thing of the past."

Geoffrey Chevalier Cheshire wanted his son to go to Merton College. However, his grades were not very good and so he had to use his influence as a tutor at OS to get his son a place. Cheshire's headmaster, John Fergusson Roxburgh, wrote to the Warden of Merton College: "I expect you know already that Dr Cheshire, of Exeter, wants his elder son Leonard to go to Merton in October 1936.... Young Cheshire is an excellent boy. As a scholar he is tasteful and hard-working but not very gifted. None the less, being ambitious, he will probably want to compete in your Scholarship Exam this Christmas."

According to Richard K. Morris, the author of Cheshire (2000): "The truth is that Cheshire passed through Oxford less in a blaze of rebellious individualism than as part of a genre. He became a model of what in his own eyes an undergraduate should be. Oxford in the 1930s contained many ex public schoolboys who breezed through the nine eight-week terms by supplementing what they already knew with a little work, put in some concentrated effort towards the end and left with second-class degrees. Along the way they climbed in and out of colleges after dark, drove about in second-hand cars, returned at speed from London nightclubs along deserted roads, invited each other to lunch or mulled claret, rioted in each other's rooms, argued at length about subjects they did not fully understand, and cocked a snook at university discipline by frequenting pubs. This was a kind of conformism. Thus Cheshire did own a car, but it was rather old. He also frequented dog tracks, telling Dr. A. L. Rowse over lunch at Grey Walls that he had found an invincible method of betting which would make him rich.... There were occasions when Cheshire did inane things, like drinking an entire bottle of whisky in one go to refute someone who said that it couldn't be done."

Cheshire later recalled: "I was mercenary; didn't have many scruples ... No, better still I think I had two sides. I had the side that was industrious, and wanted to be honest and good and so on, and the other that was quite the opposite. So when it came to Oxford it was a question of which side was going to predominate. I think that largely depended upon what sort of people I came into contact with, influences, and I picked up with the people who spent a good deal of time drinking and so on and I suppose that tipped the scales."

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Andrew Boyle, the author of No Passing Glory (1955) has argued: "Like the majority of men in his year, Leonard looked on his Oxford superiors as a group of well-intentioned old fogeys. The fact that his father happened to be one of them was in itself a stimulating challenge ; on no account must he even appear to be influenced out of consideration for family ties. If he was no docile tool of the dons, neither was he promising material for the canvassers of the various political societies. Politics was a subject for future politicians; and Oxford seemed to be overpopulated with them already. He had no inclination to get to the bottom of the real issues in the Spanish civil war or to question the folly or otherwise of British non-intervention. As far as he was concerned these and a hundred other dusty topics could remain the monopoly of the wordy young bores who attended the weekly debates of the Union.Leonard and his set did not pause to rationalise their attitude. Without a tinge of cynicism they purposely steered clear of anyone and anything that seemed self-consciously serious, virtuous or patriotically noble. A common taste for beer, idle conversation and outrageous pastimes was proof against the claims of the politicians of to-morrow and the highbrow poseurs of today. When the taste could lawfully be indulged in one or other of the small Merton societies, so much the better."

A family friend, Flight Lieutenant J. N. Whitworth, suggested that Cheshire should join the Oxford University Air Squadron. Cheshire, who thought that flying at someone else's expense was a good idea and agreed to the suggestion. Cheshire took flying lessons in a Avro Tutor biplane at Abingdon. Wing Commander F. L. Hebbert, OUAS's chief flying instructor was not very impressed with Cheshire and described him "as a sort of ne'er-do-well... too undisciplined" and suggested that he should be expelled from the squadron." Whitworth defended Cheshire by arguing that "while Cheshire might not fit Herbert's preconceptions of soundness, he had the makings of a better pilot than many who did."

Cheshire continued to improve and on the outbreak of the Second World War he applied for a permanent commission to the . At his training camp he met , the author of The Last Enemy (1942). Other students at Lympne in Kent included Noel Agazarian (killed 16th May 1941), the brother of Jack Agazarian and (killed 16th May 1943). At the end of his training his report stated: "An average pilot who can be relied upon to do good work. Instrument flying exceptionally steady and accurate. Should make good leader with experience."

On 6th April, 1940, Cheshire was posted to Driffield where he was to fly the long-range bomber, Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. After completing his first week, Cheshire wrote: "I am still feeling my way; everything is new and interesting, even the smallest detail. Faces round about are strange; I feel rather self-conscious, almost apologetic they are seasoned fighters, I am a new boy: at least, that is how I feel." A fellow flying officer, Hamish Mahaddie, wrote in his autobiography, Hamish: The Memoirs of Group Captain T. G. Mahaddie (1989): "Leonard Cheshire was our first university entrant and viewed with considerable suspicion.... He was not one of of us; he did not quite fit into the measured compartmentalized minds of the service at the time."

Novice pilots were apprenticed to experienced captains before being given crews of their own. Cheshire was assigned to Pilot Officer . Over the next few weeks Long quizzed him on the ways of the aircraft they were flying. Cheshire explained in Bomber Pilot (1943): "I do not think there can have been a single piece of equipment or a single aspect of flying on which he failed to question me... There was the ground crew also, to each of whom Long (Lofty) introduced me individually, talking of their problems, and the background from which they came and explaining the importance of building up a personal relationship with them."

Leonard Cheshire
Frank Hugh Long front right with Leonard Cheshire standing behind him (July 1940)

Long continued with his training. Cheshire recalled in Bomber Pilot (1943): "Lofty (Long)... kept drumming into my head the fundamental lesson of never thinking that you have mastered your job, of applying your whole heart and mind to the task of perfecting as far as is humanly possible the techniques of operational flying. He made me practise and re-practise, study and re-study, experiment and re-experiment. I had to sit in the cockpit blindfold and go through the different drills, sit in the rear turret, in the navigator's and the wireless operator's seat, and try and see life from their point of view.... Hardly any Captain that I ever knew would allow his Second Dicky into the driving seat whilst over the danger zone: thus when one was finally passed out and given a crew of one's own, one had no actual experience of handling the controls under fire. But Lofty (Long) was different: he would give me a clout - with his boot if he could possibly manage it - and bawl out at me to get into his seat and take over... Then from the Second Pilot's position he would talk me into the target and back, not always perhaps in the most complimentary of tones, but in a way that gave me a confidence and experience that I could not possibly have otherwise gained. I must have been the only pilot in the squadron who was ever given such a start as this."

Cheshire's first mission was to bomb the advancing German Army at Abbeville. On 9th June, 1940, Cheshire was given instructions by the intelligence officer: "He talked briefly about the position of the battlefront, about the German advance and where they had reached, or, rather, where he thought they had reached, because nobody seemed quite to know. On the large map on the wall was a red line... it was supposed to represent the area behind which we could bomb; beyond it we would be bombing our own troops. He told us why we were doing this trip - it was Abbeville, the southern bridge. We were to help hold up the German advance by destroying their lines of communication. He made us feel the plight of such British troops as were left in France."

A few days later Cheshire wrote to his parents: "Going over again in a few moments... It's far better than slopping around doing nothing. And it really is grand fun." On 15th June he told them: "Don't worry about the news too much. The French Army is in a tough spot; but it's still intact. The Germans have lost a least a million men and nearly 3,000 planes. I don't think they'll be able to keep it up much longer, and the railways behind the lines are just about bombed to hell." His assessment echoed the daily briefings provided by Driffield's intelligence officer. In fact, the Luffwaffe aircraft losses were less than half this figure, and the Germans were already in Paris.

On 15th August, 1940, Driffield aerodrome was bombed by over seventy Heinkel He III bombers. Cheshire "saw a bunch of them coming out of the sky. I didn't know anything could move so fast." was in the mess writing a letter. "I looked out of the window and saw people running to the shelters... The ante-room, which had been crowded a few seconds before, was almost empty, and the few remaining were rushing to the door... All other sounds were then promptly drowned by the largest explosion I had ever heard." The next thing Rivaz knew "I was lying on my face in the passage ... covered with dust and choking and surrounded by broken glass and rubble. I got to my feet and saw through a cloud of smoke that the mess a few feet behind me was a complete ruin." Rivaz and Cheshire went outside to help. "Orderlies were lifting a man - with his tunic, face and hair covered with earth ... I noticed that his legs were in an unnatural twisted position. Someone was digging round another pair of legs: the body was still buried and the legs obviously broken. I saw two more men crushed - with faces nearly the same colour as their tunics - between sheets of corrugated iron: they were both dead."

Fifteen men were killed, ten Armstrong Whitworth Whitley were destroyed and others damaged, four hangars were wrecked and only seven enemy aircraft were shot down. After this experience Cheshire's attitude towards bombing changed. After playing down the raid: "Twenty German bombers repaid a few compliments by swooping down on Driffield killing a horse, a civilian, and four men" he warned his parents: "Don't hesitate to use the shelter if there are bombers overhead... if I'm hit, so what the hell is all very well in theory but it's a bit different when the whole countryside comes tumbling round your ears."

Leonard Cheshire's commanding officer, Christopher Foxley-Norris, has pointed out: "Cheshire was soon captain of his own plane and carrying out raid after raid on the industrial cities of Germany... His rapport with his air crew and with his ground crew became legendary... His commitment and dedication could not fail to impress his commanding officers, and led to rapid promotion." Cheshire told his parents: "It's a grand existence. Nothing to worry about except getting up in time. Plenty of relaxation and enough excitement to keep you out of mischief. I'm afraid it's not so good for you just waiting. You mustn't worry because we don't here and I don't like to be worried when there's nothing to worry about. If we do get shot down, it's too bad."

On the night of 12th November 1940, Cheshire was briefed to attack the synthetic oil plant at Wesseling, near Cologne. Cheshire later recalled: "As soon as the first bomb dropped, all hell was let loose, hundreds of searchlights sprang up, and it seemed that hundreds of guns opened fire." A shell smashed through the front turrt and out again, and exploded. A second shell burst behind the port wing, setting off a flare inside their flare chute "which knifed open the port side of the fuselage for a length of three and a half yards".

Cheshire later recalled in Bomber Pilot (1943) that he was blinded by the explosion: "The explosion kicked my mind back a quarter of a century. Down. Down. We're going down. I can feel the rush of air. We are going so very fast - 200, 300, 400 miles an hour.... Why do my eyes hurt so much? God, I can't see! Everything is black, black as a rook.... I must be blind. I've always wanted to know what it's like to be blind, and now I know. The funny thing is that it doesn't really seem any different, except merely that I can't see: there must be more to it than that. I suppose it's just that I've not got used to it yet. No! Good lord, how stupid I am! I'm not blind at all! It's that terrible flash.... Something awful has happened at the back. I don't quite know what, but most of the explosion seemed to come from behind. First of all it was in front, that terrible bright flash. And then almost immediately afterwards a much bigger explosion from behind my back. There can't possibly be anyone left alive there: so it must be coming from the nose. What shall I say? I can't think of anything. It doesn't really matter much: not at the moment. We've got to stop going down first. What an awful thing to think - that it doesn't matter much. But I can't help it. There's nothing I can do anyway, and, whether I like it or not, I did think it. I suppose the answer is that when you're in a spot you think of yourself first."

Cheshire he would have to abandon the aircraft: "We've got to jump. Jump? Yes, jump. I've never jumped in my life. I've often wanted to, but I never have. Now I've got to. It's not quite the same, though. If I was going to jump, I wanted to do it in my own good time, not in Jerry's time. I've often thought about this moment, and wondered whether it would be possible to do everything in time. Unplug yourself, wind the trimmer-tab back, climb out of the seat, down into the well, and get your parachute. God knows where my parachute is now. I hurled it somewhere in the nose when I got in, but I haven't seen it since. There were one or two there some time ago, but goodness only knows if any of them were mine."

Cheshire eventually gained control of the aircraft: "The smoke cleared, and like a ray of sunshine my eyesight came back. I blinked once or twice, perhaps; I don't know. Anyway, I could see quite well. I looked at the altimeter: 5,000 feet. Plenty of height, much more than I would have thought possible. Somehow we seemed to have been diving for ages and ages, and we were still diving now. The instruments were all haywire; they did not make sense however you looked at them. They must have been shot away behind the panel. Awkward. But when we levelled out and ceased diving they began slowly to come back to normal, so probably they were intact after all. I rubbed my forehead between my eyes, and started to take stock of the damage. First of all, the engines and the wings. Perhaps a few pieces of twisted burned metal: not more. They must have borne the brunt of the explosion. I looked out, and, like the man who saw the table slide slowly of its own accord across the floor, sat frozen to my seat. They were running; both of them. Running as they've always run before. Two long protruding noses, almost Jewish, and a defiant roar. My ears became suddenly unblocked, and into them poured the music of this defiant roar. Why was it I hadn't heard it before? And how, oh how could I doubt their trust? Perhaps for a while I had lost possession of my senses."

Richard Rivaz was called forward to help put out the fire: "God, what a mess! The fuselage door had gone, and most of one side of the fuselage as well. Desmond was there, working like a maniac, with his blond hair shining in the light of the flames, and his eyes sparkling like brilliants: sweat was pouring from his face, and he was hurling flares, incendiaries and spare ammunition out of the gaping fuselage. I started to do the same... and he shouted at me to go back and get my parachute, as the aeroplane would probably break in two at any moment."

Davidson (Davy), who was on his first mission, had been badly burned. He told Cheshire: "I'm going blind, sir: I'm going blind!" Cheshire later recalled: "I didn't say anything: I could not have if I had wanted to. He was still speaking, but too softly for me to hear what it was. I leaned right across so as better to hear. The plane gave a lurch, and I fell almost on top of him. He cried out and once more buried his face below his knees. Because I could not stand it, I sat forward over the instruments and tried to think of something else, but it was not much good." Davidson then said: "I haven't let you down, have I, sir? I haven't let you down, have I? I must get back to the wireless. I've got to get back. You want a fix, don't you, sir? Will you put the light on, please, so that I can see?" Cheshire was now aware who had been crying out: "So it was Davy. Davy: his very first trip. Someone came forward and very gently picked him up. Then came Desmond. He sat down beside me and held out his hand. I took it in both of mine and looked deep into his smiling blue eyes."

Richard Rivaz explained in his book, Tail Gunner (1943) that when he returned to the front of the aircraft: "Leonard was sitting at the controls, and turned round and smiled as I entered the cabin. Davy was sitting by his set fumbling with his morse key: his face was charred and black, and his clothing all burned... Desmond had fetched the first-aid kit and covered Davy's face with the jelly used for burns. It was bitterly cold in the cabin, and for the next five hours we did all we could for Davy's comfort: I kept putting his fingers in my mouth and breathing hard on them to try and get them warm."

Cheshire still struggled to keep control of the aircraft: "I began to notice the sweat was all on my back and not my front. What's more, my back was getting hotter and hotter all the time. By this time I was prepared to believe anything, but this was definitely not normal. I screwed my head round, and what I saw forced a quiet, unwanted curse from my lips. Thick, black, oily smoke, pouring out from beneath the petrol tank, and in the background red gashes of fire. I did not stay looking long, for on the port and ahead of us a barrage of shells came up. They were bursting in bunches of twenty or thirty, like that Saturday over the Ruhr, only this time they seemed to make more noise, because the hatch above my head was missing and all around the perspex was torn. Instinctively I started to take evasive action, but remembered just in time. If only I knew what was wrong with the controls it would make it easier. It felt as though the cables were hanging on by a thread, but I could not be certain. Anyway, it was better to take the shells than settle everything by pulling the controls off. So I flew straight and level. A searchlight picked us up, then a lot more, and almost immediately a rattle of splinters came through the fuselage somewhere behind me. I switched on the microphone and started speaking, but no one answered. The heat seemed no worse, but I did not look round any more. Somehow, I could not take my eyes off the shells."

Richard Rivaz commented: "With the five of us crammed in the cabin of the Whitley, hardly ever speaking, and wondering how far we should get. Leonard was sitting at the controls; he had taken his helmet off, but was still wearing his yellow skull cap, which looked grotesque in the half-light. Taffy was sitting at the navigation table grinning to himself most of the time... Desmond, looking like a wild blond giant, was part of the time sitting beside Leonard and part of the time looking at Davy."

Richard Rivaz
Richard Rivaz and Leonard Cheshire

At Linton-on-Ouse the first of 102 Squadron's Whitleys touched down at 06.35. Melvin Young returned ten minutes later. Others followed during the next hour. There was no sign of Cheshire's aircraft, It was not until after eight in the morning that Harold Chapman heard what they had been waiting for: "We heard in the distance the sound of Merlin engines. We scanned the sky but could not see an aircraft. The noise increased but we still could not see an aircraft. Then over the boundary hedge flopped a Whitley, which soon came to a stop." The men ran to the aeroplane. They were "amazed that such a damaged aircraft could have flown". As Richard K. Morris pointed out: "Rivaz emerged first. Davidson was lifted into an ambulance. Unable to sleep, later in the day Rivaz, Coutts and Cheshire went into York. They visited Davidson, and then went to the cinema to see (in Cheshire's case for the sixth time) Fred Astaire in Broadway Melody." Cheshire was later awarded the DSO for bringing home his holed and burning aircraft.

Cheshire developed a reputation as a vain man. He went with a friends to a dance at the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate. Douglas R. Mourton later recalled that the music was interrupted to announce: "Ladies and Gentlemen. I have great pleasure to let you know that Flying Officer Leonard Cheshire is with us tonight. He has just been awarded the DSO for an act of bravery". Mourton added that Cheshire "stood up, apparently surprised and embarrassed, acknowledging the ovation he received". One of the officers said, "I wonder who told them?" to which Cheshire replied, "I did."

During December, 1940, Cheshire completed five more operations. These were often to Berlin which often lasted for ten or eleven hours. On 16th December he was involved in a raid on Mannheim that had been chosen as a reprisal for the bombing of Coventry. Over 130 aircraft took part. Instead of the customary factory, oil plant or railway yard it was the centre of the town that was the target. Cheshire described the result as "literally a fire from end to end". It has been described as the first terror bombing of the Second World War.

Leonard Cheshire
From Left to right, Richard Rivaz, Charles Brown, George Roberts,
Clive Gutteridge
, Leonard Cheshire, Richard Hares, Stanley Jackson and Ernest Weldon.

Flying Officer Douglas Coutts, who had been his second pilot, was given his own crew. On 3rd January, 1941, Coutts aircraft was brought down over the North Sea. According to Richard K. Morris, the author of Cheshire (2000): "Cheshire obeyed Bomber Command's unwritten law that no fuss should be made and no emotion shown." Cheshire found it difficult to understand: "Desmond never made a mistake. He collided with an incoming German bomber over the North Sea... I thought of the many times that through sheer stupidity and carelessness I had literally asked to be shot down, and the knowledge brought a sense of sadness. A struggle for existence in which the strongest survives is something I can well understand... What I cannot understand is a struggle for existence in which survival hinges on luck."

Another important friend, Frank Hugh Long, was killed during a mission of 13th March, 1941. Leonard Cheshire later wrote: "Whatever outward face I may have put on it, his loss affected me very deeply and the memory of what I owed him and of all that he stood for remained with me throughout the war. It may sound a peculiar thing to say, and certainly has no rational basis, but I came to think of Lofty as more or less indestructible. It was just, I suppose, that he was so strongly built, so physically fit, and so calm and competent, whatever the situation. Perhaps also there is some innate, subconscious need in man for the perfect model to which one can look up and from which to draw strength and inspiration. Or perhaps in times so uncertain, when even the immediate future was full of the unknown, one would clutch at any straw. At all events, with the night that Lofty failed to return the character of the war changed: I knew now that no one was immune and though in the years that followed I was to meet others with perhaps even greater qualities and greater dedication than Lofty, to whom t also owe my own debt, never again would I look at someone and say, he at least will always come back.''

Cheshire had to assemble a new crew for his Halifax MK. II. that had replaced the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. This included second pilot Jerry Weldon ("tough, bronzed Jerry, with the experience of ten Whitley trips behind him"), wireless operators, Clive Gutteridge ("light brown hair, a fair moustache and a girl friend") and Stanley Jackson ("Jacko: five feet foot eleven, twelve stone; had boxed and played football for the RAF; knew no fear and could not find anything he did not know of the wireless set"), flight enginner, Charles Brown ("many years' experience in the Merchant Navy and an extraordinary adaptability no matter what the difficulty"), Richard Rivaz, tail-gunner, Richard Hares ("small, vivacious and straight from training school") and George Roberts.

On 4th May 1941, Cheshire was sent to Montreal to collect American aircraft and to deliver them to Britain. When he arrived the aircraft were not ready and he was told to take some leave. Cheshire decided to visit New York City: "A city full of secrets, and all of them new to me. For four days and four nights a riot. Cocktails, dances, drives through the city. Times Square on Broadway, Park Avenue, overhead railways... people who take you as you come, not as they come. And no sleep."

Cheshire met the former Hollywood actress, Constance Binney. He stayed at Constance's parents home in Old Lyme, in New London County: " A white, wood-built house on a hill, a panorama of bright-green trees, reaching down to the haze of the sea; in the background, Long Island. Wild, scrub-like surroundings, evergreen grass, and a fluttering of butterflies. The scrunch of tyres on the drive and somewhere in the distance a sound of laughter. A coon, jet black against the spotless white of his coat, lounging happily in the sun of the verandah. For a while peace and rest: food under the shade of a tree, dark glasses, ice-cold highballs and orange-juice, and brains still half hysterical, only now a little quicker. A telephone bell, a warm Southern accent, and then more drinks, more journeys in the Cadillac. People standing on their doorsteps, beckoning us in. Sun and fathomless skies and the hum of mosquitoes. Mother's exultant welcome; not my mother - Constance's mother. But in the warm and somehow vibrant atmosphere it seemed quite natural to call her mother, and so I did. I can't say why."

Richard K. Morris, the author of Cheshire (2000) has pointed out: "Like a firework - momentarily impressive, but evanescent and soon forgotten - Constance Binney's film career flared and flickered out... and by 1941 her celebrity lay well in the past... so did two husbands and two divorces. Constance Binney was extrovert, a little gaudy, wealthy and moved in a circle of world-famous friends." They were married on 15th July 1941. His parents were extremely upset when they heard the news. Cheshire later wrote: "I had an uncomfortable feeling in my heart that it was the wrong thing... But the future didn't count for much in those days and I was living in a kind of dreamland."

Leonard Cheshire
Leonard Cheshire and Constance Binney

When he arrived home Cheshire discovered that his crew had had a terrible time during flying missions while he was away. Ernest Weldon, Richard Hares, Stanley Jackson, Clive Gutteridge and Charles Brown had been killed and George Roberts was a prisoner of war. Richard Rivaz had an amazing escape when as a member of the crew of Squadron Leader Clive Florigny, the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley ran out of fuel and ditched off Cromer in atrocious weather on 2nd March, 1941. Florigny drowned but the rest of the crew managed to get into an "inverted, waterlogged dinghy". According to Richard K. Morris: "Their survival owed much to Rivaz, who kept them awake in such cold." Rivaz survived the war only to die on 13th October 1945, when the B-24 Liberator in which he was a passenger caught fire on take off from Brussels, killing all on board.

Flight Lieutenant Cheshire returned to 35 Squadron but was prevented from taking part in the attack on the German battleship, Scharhorst, at La Pallice because he was considered to be "too inexperienced". The squadron adjutant told him that marriage would have changed him: "Now it will be a rather different story, won't it? No more belly-aching to get into ops. No more applications for extension of tour. No more line-shooting about ops being the only life worth living.

Cheshire now had to collect together a new crew. Peter Stead, a former veterinary student, became the second pilot. He later recalled that Cheshire was "kindness itself to a very young sergeant pilot. The wireless operator was Jock Hill. The two men became close friends. Cheshire commented: "Jock was not an ever-smiling figure but not a dour Scot either. He was always ready to appreciate a joke... his grin when it came was a wide one." Hill, however, was not impressed with Cheshire as a pilot: "He's quite an ordinary pilot. I've flown with better. Sometimes he makes bloody awful landings, but he's a bloody good skipper."

Cheshire's marriage to Constance Binney caused problems with his family. His parents took a deep dislike to her seeing her as "the opposite to everything we respected". They dubbed her "Jezabel" and a period of estrangement from their son ensued. An uncle described her as a "vulgar little woman". Several friends had speculated that he had married Constance for her money. They pointed out that after their marriage Cheshire was able to pay off his gambling debts. However, he assured his parents that Constance's wealth was not a factor in their marriage.

In July 1941, Cheshire wrote to his parents: "You probably don't know that under Constance's influence I have ceased to waste my life as I have done for the last twenty-three years, and that I now have an almost fantastic urge to seek out what talents I have and develop them until I can achieve a career that is worthwhile." It was his wife's idea for him to write a book about his experiences in the .

In February, 1942, became head of RAF Bomber Command. His brief was "to focus attacks on the morale of the enemy civil population, and in particular, of the industrial workers". According to Richard K. Morris: "During March and April he had begun to experiment with attacks which concentrated bombers in time and space, to engulf radar-controlled flak and fighters, and overwhelm a city's fire-services. The force inherited by Harris was nevertheless too small to do this on any scale, and his efforts to increase it were being sapped both by losses and what he called the robbery of trained crews by other commands. To make his case, Harris decided to gamble Bomber Command's reserves in an attack of unprecedented weight: a thousand aircraft against a single objective."

As Harris later pointed out: "The organization of such a force - about twice as great as any the Luftwaffe ever sent against this country - was no mean task in 1942. As the number of first-line aircraft in squadrons was quite inadequate, the training organization.... We made our preparations for the thousand bomber attack during May." It was given the code word "Millenium". More than a third of his force was composed of instructors and trainees. Heavy losses among them would have a "paralysing effect" on Bomber Command's future.

On 20th May, 1942, notified his group commanders of the plan and all leave was cancelled. Harris decided that the target should be Cologne. "The organisation of the force involved a tremendous amount of work throughout the Command. The training units put up 366 aircraft. No. 3 Group, with its conversion units put up about 250 aircraft, which was at that time regarded as a strong force in itself. Apart from four aircraft of Flying Training Command, the whole force of 1047 aircraft was provided by Bomber Command.... Nearly 900 aircraft attacked out of the total of 1047, and within an hour and a half dropped 1455 tons of bombs, two thirds of the whole load being incendiaries."

Leonard Cheshire was one of the pilots involved in the attack on Cologne and explained in his book, Bomber Pilot (1943): "I glued my eyes on the fire and watched it grow slowly larger. Of ack-ack there was not much, but the sky was filled with fighters.... Already, only twenty-three minutes after the attack had started, Cologne was ablaze from end to end, and the main force of the attack was still to come. I looked at the other bombers, I looked at the row of selector switches in the bomb compartment, and I felt, perhaps, a slight chill in my heart. But the chill did not stay long: I saw other visions, visions of rape and murder and torture. And somewhere in the carpet of greyish-mauve was a tall, blue-eyed figure waiting behind barbed-wire' walls for someone to bring him home. No, the chill did not last long.... I felt a curious happiness inside my heart. For the first time in history the emphasis of night bombing had passed out of the hands of the pilots and into the hands of the organizers, and the organizers had proved their worth. In spite of the ridicule of some of their critics, they have proved their worth. They have proved, too, beyond any shadow of doubt that given the time the bomber can win the war. Not only have they proved it, they have written the proof on every face that saw Cologne."

Cheshire later explained in his book, The Light of Many Suns: The Meaning of the Bomb (1985) how he justified the area bombing of Germany: "In his concentration camps 6,500,000 Jews and 13,000,000 million others were systematically eliminated, the great majority civilians and many of them little children. Every single day of the war an average of 10,000 people died the most terrible deaths in these camps; the closer the end came, the more feverishly the Nazis worked in their extermination programme. Is it to be wondered at that there burned within most of us a feeling of outrage - some speak of it as a deep, steady anger - and that this inner fire drove men to seek the quickest road to victory? Indeed would those who decided Allied policy have lived up to their responsibilities to the human family, had they sought any other road but the shortest?"

Cologne in May 1942.
Cologne in May 1942.

Harris explained in Bomber Command (1947): "The casualty rate was 3.3 per cent, with 39 aircraft missing, and, in spite of the fact that a large part of the force consisted of semi-trained crews and that many more fighters were airborne than usual, this was considerably less than the average 4.6 per cent for operations in similar weather during the previous twelve months. The medium bomber had a casualty rate of 4.5 per cent, which was remarkable, but it was still more remarkable that we lost scarcely any of the 300 heavy bombers that took part in this operation; the casualty rate for the heavies was only 1.9 per cent. These had attacked after the medium bombers, when the defences had been to some extent beaten down, and in greater concentration than was possible for the new crews in the medium bombers. The figures proved conclusively that the enemy's fighters and flak had been effectively saturated; an analysis of all reports on the attack showed that the enemy's radar location devices had been able to pick up single aircraft and follow them throughout the attack, but that the guns had been unable to engage more than a small proportion of the large concentration of aircraft."

Konrad Adenauer, the mayor of Cologne, pointed out: "The task confronting me in a war-ravaged Cologne was a huge and extra-ordinarily difficult one. The extent of the damage suffered by the city in air raids and from the other effects of war was enormous. More than half of the houses and public buildings were totally destroyed, nearly all the others had suffered partial damage. Only 300 houses had escaped unscathed. The damage done to the city by the destruction of streets, tram rails, sewers, water pipes, gas pipes, electrical installations and other public utilities, was no less widespread. It is hard to realize the threat this constituted to the health of the people. There was no gas, no water, no electric current, and no means of transport. The bridges across the Rhine had been destroyed. There were mountains of rubble in the streets. Everywhere there were gigantic areas of debris from bombed and shelled buildings. With its razed churches, many of them almost a thousand years old, its bombed-out cathedral, with the ruins of once beautiful bridges sticking up out of the Rhine, and the vast expanses of derelict houses, Cologne was a ghost city."

Cheshire was posted to 102 Squadron and by August 1942 had been promoted to squadron commander of of 76 Squadron. In March 1943 at the age if twenty-five he became the youngest group captain in the RAF. In November 1943 he was given command of 617 Squadron and over the next few months developed new low-level marking techniques that dramatically increased bombing accuracy. In 1944 Cheshire was awarded the Victoria Cross after completing a hundred bombing missions on heavily defended targets in Nazi Germany.

At Potsdam President Harry S. Truman told Winston Churchill about the existence of the atom bomb. By the time the bomb was ready to be used Germany had surrendered. James Franck and Leo Szilard drafted a petition signed by just under 70 scientists involved in the Manhattan Project that were opposed to the use of the bomb on moral grounds. Franck pointed out in his letter to Truman: "The military advantages and the saving of American lives achieved by the sudden use of atomic bombs against Japan may be outweighed by the ensuing loss of confidence and by a wave of horror and repulsion sweeping over the rest of the world and perhaps even dividing public opinion at home. From this point of view, a demonstration of the new weapon might best be made, before the yes of representatives of all the United Nations, on the desert or a barren island. The best possible atmosphere for the achievement of an international agreement could be achieved if America could say to the world, "You see what sort of a weapon we had but did not use. We are ready to renounce its use in the future if other nations join us-in this renunciation and agree to the establishment of an efficient international control."

However, the advice of the scientists was ignored by Truman and he decided to use the bomb on Japan. General Dwight Eisenhower agreed with the scientists: "I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of face."

Winston Churchill was also in favour of using the atom bomb. At Yalta, the Allies had attempted to persuade Joseph Stalin to join in the war with Japan. By the time the Potsdam meeting took place, they were having doubts about this strategy. Churchill in particular, were afraid that Soviet involvement would lead to an increase in their influence over countries in the Far East. On 17th July 1945 Stalin announced that he intended to enter the war against Japan.

President Truman now insisted that the bomb should be used before the Red Army joined the war against Japan. Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, wanted the target to be Kyoto because as it had been untouched during previous attacks, the dropping of the atom bomb on it would show the destructive power of the new weapon. However, the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, argued strongly against this as Kyoto was Japan's ancient capital, a city of immense religious, historical and cultural significance. General Henry Arnold supported Stimson and Truman eventually backed down on this issue.

President Truman wrote in his journal on 25th July, 1945: "This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Secretary of War, Mr Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we, as leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital or the new. He & I are in accord. The target will be a purely military."

Truman's military advisers accepted that Kyoto would not be targeted but insisted that another built-up area should be chosen instead: "While the bombs should not concentrate on civilian areas, they should seek to make a profound a psychological impression as possible. The most desirable target would be a vital war plant employing a large number of workers and closely surrounded by workers' houses."

Winston Churchill insisted that two British representives should witness the dropping of the atom bomb. Cheshire along with William Penny, a scientist working on the Manhattan Project, were chosen for this task. Churchill ordered them to learn "about the taqctical aspects of using such a weapon, reach a conclusion about its future implications for air warfare and report back to the Prime Minister."

Cheshire was told to report to Leslie Groves, the head of the project, who briefed him about the operation: "Carrying such a burden of confidentially was a responsibility for which I was neither trained nor temperamentally suited, and as soon as I had seen General Groves I left the anonymity of Los Angeles to mark time until called for the long flight to Tinian... We were what was called processed through the then principal gateway to the Pacific battle theatre, Hamilton Field near San Francisco."

General Thomas Farrell, Commander of the Manhattan Project, explained to Cheshire that they had produced two types of bomb. Fat Man relied upon implosion: a 12 lb sphere of plutonium would be abruptly squeezed to super-critically by the detonation of an envelope of explosive. Little Boy functioned by a gun mechanism which fired two subcritical masses of uranium 235 together.

President Harry S. Truman eventually decided that the bomb should be dropped on Hiroshima. It was the largest city in the Japanese homeland (except Kyoto) which remained undamaged, and a place of military industry. However, Truman, after listening from advice of General Curtis LeMay, refused permission for Leonard Cheshire and William Penny to witness the event. , according to Cheshire, "said firmly that there was no room for either of us; in any case he couldn't see why we needed to be there, for we would receive a full written report and could ask to see any documentation we wanted."

On 6th August 1945, a B29 bomber piloted by , dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima. Michihiko Hachiya was living in the city at the time: "Hundreds of people who were trying to escape to the hills passed our house. The sight of them was almost unbearable. Their faces and hands were burnt and swollen; and great sheets of skin had peeled away from their tissues to hang down like rags or a scarecrow. They moved like a line of ants. All through the night, they went past our house, but this morning they stopped. I found them lying so thick on both sides of the road that it was impossible to pass without stepping on them."

Later that day President Harry S. Truman made a speech where he argued: "The harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been used against those who brought war to the Far East. We have spent $2,000,000,000 (about $500,000,000) on the greatest gamble in history, and we have won. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form these bombs are now in production and even more powerful forms are in development."

Truman then issued a warning to the Japanese government: "We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories and their communications. Let there be no mistake, we shall completely destroy Japan's power to make war. It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued from Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of run from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with a fighting skill of which they have already become well aware."

Hideki Tojo, Japan's Foreign Minister, told Emperor Hirohito on 8th August, 1945, that Hiroshima had been obliterated by an atom bomb and advised surrender. Others raised doubts about whether the United States had more than one of these bombs. The Supreme Council decided to convene a meeting on the morning of 9th August. As they had not immediately surrendered President Truman ordered that a second atom bomb should be dropped on Japan.

Major Charles Sweeney was selected to lead the mission and Nagasaki was chosen as the target. This time it was agreed that Cheshire and William Penny, could travel on the aircraft that was to take photographs of the attack on 9th August. When they reached Nagasaki they found the city covered in cloud and Kermit Beahan, the bombardier, was at first unable to find the target. Eventually, the cloud parted and Beahan dropped the bomb a mile and a half from the intended aiming point.

William Laurence was a journalist who was invited by Leslie Groves to be on Sweeney's aircraft: "We watched a giant pillar of purple fire, 10,000 feet high, shoot up like a meteor coming from the earth instead of outer space. It was no longer smoke, or dust, or even a cloud of fire. It was a living thing, a new species of being, born before our incredulous eyes. Even as we watched, a ground mushroom came shooting out of the top to 45,000 feet, a mushroom top that was even more alive than the pillar, seething and boiling in a white fury of creamy foam, a thousand geysers rolled into one. It kept struggling in elemental fury, like a creature in the act of breaking the bonds that held it down. When we last saw it, it had changed into a flower-like form, its giant petals curving downwards, creamy-white outside, rose-coloured inside. The boiling pillar had become a giant mountain of jumbled rainbows. Much living substance had gone into those rainbows."

Cheshire later recalled in his book, The Light of Many Suns (1985): "The ultra-dark glasses we each had round our foreheads to protect our eyes from the blinding light of the bomb were not needed because we were about fifty miles away. By the time I saw it, the flash had turned into a vast fire-ball which slowly became dense smoke, 2,000 feet above the ground, half a mile in diameter and rocketing upwards at the rate of something like 20,000 feet a minute. I was overcome, not by its size, nor by its speed of ascent but by what appeared to me its perfect and faultless symmetry. In this it was unique, above every explosion that I had ever heard of or seen, the more frightening because it gave the impression of having its immense power under full and deadly control.... The cloud lifted itself to 60,000 feet where it remained stationary, a good two miles in diameter, sulphurous and boiling. Beneath it, stretching right down to the ground was a revolving column of yellow smoke, fanning out at the bottom to a dark pyramid, wider at its base than was the cloud at its climax. The darkness of the pyramid was due to dirt and dust which one could see being sucked up by the heat. All around it, extending perhaps another mile, were springing up a mass of separate fires. I wondered what could have caused them all."

Fumiko Miura was a 16 year-old girl working in Nagasaki at the time: "I was doing some clerical work for the Japanese imperial army. At about 11 o'clock, I thought I heard the throbs of a B-29 circling over the two-storey army headquarters building. I wondered why an American bomber was flying around above us when we had been given the all-clear.... At that moment, a horrible flash, thousands of times as powerful as lightning, hit me. I felt that it almost rooted out my eyes. Thinking that a huge bomb had exploded above our building, I jumped up from my seat and was hit by a tremendous wind, which smashed down windows, doors, ceilings and walls, and shook the whole building. I remember trying to run for the stairs before being knocked to the floor and losing consciousness. It was a hot blast, carrying splinters of glass and concrete debris. But it did not have that burning heat of the hypocentre, where everyone and everything was melted in an instant by the heat flash. I learned later that the heat decreased with distance. I was 2,800m away from the hypocentre."

On his return he went to see at 10 Downing Street. The Prime Minister asked him if he had any specific proposal to make. Cheshire replied: "The atomic bomb is decisive and final. You cannot fight against it and survive as a nation. If both sides have it equally, neither can afford to attack the other; there is military stalemate. It follows that a third world war will be prevented, and world peace preserved, only if the Western Allies possess an adequate atomic arsenal."

Soon afterwards doctors from the Royal Air Force ordered Cheshire to St Luke's Psychiatric Hospital at Muswell Hill. According to Richard K. Morris, the author of Cheshire (2000): "Whether he wanted one or not, his career in the air force was finished. Other patients at St Luke's saw him as wan, thin and quietly unassuming. His interior state, however, was anything but quiet." Cheshire told his mother: "I have no trade but killing... That's what they taught me to do for six years. I've had enough." Cheshire added: "The key lies not in the atom bomb itself, for the day will soon come when any nation that has the money, and the incentive, will be able to build its own bomb. It lies in the effectiveness of the delivery system. Future delivery systems will take many forms, but the principal will be rockets coming out of space. At all costs Britain should initiate its own space programme."

On leaving hospital he was invited to write a weekly column for the Sunday Graphic. He was paid £35 plus £15 expenses, in addition to a retainer. His inaugural column for the newspaper addressed the future of the bomb. Cheshire also gave a BBC talk on the subject where he commented: "In plain language... we are faced either with the end of this country or the end of the war... To end war each one of us must play our part... It is not a responsibility we can shelve nor one that we can say belongs exclusively to the government." In another article he argued: "We shall have access to the moon and the planets... Mankind has concerned itself with the universe for only one part of the ioo,ooo years that it has existed, and everything we know is the result of indirect and not direct observation. From the point of view of science the gateway will be open to an unbounded store of knowledge."

Tony Benn attended a lecture on the atom bomb that Cheshire gave in Oxford: "Cheshire said quite plainly he did not want to discuss the ethics of the thing but he sobered everyone up by putting to us... the facts. If we have another war it will mean the end of our physical civilization, for man might survive but buildings can't. He spoke quietly and slowly.... He was quite remote and above us and no doubt the whole world seemed as unreal to him as he to it." He reported Cheshire as saying: "Realize this, that if these bombs are ever going to be used there is not much point in anything that you are doing now."

Cheshire also used his column to campaign for better treatment of ex-servicemen. He complained about the lack of quality training for those who were unemployed: "If the government was able to take accountants and draughtsman and turn them into pilots and gunners, I am unable to see why they cannot reverse the process." He complained about the current political system: "To achieve something great involves in one way or another overcoming unequal odds, which means that men must go beyond the normal call of duty. Ideals are not sufficient, because... we need to see our cause embodied in an individual, and therefore we look to leadership. Today, for the first time in our history, we seem to have thrown leadership overboard, and we prefer a committee or a council. These may be a safeguard against mistakes, but they are little else. A committee cannot lead: it can only give orders. It can never be in front for others to follow and, therefore, it cannot inspire. It relies on logic and efficiency, and disregards human emotions."

On 19th May, 1946, Cheshire was offered Gumley Hall, a house with forty-five bedrooms, outbuildings, a market garden and grounds for pigs and poultry in Market Harborough. By 3rd June, the first colonists arrived. Cheshire now established Vade in Pacem (VIP). According to Richard K. Morris, the author of Cheshire (2000): "Cheshire's scheme was nourished by two ideas: first, that it would be possible to identify the cause of the individual with that of the community, and second, that such a community could combine cooperative effort with private enterprise and the acceptance of competent and authoritative leadership."Cheshire argued: "I can see no final solution to the problems of the world, except by establishing a Christian fellowship of mankind... the forces of good - both active and passive - must be mobilized and encouraged to fight the forces of evil... I consider it to be the duty of every one of us to contribute something towards the cause."

Cheshire also purchased two Mosquito Mk I aircraft. He justified this expense by arguing in the Sunday Graphic: "The modern aeroplane has made the world a much smaller place than most of us realize. I want to acclimatize my mind to thinking globally, and not purely nationally... I think it is an essential part of modem education. I grow more certain that... the ideal world is to be found in the behaviour and example of the ordinary man who lives close to nature, and occupies himself with the problems of day-to-day existence: that it is not to be found in the capitals of the world, or in economics, or in the mere exposition of political doctrines. The ordinary man has no axe to grind... and therefore he is on common ground whatever his nationality or politics. The day that he makes his own direct contact with his counterpart in other countries, the day that he begins to join forces in common insistence on world unity, then perhaps we shall have peace."

Cheshire became estranged from his wife, Constance Binney and during the war he began an affair with Joan Botting, the widow of Norman A. Botting. She moved into Gumley Hall with their daughter, Merle Elizabeth, who had been born on 8th January 1946. They moved to Le Court, near Petersfield in Hampshire. in November 1946. Cheshire was joined by fifty-three men, women and children, "pioneers of Britain's most astonishing post-war experiment in living". Cheshire claimed his ideas were spreading: "Three hundred Dutchmen are about to launch a colony in Holland. I am in touch with men and women interested in the idea in Australia and Ecuador, and I am negotiatingt for land in both countries". Cheshire also talked about setting up another colony in British Columbia.

Cheshire's project was not a great success. "It is not that I mind the work but that if I do not do it the whole enterprise may collapse. We are burdened with a number of people who do not pull their weight and who form a somewhat disruptive element." Cheshire employed a new farm manager and things gradually improved although Cheshire believed that there were "too many parasites and unorganized individualists" in the colony. The farm manager said the pea crop alone ought to raise £800. However, when the time came to harvest the peas much of the crop went to waste because nobody could be troubled to pick it: "They were always too busy... Too many bosses - too few willing hands." With his personal liabilities approaching £20,000, Cheshire decided to sell the estate and keep the house.

Arthur Dykes, a member of VIP, was dying of liver cancer in Petersfield Hospital. Cheshire agreed to nurse him at Le Court. Dykes was a Roman Catholic and they spent a lot of time discussing religion. Dykes died on 20th August, 1948. Cheshire wrote to his friend, Harry Rae: "A letter in haste to tell you that Arthur died in the early hours of Friday morning. He had a sudden relapse after lunch on Thursday, suffered a certain amount of pain and lapsed into final unconsciousness at 6.30 p.m."

Cheshire had been profundly changed by nursing Dykes: "Needless to say, the nursing he received at my inexperienced hands was very rough and ready. Nevertheless, he soon settled down to this new life and I was much surprised at the change that came over him. I think he felt that he was wanted. I was so struck by this that I began to wonder if there weren't others in his position, dying and unwanted. I also decided that I would not go out of my way to find them, but would merely leave things to take their course. If they came my way, I would accept them; if they didn't, I would turn my mind to something else."

On 24th December, 1948, Cheshire became a Roman Catholic. One of the consequences of this was that his relationship with Joan Botting came to an end. "I accept the Faith which is taught by the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church. I believe the Church to be the one true Church which Jesus Christ set up here on earth; to which I make my submission with all my heart. Later he realled: "Christmas 1948 is the one that stands out... It was the Christmas that I was received into the Church, and the first Christmas at Le Court, where my work amongst disabled people began. We were living more or less hand to mouth, not really knowing where the money could come from to pay the weekly bills. There were twelve heavily disabled people in the house, some of them old and approaching the end of their life, and only one resident full-time helper other than myself." There were no fees to pay, patients just handed over their pensions. Le Court became so busy that Cheshire had to employ Frances Jeram to help him.

During this period Cheshire came under the influence of , an advocate of world government. In his books, World War - Its Cause and Cure (1945), The Master-Key to Peace (1947) and The Open Road to Freedom (1950), Curtis argued that atomic power and the Cold War had brought a federation of the Western democracies within the realm of practicable possibilities. Cheshire arranged a meeting with Curtis. He later recalled: "He (Cheshire) came to see me about what he felt was really important, which is to get a move on among ex-servicemen for winning the peace... He very sensibly went on to say that it was no use preaching a faith to ex-servicemen until they had something to live on."

In 1950 Cheshire entered into a long correspondence with Andrew Boyle, a journalist on the Catholic Herald. The letters revealed that he was suffering deep guilt about his role as a bomber pilot: "I realize that, living in a physical world, force must play a part, but only a secondary part. To disobey any of God's moral laws is, at its lowest level, suicide and condemns you to failure. Deliberate area bombing involving civilians is murder, with the inevitable consequences to the perpetrators. Bombing soldiers is different: somehow it's part of the game and you know what you are asking for when you join up. Also we have a right and duty to defend our country - but only within the limits of God's laws... My profession was to destroy, and therefore to shrink from doing so was a contradiction in terms. Carried a few stages further, I can well see how even the gas chamber becomes a possibility."

Cheshire had changed his mind about the use of the atom bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring an end to the Second World War: "In point of fact the atom bomb did not influence the war one way or the other, for politically speaking the war was already over. What is more this was known to the Allies at the time... The argument that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justifiable on the grounds they saved more lives than they destroyed is therefore invalid." In another letter he told Boyle: "When war extends to the civilian population... it changes its character completely, and I cannot conceive that any man engaged on mass indiscriminate bombing could super naturalize his actions as I know he can when he is fighting a pitched battle. It is on these grounds that I account for the moral blight that descended upon us at the time of Nagasaki... The moral law has been broken... And so from innocent beginnings we arrive at Nagasaki. Without, so far as we know, ever having had to make a decision at all, we have assented to the doctrine of supremacy by force. We have turned to fighting Communism with her own weapons, and therefore we have lost not only our only hope of peace, but our own souls as well."

Cheshire divorced his wife, Constance Binney, in January 1951. He did not appear to have any serious relationships with women until he met in 1955. As Richard K. Morris has pointed out: "Although their two charities differed in scope, there were concordances. Both had begun as spontaneous individual responses to immediate need, both were concerned with the relief of suffering, each laid paramount emphasis upon personal, voluntary sacrifice and each laid paramount emphasis upon personal, voluntary sacrifice and each had been fuelled by a Christian impulse."

The couple visited India in 1957. The following year they travelled to Germany together and discussed the possibility of some joint projects. In September 1958 they announced plans to open a home for the incurably ill in Poland, which would be run under a new Ryder-Cheshire Foundation. Cheshire later recalled: "We would have been happier still if our respective foundations.... had been able to merge. But they had each been in existence too long, each with their specific terms of reference and their own separate body of supporters, to make that possible."

The Foundation's aim was to take on projects which did not quite fall within the remit of either of their own larger foundations, Leonard Cheshire Disability and Sue Ryder Foundation. The first project was the Raphael Centre for lepers. Cheshire and Ryder had first encountered the lepers near Dehra Dun: "I am not quite sure how or by whom I was first told of the Dip, for one could well live in Dehra Dun half a lifetime and not really know that it existed. It was an unsavoury place on the south-western edge of the town that must once upon a time have been a largish quarry. An open drain ran through the middle of it and at the far end was a city refuse dump... From the road itself the Dip was out of sight. Indeed one would have to walk up to its edge and peer into it before realizing that it contained a cluster of little mud houses with beaten-out milk-powder tins for roofing, and that a hundred or more people actually lived in them.... I shall never forget my first impression of this little community, barricaded, as it were, from the rest of the town and yet in essence dust another section of the city itself, whose inhabitants were owed the same rights and privileges as everybody else... the sheer poverty of the tiny houses in which they lived was not very different from other shanty towns I had seen... But somehow the combination of such a degree of poverty with the fact of being ostracized had the effect of creating a common solidarity. Certainly I was not prepared for the extraordinary and spontaneous warmth of their welcome."

Cheshire asked Sue Ryder to marry him. As she recalled in her autobiography, Child of my Love (1986), at first she had doubts about the idea: "The work had meant my life, and nothing I felt should or could change this. How in the future could one combine both marriage and work? Moreover, even in normal circumstances, marriage inevitably brings great responsibilities - I had always felt that it was a gamble. Furthermore, the implications are so serious that it is wiser to remain single and work than to run the risk of an unhappy marriage. Comparatively few people prepare themselves for or are equal to sharing literally everything." They were married on 5th April 1959.

Sue Ryder
The wedding of Leonard Cheshire and Sue Ryder (April 1959)

According to her biographer, Mark Pottle: "After an all too brief honeymoon in India they began their married life with an arduous joint fund-raising tour of Australia and New Zealand. Mother Teresa of Calcutta had once told them that they would find the sacrifices that marriage entailed worthwhile, and so it proved. Together they shared happiness, as well as the enormous demands placed upon them by their respective foundations, to which each was a willing martyr. On their return to Britain they lived in a small flat at Cavendish. A son and daughter were born in 1960 and 1962 but Ryder did not allow pregnancy to interrupt her work. She preferred action to delegation and was happiest when driving through the night to open a new home or deliver aid.... Small, thin, and neatly dressed, with characteristic headscarves, she seemed to have no interest in food... Her family background lent a grandeur to her manner that she never lost, in spite of the simplicity of her tastes and the frugality of her lifestyle. And behind the piety there was a lively character with a hint of flirtatiousness."

In 1985 Cheshire published The Light of Many Suns: The Meaning of the Bomb where he wrote about his involvement in the dropping of the atom bomb in Nagasaki. In November 1950 he wrote: "In point of fact the atom bomb did not influence the war one way or the other, for politically speaking the war was already over. What is more this was known to the Allies at the time... The argument that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justifiable on the grounds they saved more lives than they destroyed is therefore invalid." He had now changed his mind and in his new book he argued: "To have to live with the horror which that single bomb caused is a harrowing experience and a source of great personal regret; but I find that the very fact of thinking about it immediately recalls the infinitely greater horror that the totality of the war up until that moment had constituted 55,000,000 killed and nobody knows how many maimed in one way or another for the rest of their lives. Then there is the further thought of the other millions who would have had to die, had the bomb not cut the war short."

Cheshire developed a close friendship with David Lean. As Richard K. Morris, the author of Cheshire (2000), has pointed out: "The relationship between Lean, the vehement atheist and veteran of six marriages; and Cheshire, the devout, frugal Catholic, looks strange. Yet there were affinities and similarities, and a mutual fascination. Lean was competitive, good with young people, a boy at heart who 'never grew up'. Some of the things said of him could be, or actually were, said of Cheshire as well. Lean, for instance, 'had this style of making you feel that when you were with him you were the only one who really mattered'. He did this with everybody, 'so it was quite hard to tell who he really liked'. Lean was 'amazed and fascinated by Cheshire's goodness... He and Leonard were crazy about each other.' They also shared a linearity of mind in relation to the important things they did. Both had an early love of the cinema and took delight in photography - its equipment, feel and touch, as well as results - and both were largely itinerant, lived out of suitcases and devoted to their work. Lean's atheism did not preclude an interest in religion, and they held long theological sparring matches, which Cheshire may have enjoyed as a means of honing his own thinking."

In 1980 Sue Ryder was created a life peer in recognition of being one of the greatest Christian charity workers of her time. Cheshire had been offered the same honour several times but did accept the Order of Merit in 1981. Eventually, on the advice of his good friend, Jack Ashley, he agreed to enter the House of Lords in order to provide a platform for his views.

Sue Ryder
Leonard Cheshire and his daughter Elizabeth in June, 1981.

Leonard Cheshire was not party political: for example, he criticised Margaret Thatcher when she introduced the Poll Tax and the relaxation of restrictions on Sunday trading but was a strong advocate of maintaining the nuclear deterrent during the 1980s, arguing that the alternative to nuclear deterrence would be conventional world war between the major powers. Writing in The Tablet (19th July 1986) he said: "No, I do not see the world as a safer place if nuclear weapons were disinvented – something that is impossible in any case. Conventional weapons deter only in a relative sense, by persuading the enemy that an attack will not succeed. Nuclear weapons deter in an absolute sense by threatening the immediate destruction of his homeland if he attacks. They do not, of course, prevent war between smaller nations; but what a giant step forward for mankind if we could be certain that world war had been banished to the tragic past."

Although he was never a pacifist, Cheshire campaigned passionately for world peace. He wrote in the Baptist Times: "Peace is not merely the absence of war.... Peace is the result, the priceless fruit, of justice. Without real justice and freedom - freedom under law - there is no peace. Justice, then, is the gateway to peace, and injustice, itself the first violence, is the dangerous slope that ends in confrontation and war." On another occasion he wrote: "The greatest affront to man's dignity, greater even that of the world's nuclear armouries, is our failure to act decisively against the poverty of developing nations."

In 1985 Cheshire was in dispute with trustee body of The Cheshire Homes for the Sick. Cheshire argued that their proposals "seemed to be based on the assumption that the foundation was moving towards being run by full-time professional staff, with the trustees responsible only for broad policy". He opposed this, predicting that it would lead to "a radical change in the foundation's way of working". Cheshire also predicted that this would increase costs and the foundation "would become more and more like the NHS or the social services".

Leonard Cheshire died on .


Primary Sources

(1) John Fergusson Roxburgh, letter (17th January, 1954)

I have been thinking over your letter about Leonard Cheshire, but I have not found much to tell you in reply. As a schoolboy Leonard was very successful in the ordinary sense of the word - that is, he became Head of his House, a School Prefect, a member of the Sixth Form... and Captain of Lawn Tennis - but any first-rate boy can expect a career of that kind at his Public School, and I cannot remember that Leonard made more impression on his generation than several others did... I personally was much attached to him, and I felt for him not only affection but respect. There was something about him - was it perhaps a kind of moral dignity? - which made it inconceivable that he would think or do anything that was below top level. He knew how to make other people do the right thing too, and his courteous, even gentle, manner covered a pretty tough will, which made him a strong ruler in his house and an effective prefect in the school. But all this could be said of other boys who as men never became pre-eminent as Leonard did.

(2) Andrew Boyle, No Passing Glory (1955)

There was something almost adult at times in his intuitive desire to please. Yet when he was seven and had been a pupil for two years at Miss Owen's, a private preparatory school in Oxford, he began to show signs of possessing an independent mind of his own. There were occasions, in his mother's words, when he would "just drift off into a separate world." Though he was never sullen or huffy, his mother lost patience with his habit of dreamy moodiness. It seemed unnatural in a boy so young, and clashed with the infectious gaiety and touching thoughtfulness which often characterised him.

(3) Richard K. Morris, Cheshire (2000)

The truth is that Cheshire passed through Oxford less in a blaze of rebellious individualism than as part of a genre. He became a model of what in his own eyes an undergraduate should be. Oxford in the 1930s contained many ex public schoolboys who breezed through the nine eight-week terms by supplementing what they already knew with a little work, put in some concentrated effort towards the end and left with second-class degrees. Along the way they climbed in and out of colleges after dark, drove about in second-hand cars, returned at speed from London nightclubs along deserted roads, invited each other to lunch or mulled claret, rioted in each other's rooms, argued at length about subjects they did not fully understand, and cocked a snook at university discipline by frequenting pubs. This was a kind of conformism.

Thus Cheshire did own a car, but it was rather old. He also frequented dog tracks, telling Dr. A. L. Rowse over lunch at Grey Walls that he had found an invincible method of betting which would make him rich.... There were occasions when Cheshire did inane things, like drinking an entire bottle of whisky in one go to refute someone who said that it couldn't be done.

(4) Leonard Cheshire, dictated reminiscence (5th April, 1954)

I was mercenary; didn't have many scruples... No, better still I think I had two sides. I had the side that was industrious, and wanted to be honest and good and so on, and the other that was quite the opposite. So when it came to Oxford it was a question of which side was going to predominate. I think that largely depended upon what sort of people I came into contact with, influences, and I picked up with the people who spent a good deal of time drinking and so on and I suppose that tipped the scales.

(5) Andrew Boyle, No Passing Glory (1955)

Like the majority of men in his year, Leonard looked on his Oxford superiors as a group of well-intentioned old fogeys. The fact that his father happened to be one of them was in itself a stimulating challenge ; on no account must he even appear to be influenced out of consideration for family ties. If he was no docile tool of the dons, neither was he promising material for the canvassers of the various political societies. Politics was a subject for future politicians; and Oxford seemed to be overpopulated with them already. He had no inclination to get to the bottom of the real issues in the Spanish civil war or to question the folly or otherwise of British non-intervention. As far as he was concerned these and a hundred other dusty topics could remain the monopoly of the wordy young bores who attended the weekly debates of the Union.

Leonard and his set did not pause to rationalise their attitude. Without a tinge of cynicism they purposely steered clear of anyone and anything that seemed self-consciously serious, virtuous or patriotically noble. A common taste for beer, idle conversation and outrageous pastimes was proof against the claims of the politicians of to-morrow and the highbrow poseurs of to-day. When the taste could lawfully be indulged in one or other of the small Merton societies, so much the better.

(6) Leonard Cheshire, The Light of Many Suns: The Meaning of the Bomb (1985)

The sight of Chamberlain waving his little piece of paper on his return from meeting Hitler at Munich, looking so evidently pleased with his achievement, edified and gave a sense of relief to some, but not to most of my own immediate circle. Unformed and immature though our judgement was, we felt a disquiet, a feeling of having betrayed a friendly nation, of not having lived up to the honour and the sense of duty that had made Britain the great power she was. I went to my father and asked if I could leave university and join the Air Force, a step which had the added attraction of getting me off my finals. He wouldn't let me, but agreed that I could apply for a permanent commission under the RAF's direct entry scheme, which would take effect immediately after I had obtained my degree. At the medical examination I was asked if I could read the exit sign over the door, made to do knees-up at the double for half a minute, then stretch my hands out to prove that they did not tremble unduly; and, everything apparently being satisfactory, I was passed. The interview board asked nothing much more difficult than, `What games do you play?', and on being told, rugger and tennis, indicated that I was in.

(7) Leonard Cheshire, The Light of Many Suns: The Meaning of the Bomb (1985)

Another priority for Hitler was to establish himself in the eyes of his own people as an invincible leader capable of winning against any odds. His occupation of the Rhineland in 1936 and the annexation of Austria a year later could never have succeeded had he been resisted, but he had shrewdly and correctly judged that he would not be. Hitler now needed to eliminate Czechoslovakia as a potential threat to his Southern flank. If he could do that without provoking Britain and France into war, he would be free to turn his entire military might against the East. However he was militarily at a considerable disadvantage. Czechoslovakia disposed of some thirty-five divisions, approximately the same as Germany, and knew that she would be fighting for her life. On the Western and Northern Fronts there were seventy French divisions and a few Belgian and Dutch. Britain had six, but as yet there was no commitment to Europe. Poland on the Eastern Front was an imponderable for which some contingency plans would have to be made. Clearly, one cannot calculate a nation's military power just by counting its divisions, but there can be no denying that, had Hitler's adversaries agreed upon concerted military action, he could never have succeeded. The German high command knew this and warned Hitler that what he was contemplating was militarily impossible, but Hitler replied: "Don't worry, they won't fight."

(8) Leonard Cheshire, Bomber Pilot (1943)

Long... kept drumming into my head the fundamental lesson of never thinking that you have mastered your job, of applying your whole heart and mind to the task of perfecting as far as is humanly possible the techniques of operational flying. He made me practise and re-practise, study and re-study, experiment and re-experiment. I had to sit in the cockpit blindfold and go through the different drills, sit in the rear turret, in the navigator's and the wireless operator's seat, and try and see life from their point of view....

Hardly any Captain that I ever knew would allow his Second Dicky into the driving seat whilst over the danger zone: thus when one was finally passed out and given a crew of one's own, one had no actual experience of handling the controls under fire. But Lofty (Long) was different: he would give me a clout - with his boot if he could possibly manage it - and bawl out at me to get into his seat and take over... Then from the Second Pilot's position he would talk me into the target and back, not always perhaps in the most complimentary of tones, but in a way that gave me a confidence and experience that I could not possibly have otherwise gained. I must have been the only pilot in the squadron who was ever given such a start as this.

(9) Leonard Cheshire, The Light of Many Suns: The Meaning of the Bomb (1985)

My chief memories are of people, perfectly ordinary people who did whatever was expected of them in most extraordinary ways. The ground crews were an example. They spent long hours in a cold dispersal hut waiting for the dawn, or whatever uncomfortable hour it might be, when the aircraft were due back. If their own plane was missing, never to return to its dispersal point again, they used to worry in case there had been engine failure, or some fault somewhere that they had failed to spot. When you jumped down the steps onto the tarmac they always looked so pleased to see you, and once you had gone off for debriefing and eggs and bacon, they got down to removing the cowlings and doing their inspection as if it was their lives, not yours, that depended on it. Never once in four years of flying with Bomber Command did I have an engine failure. It was not only the ground crews, it was everyone, from the lowliest cleaner in the factory where the aircraft were made to the agent dropped behind enemy lines, on her own, never able to relax for fear of giving herself away. The memory that it was the entire nation that fought, and of the way we all held together, will never leave me.

(10) Richard Rivaz, Tail Gunner (1943)

God, what a mess! The fuselage door had gone, and most of one side of the fuselage as well. Desmond was there, working like a maniac, with his blond hair shining in the light of the flames, and his eyes sparkling like brilliants: sweat was pouring from his face, and he was hurling flares, incendiaries and spare ammunition out of the gaping fuselage. I started to do the same... and he shouted at me to go back and get my parachute, as the aeroplane would probably break in two at any moment....

The wind and slipstream was whistling through the fuselage and tore at my clothing ... Leonard was sitting at the controls, and turned round and smiled as I entered the cabin. Davy was sitting by his set fumbling with his morse key: his face was charred and black, and his clothing all burned...

Desmond had fetched the first-aid kit and covered Davy's face with the jelly used for burns. It was bitterly cold in the cabin, and for the next five hours we did all we could for Davy's comfort: I kept putting his fingers in my mouth and breathing hard on them to try and get them warm...

With the five of us crammed in the cabin of the Whitley, hardly ever speaking, and wondering how far we should get. Leonard was sitting at the controls; he had taken his helmet off, but was still wearing his yellow skull cap, which looked grotesque in the half-light. Taffy was sitting at the navigation table grinning to himself most of the time... Desmond, looking like a wild blond giant, was part of the time sitting beside Leonard and part of the time looking at Davy.

(11) Leonard Cheshire, Bomber Pilot (1943)

The explosion kicked my mind back a quarter of a century. Down. Down. We're going down. I can feel the rush of air. We are going so very fast - 200, 300, 400 miles an hour. I don't know, but who on earth would? Alice in Wonderland didn't, did she? She only knew she was going down. Why do my eyes hurt so much? God, I can't see! Everything is black, black as a rook. No, raven, of course. Yes, raven, not rook. I must be blind. I've always wanted to know what it's like to be blind, and now I know. The funny thing is that it doesn't really seem any different, except merely that I can't see: there must be more to it than that. I suppose it's just that I've not got used to it yet. No! Good lord, how stupid I am! I'm not blind at all! It's that terrible flash. Yes, I'm beginning to remember now. Just in front of me. A terrible bright yellow flash. It seemed to split my eyes right open, right round to the back of my head. Yes, a bright flash like that blinds you for a bit, but after a few minutes you can see again. Minutes? Or should it be seconds? I don't know. I can't seem to be able to work anything out properly: probably I'm getting tired. No, it must be minutes, because it's so long ago since it all happened. Like coming out of a lighted room into the dark.

And the noise. Yes, what a noise! It felt as though it broke every bone in my body. But I don't think it can have; I feel more or less all right. A bit peculiar, that's all. What is it? I know, I feel sick. More at heart than anything, but it's in my stomach. We've got to jump. Jump? Yes, jump. I've never jumped in my life. I've often wanted to, but I never have. Now I've got to. It's not quite the same, though. If I was going to jump, I wanted to do it in my own good time, not in Jerry's time. I've often thought about this moment, and wondered whether it would be possible to do everything in time. Unplug yourself, wind the trimmer-tab back, climb out of the seat, down into the well, and get your parachute.

God knows where my parachute is now. I hurled it somewhere in the nose when I got in, but I haven't seen it since. There were one or two there some time ago, but goodness only knows if any of them were mine. Yes, I've thought about all that from time to time, but I've always said, "Oh, well, you won't think anything to it, because if the situation arises where you've got to jump, you'll be so bloody glad to get out you won't give a damn about anything else," but now I know how foolish I was. The thought of jumping is worse than anything. I'd rather stay here and hope for the best....

It's getting worse, though - much worse. My eyes are smarting too. What a foul smell! Bitter, like that day in the shelter when they bombed the aerodrome. If it goes on much longer I won't be able to breathe. I need a towel soaked in water. "Desmond get me a towel." No, of course, Desmond isn't there. I wonder what's happened to him. Oxygen mask! That's the thing: oxygen mask. Where is it? Hanging from my neck somewhere, but where? Good, I've got it. Quick, man, quick, before it's too late. No, not too quick. Something about cooks and spoiling the broth. No, it's not that. More haste, less speed. Hold your breath: that's the way. Now find the press stud. Take your gloves off: you can't clip it on while you're wearing gloves. That's got it. Oh, God, what a blessed relief! What a blessed relief! I shall never go without my gas mask again!

"Have you dropped the bombs yet?"

Nobody seems to answer. Funny, that; surely there must be someone there. Desmond wouldn't have gone off without saying cheerio. No, I'm wrong; somebody's speaking. What's he saying? I can't quite make it out. Yes, I can.

"I've been hit. I've been hit." I wonder who it is. I can't recognize the voice and he doesn't say his name. It must be coming from the front, not the back. Something awful has happened at the back. I don't quite know what, but most of the explosion seemed to come from behind. First of all it was in front, that terrible bright flash. And then almost immediately afterwards a much bigger explosion from behind my back. There can't possibly be anyone left alive there: so it must be coming from the nose. What shall I say? I can't think of anything. It doesn't really matter much: not at the moment. We've got to stop going down first. What an awful thing to think - that it doesn't matter much. But I can't help it. There's nothing I can do anyway, and, whether I like it or not, I did think it. I suppose the answer is that when you're in a spot you think of yourself first.

The smoke cleared, and like a ray of sunshine my eyesight came back. I blinked once or twice, perhaps; I don't know. Anyway, I could see quite well. I looked at the altimeter: 5,000 feet. Plenty of height, much more than I would have thought possible. Somehow we seemed to have been diving for ages and ages, and we were still diving now. The instruments were all haywire; they did not make sense however you looked at them. They must have been shot away behind the panel. Awkward. But when we levelled out and ceased diving they began slowly to come back to normal, so probably they were intact after all. I rubbed my forehead between my eyes, and started to take stock of the damage. First of all, the engines and the wings. Perhaps a few pieces of twisted burned metal: not more. They must have borne the brunt of the explosion. I looked out, and, like the man who saw the table slide slowly of its own accord across the floor, sat frozen to my seat. They were running; both of them. Running as they've always run before. Two long protruding noses, almost Jewish, and a defiant roar. My ears became suddenly unblocked, and into them poured the music of this defiant roar. Why was it I hadn't heard it before? And how, oh how could I doubt their trust? Perhaps for a while I had lost possession of my senses.

Something was stirring. I looked up and saw there was a figure standing in the well, staring at me. The lights had fused. In the half darkness of the moon it was a grotesque figure, leaning drunkenly on an enormous pair of arms, and a pair of wide, gaping eyes, and face and shoulders streaming with blood. Who or what it was, God only knows. I didn't. I tried to work things out, but somehow had to give up. The only association I could make was with the voice that said: "I've been hit. I've been hit." And all the time we were staring into each other's eyes. Suddenly he looked away, down the fuselage, and uttered a strangled cry:

"Fire! The tank's on fire!"

"Well, put it out then."

At last, thank God, I regained my senses. I don't think the figure in the well heard what I said: before I had finished speaking he had disappeared on his hands and knees down the fuselage, where the petrol tank was. And then for a long while I was left in solitude.

We were flying straight and level, at least more or less so, but something, somewhere, was radically wrong. The aircraft was wallowing and flopping around like a small boat on a gentle swell, and the controls felt as though they had come unstuck. I looked at the engines with a song in my heart, and then back at the instruments. It was incredible, but nowhere on any of the gauges was there a sign of trouble. I could hardly believe my eyes. The compass, I noticed, was steady; so were the rest of the flying instruments. They couldn't have been damaged, then, after all. I set about synchronizing the gyro with the compass, for it was hopelessly out, and only then did I realize the truth. What a fool! What an incredible, bloody fool! We were flying due east, back into Germany, and down an eighty-mile-an-hour wind at that! Of all the times to forget an elementary principle! Without thinking what I was doing, I pulled the stick hard over, and again I cursed myself for being a fool. The port wing dropped, the nose reared up, and only just in time I stopped her spinning. From then on I treated the controls as though they were made of putty, and it was three minutes before we were back on a westerly course.

The thought of what I had done made me sweat, and that was comforting, because if I was capable of sweat there could not be overmuch wrong. But this comfort did not last long, and the smile came off my face. I began to notice the sweat was all on my back and not my front. What's more, my back was getting hotter and hotter all the time. By this time I was prepared to believe anything, but this was definitely not normal. I screwed my head round, and what I saw forced a quiet, unwanted curse from my lips. Thick, black, oily smoke, pouring out from beneath the petrol tank, and in the background red gashes of fire.

I did not stay looking long, for on the port and ahead of us a barrage of shells came up. They were bursting in bunches of twenty or thirty, like that Saturday over the Ruhr, only this time they seemed to make more noise, because the hatch above my head was missing and all around the perspex was torn. Instinctively I started to take evasive action, but remembered just in time. If only I knew what was wrong with the controls it would make it easier. It felt as though the cables were hanging on by a thread, but I could not be certain. Anyway, it was better to take the shells than settle everything by pulling the controls off. So I flew straight and level. A searchlight picked us up, then a lot more, and almost immediately a rattle of splinters came through the fuselage somewhere behind me. I switched on the microphone and started speaking, but no one answered. The heat seemed no worse, but I did not look round any more. Somehow, I could not take my eyes off the shells. On the floor beside me was a parachute. It was not mine. In the nose there were two others, and there was no one except me this side of the petrol tank. What if they could not put the fire out? They would never get past the tank again. I found I was clutching the control column like a drowning man at a straw, and cursed myself. Tried to fix my mind on things that mattered, but it was elusive. I could not hold it down. Curious visions again. Damn them: it's as bad as being drunk. A grotesque figure in the well. Who on earth was it? I'm sure it can't have been the voice that said "I've been hit," because the intercom in the front was U.S. Good lord, he's come back! I'll fix him this time. In fact I'll ask him straight who he is. I looked up at his face, but I did not have to ask him his name.

"Hello, Desmond. Where you been hiding?"

"Can you keep her in the air?"

"What do you think?"

"That's all I wanted to know."

"What about the fire?"

"If you can keep her going another five minutes, we'll have it under control."

They were long, those five minutes, very long, but they got the fire out. Taffy was the first to come back: bleeding and glistening, but grinning all over his face.

"What's the verdict?"

But all he did was roar with laughter. Infectious. I roared with laughter too, and felt better: much better.

"What about the bombs? Have we still got them?"

"Certainly."

"Well, we'd better go find Cologne."

Taffy looked back over my shoulder, shouted out "Jesus!" and dashed off down the fuselage. What he went to do I don't know. I only know there was, for a while, a confusion of cries and noise and violent movement, and then Taffy came back and disappeared into the front turret. The shells were still as fierce as ever, but now that there had been diversion it was not quite so bad. Someone flopped down beside me. I looked up. He was squatting on the step, his head down below his knees and his arms covering his face. I leant across and pulled him gently back. Pray God I may never see such a sight again. Instead of a face, a black, crusted mask streaked with blood, and instead of eyes, two vivid, scarlet pools.

"I'm going blind, sir: I'm going blind!"

I didn't say anything: I could not have if I had wanted to. He was still speaking, but too softly for me to hear what it was. I leaned right across so as better to hear. The plane gave a lurch, and I fell almost on top of him. He cried out and once more buried his face below his knees. Because I could not stand it, I sat forward over the instruments and tried to think of something else, but it was not much good. Then suddenly he struggled to his knees and said:

"I haven't let you down, have I, sir? I haven't let you down, have I? I must get back to the wireless. I've got to get back. You want a fix, don't you, sir? Will you put the light on, please, so that I can see?"

So it was Davy. Davy: his very first trip. Someone came forward and very gently picked him up. Then came Desmond. He sat down beside me and held out his hand. I took it in both of mine and looked deep into his smiling blue eyes.

"Everything's under control."

"God bless you, Desmond." Never have I said anything with such feeling. "What about Davy? Is he going to die?"

`He's O.K. Revs is looking after him."

"Thank God. Tell me the worst. What's the damage?"

"Pretty bad."

"Will she hold?"

"I don't know. About evens I should say. The whole of the port fuselage is torn: there's only the starboard holding."

(12) Leonard Cheshire, Bomber Pilot (1943)

New York. A city full of secrets, and all of them new to me. For four days and four nights a riot. Cocktails, dances, drives through the city. Times Square on Broadway, Park Avenue, overhead railways, La Guardia airfield, people who take you as you come, not as they come. And no sleep. Life was too good to waste time sleeping anyway, but as it happened people had too much friendship to offer to let us sleep. Why, God alone knows. An American in England would never find the same hospitality, and he knows it only too well, but that seems to make no difference to him. Then, after it all, an invitation to spend a quiet eveningl Dinner and cocktails in the warmth of a 62nd Street garden, and a mysterious hostess called Constance. But the evening, as it turned out, was not so quiet. Cocktails in the garden - yes. But the dinner at La Belle Meuniere and afterwards dancing at Fifi's Monte Carlo. Drinks on the house, simply because we were Air Force pilots. A curious reason, but that's American. And then, because life was too good to waste time sleeping, a 5 a.m. drive out of New York.

Willy, Constance and I ranged in front; behind, amongst piles of luggage, a black Persian cat, two snow-white pigeons and a Scottie. We were a curious assortment, and out of the luxurious green Cadillac sprang a never-ceasing flow of dance music. Peace, empty roads, occasionally a cream-coloured police car and now and then a dead skunk: that was all. Losing the way amid rocks and green trees. Myself at the wheel, and the curious, unreal sensation of a left-hand drive. The quiet, light, thrilling surge of 84 horse-power. Gradually more and more cars and the sun hotter. Hot dogs at a pull-in because we felt hungry. And all three of us light-hearted, hysterical with laughing: our brains too weak to absorb anything but incoherent thoughts.

Then, after four hours' driving, Old Lyme in Connecticut. A white, wood-built house on a hill, a panorama of bright-green trees, reaching down to the haze of the sea; in the background, Long Island. Wild, scrub-like surroundings, evergreen grass, and a fluttering of butterflies. The scrunch of tyres on the drive and somewhere in the distance a sound of laughter. A coon, jet black against the spotless white of his coat, lounging happily in the sun of the verandah. For a while peace and rest: food under the shade of a tree, dark glasses, ice-cold highballs and orange-juice, and brains still half hysterical, only now a little quicker. A telephone bell, a warm Southern accent, and then more drinks, more journeys in the Cadillac. People standing on their doorsteps, beckoning us in. Sun and fathomless skies and the hum of mosquitoes. Mother's exultant welcome; not my mother - Constance's mother. But in the warm and somehow vibrant atmosphere it seemed quite natural to call her mother, and so I did. I can't say why. Willy pushed his hands deeper in his pockets and started talking about peanut butter. Constance said, "A woman is as old as she looks, and a man is old when he stops looking," and our host hung a Union Jack over the porch.

(13) Leonard Cheshire, Bomber Pilot (1943)

Karlsruhe loomed up unexpectedly - I must have underestimated our speed - and what a sight it was too: three guns, five searchlights and four large fires burning away, almost apologetically. We came down to 6,000 feet, identified the target and opened the bomb-doors. Henry said he felt sorry for the place and could not,bring himself to drop the bombs, but then he is apt to be an insincere sort of fellow and you can't always trust him. He certainly did not look sorry when the bombs burst where they should have done, and the roof of the locomotive factory came up to meet the sky. We circled round for a while taking photographs and watching the fire grow larger and larger, then we set course for home. Martin broke unexpectedly into conversation to say frivolously he had seen the sights on the three guns.

(14) Leonard Cheshire, Bomber Pilot (1943)

As we flew on across England, in the sky and on the ground there were signs of inexhaustible activity: flarepaths, aeroplanes and lights pointing out the way. Aeroplanes over the sea, too, and ships patrolling in case of accidents. And then as we turned over the Dutch islands on to the last lap, the most monstrous sight in all the history of bombing. The sky, helped by the moon, was very light, so that the stars showed only dimly and infrequently. The ground too was light, but in a curious manner mauve, so that the contrast was very beautiful. Against this pale, duck-egg blue and the greyish-mauve were silhouetted a number of small black shapes: all of them bombers, and all of them moving the same way. One hundred and thirty-four miles ahead, and directly in their path, stretched a crimson-red glow: Cologne was on fire. Already, only twenty-three minutes after the attack had started, Cologne was ablaze from end to end, and the main force of the attack was still to come. I looked at the other bombers, I looked at the row of selector switches in the bomb compartment, and I felt, perhaps, a slight chill in my heart. But the chill did not stay long: I saw other visions, visions of rape and murder and torture. And somewhere in the carpet of greyish-mauve was a tall, blue-eyed figure waiting behind barbed-wire' walls for someone to bring him home. No, the chill did not last long.

I glued my eyes on the fire and watched it grow slowly larger. Of ack-ack there was not much, but the sky was filled with fighters. Every now and then we saw air-to-air tracer, and usually something would fall burning from the heavens: German or British? We could not tell which; only hope. In the tail and down the fuselage the gunners kept an even stricter watch; and all the time the fire grew larger and larger. Thirteen thousand feet below, the covering intruder force had swung into action, and against the venom of their machine-guns the German defences let fly to the winds the last vestige of concerted opposition. We watched the snuffing-out of searchlights and the strafing of aerodromes and said with thankfulness: "Here at last is the first bomber battle, and the bombers are winning."

When Cologne came in view beneath the port wing there was a sudden silence in the aeroplane. If what we saw below was true, Cologne was destroyed. We looked hastily at the Rhine, but there was no mistake: what we saw below was true. Cologne was burning, it was burning as no city in the world can ever have burnt, and with it was burning the morale of the German citizen.

Two nights later the Ruhr was burning too; not quite the same as Cologne, but none the less burning. In Cologne there was one fire as large as Hyde Park with fifty or sixty fires as large as the Ritz. In the Ruhr there were as many fires, but they were more widely dispersed. The visibility was worse, but none the less the Ruhr was burning, and for the second time the bombers had won the battle. We were scarred a little, perhaps a little frightened too, for the gunfire and searchlights had been accurate, but as we pointed the nose towards home there was nothing but victory spelt before our eyes. We sped through the belt of fighters and tracer and watched the intruders shooting-up the defences. We sped across the fields of Holland at tree level. The night was clear and the air very warm, but not much was said, for we were full, each of us, with our own thoughts. We flew over Rotterdam so low that the bullets of the defenders passed through the tops of the wings and out through the underneath. And so with the memory of success we came home to bed.

In all forty-eight hours since we first took off, and in that short time two separate areas had been devastated, but that was only part of the story. As I pulled the bedclothes over my shoulders I felt a curious happiness inside my heart. For the first time in history the emphasis of night bombing had passed out of the hands of the pilots and into the hands of the organizers, and the organizers had proved their worth. In spite of the ridicule of some of their critics, they have proved their worth. They have proved, too, beyond any shadow of doubt that given the time the bomber can win the war. Not only have they proved it, they have written the proof on every face that saw Cologne and the Ruhr.

(15) Andrew Boyle, No Passing Glory (1955)

The raid on Mainz early in August introduced him (Leonard Cheshire) unceremoniously to the growing hazards of the area-bombing campaign on which Harris had embarked with bleak determination. Having established in the early summer that a whole city could be set on fire from end to end by concentrating the biggest force available over the target in the shortest possible time, the Chief of Bomber Command brusquely refused to sit pretty until the British aircraft industry overtook his many needs. The results of his gigantic gamble had silenced the sceptics in high places as effectively as the unwelcome evidence of night photography had silenced the optimists in 1941.

(16) Leonard Cheshire, The Light of Many Suns: The Meaning of the Bomb (1985)

The compound itself was tucked away in a low-lying stretch of the north shore. It looked across the sound towards the hills of Saipan and opened onto the Navy's anchorage, wherein day and night there plied a seemingly endless stream of ships. It was in this compound, with the three barbed-wired, closely guarded enclosures, that the work of assembling and loading the mechanism for detonating the bomb was carried out. The third enclosure, the inner sanctum as it was called, was the most closely guarded of all and, since only those with "need to know" were allowed to enter, I felt not a little flattered when they led me inside to meet the physicist in charge, Luis Alvarez, who, I was told, would explain the mechanism for detonating the bomb. What I expected of such a place I do not know, but certainly not what I found. Except for the fact that it was air-conditioned against the humidity and dust, it was just an ordinary Nissen hut, filled with a disorderly array of tools, manuals and instruments of various kinds, and with a perfectly ordinary-looking man bending over a bench. He straightened up and without much formality began explaining the basic functions of the gadgetry around him, little of which I grasped despite his obvious efforts to keep it simple. Then for no particular reason he walked across to a yellow box lying on the floor and casually flicked it open with his foot. Inside I saw what appeared to be a metallic sphere about the size of a football, but since it did not strike me as anything very special compared with the rest of the stuff in the hut I paid little attention to it, until Alvarez said: "That's the atom." I must have looked startled, for he told me not to worry; it was perfectly harmless and I was quite free to touch it if I wanted, provided I wore a pair of gloves.

That moment, and the shock it gave me, lives on as vividly in my memory today as does the far more traumatic event a fortnight later over Nagasaki. Disbelief that the new monster bomb we had brought into being could be lying haphazardly on the floor, just one item of equipment among a pile of other i, was followed by a sense of awe. Then I pulled myself together, accepted the gloves that Alvarez offered me and touched it. The sensation was rather like that of the first time you touch a live snake: you recoil from what you know will feel slimy and repulsive, and then to your surprise find that it is warmish, almost friendly. The act of doing this prompted an altogether new thought in my mind, unformed and confused at the time, but which has grown in shape and power ever since. Hitherto the bomb had conjured images of devastating, unimaginable power, interwoven with an uncomfortable sensation of having to live with something dangerous and volatile that we could not be sure of controlling. But now I had seen it cut down to size. To look at and feel it was just another metallic object fashioned by the hand of man. True, there was a potentially lethal side to it: but equally an inert side that left it totally subservient to man's will. After all man has come through on his long march through the hallways of time, could it really be that he will not succeed in bringing this new invention under rational and responsible control too?

(17) Leonard Cheshire, The Light of Many Suns: The Meaning of the Bomb (1985)

Everything the military did was done in the name of the Emperor, whose judgement was deemed infallible and to disobey whom was punishable with instant death. The Emperor, however, was nothing more than a manipulative front for the military, who expected him to support whatever policies they embraced. He could lead only by example, for tradition allowed him no political say, and never in Japan's imperial history had an Emperor taken a political initiative. Since the 1930s imperial decisions were obliged to recognise, and accord with, the army's supremacy in all affairs of state. Consequently when at the succeeding imperial conference later in June, the Emperor announced that he would like to see peace -`not an imperial command, a desire' - the military chiefs were dumbfounded; it was unheard of and unconstitutional that the Emperor should express a political opinion unless asked for and unless it conformed with the Cabinet's policies. Although astounded, they ignored the Emperor's words as soon as they left the palace.

From the very outset of their adventurism into Manchuria, China and then East Asia, the military had presented themselves as the natural leaders and liberators of the region from the alien and effete British and Americans. The speed and comprehensiveness of their early military successes, and their astute propaganda had led the people to look upon the armed forces as all-conquering and invincible. The war had been so remote from Japan that it had made no impact on the ordinary person; only with the fall of Saipan in November 1944, which brought the B29 bomber within
range and in consequence forced Togo to resign, did the first glimmer of understanding break through. Even so the military dictatorship duped the people into believing that this was only a necessary price for the victory that would ultimately be won, and when confronted in Cabinet with the inevitability of a direct assault on their shores, they still insisted that final victory would be theirs and that preservation of the national honour demanded nothing less than a fight to the last man.

In the face of this, what were the Americans to do? Admirals Leahy and King thought that victory could be won by air and sea power alone; that is, by stepping up the already devastating bomber offensive and by mounting a total sea blockade. MacArthur thought otherwise, and on 20 April, with the backing of General Arnold, convinced the Chiefs of Staff that he was right, by arguing that bombing was an unproved war-winning instrument, as the battle for Europe demonstrated, and that to occupy a ring of island bases round Japan, as the Admirals wanted to do, would disperse Allied forces even more than they already were, and might commit them to a costly campaign on the Asian mainland. In any case the effect of a blockade would touch the Japanese armed forces only after it had starved the civilian population, beginning with the weakest and most helpless. Although a final decision was postponed to 1 June, plans were immediately put in hand for Operation Olympic, the invasion of the southern island of Kyushu on i November, and for Coronet, the assault against the central Tokyo plain, in either March or April 1946. Yet this was a step that no one wanted if it could possibly be avoided.

The battle for Okinawa, the first Japanese island proper to be invaded, offered proof of Japan's staying power and the lengths to which she would go in self-defence. The army lost 120,000 men, forced hundreds of civilians to commit hara-kiri rather than surrender, and made the school children walk across a minefield in front of their army, to spare the soldiers' lives. The battle lasted from 6 April to 21 June and cost the Americans 12,000 dead. If this was how they fought on a relatively unimportant island, what would happen on the mainland itself? MacArthur estimated that the campaign would last a year and cost a minimum of two million Japanese lives and one million American and Allied. In the light of what we now know of the fanatical determination of the ruling military clique in Japan to fight to the bitter end, that was almost certainly an under-estimate. The Japanese Home Army had 2,500,000 men under arms, it
was undefeated, had trained 4,000,00o army and navy employees as an auxiliary defence force and enlisted a voluntary militia of 28,000,000 civilians. War production was crumbling, and food very scarce, but the armed forces had 10,000 aircraft, ample stocks of ammunition and equipment and were quite prepared to let civilians starve so long as they had enough for their own needs.

A further worry was that the defeat of Japan would not necessarily mean the surrender of their forces elsewhere. Burma, Malaya, Borneo, Java, Siam, and Indo-China were still occupied, under the command of Field Marshal Terauchi, an aristocrat and fanatical imperialist who totally rejected any idea of a negotiated peace. He had made it very clear that his commanders were to resist to the end in the best Samurai tradition, and had issued written orders for the execution of all POWs the moment the Allied offensive for the recapture of South-East Asia opened. In nearly every camp the prisoners had been forced to dig trenches, at the intersections of which machine-guns had been posted, and under whose enfilade fire they would all die. The start of the Allied offensive was set for 6 September. All POWs in Japan had been summoned and told that they would be shot or killed by flame-throwers as soon as the first American set foot on Japanese soil. In Nagasaki itself they were busy digging tunnels, into which they were to be herded and the entrance then sealed off by high explosive.

In addition it was thought that the Japanese forces in mainland Asia, particularly those in Manchuria, would not surrender without fighting, and ever since 1943 America had been pressing the Soviet Union to abandon its neutrality pact with Japan and enter the war against her. Stalin had confirmed his intention of doing so "eventually" at Tehran, and at Yalta Roosevelt and Churchill had offered substantial territorial concessions in Asia in return for her participation - the southern half of Sakhalin, the Kurile islands, the lease of Port Arthur as a naval base, a share in the control of the Chinese eastern railway and a presence in South Manchuria. These were concessions which they had no authority to make and were greatly to China's disadvantage.

The alternative was the hope that the use of an atomic bomb, or if necessary two, would administer such a shock as to bring about a change of heart in the military and persuade them to surrender. But this, too, posed problems. When, shortly after taking office in April 1945, Truman was briefed by Secretary of State Stimson about the bomb, the discussion dealt chiefly with the political and diplomatic consequences of using such a weapon, and, in order to consider these and other relevant factors and advise the President, a special "interim" committee was set up. On 1st June, after much heart-searching this committee unanimously recommended that the bomb be used as soon as possible, against a "military target surrounded by other buildings"...

There were, however, no scientists on this committee, and many amongst those who had built the bomb had very different views on how the bomb should be used. Stimson asked four leading nuclear physicists, Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, Arthur Compton and E.O. Lawrence to investigate these and advise him. With the proviso, `We didn't know beans about the military situation', they concluded that any attempt to stage a demonstration explosion, as some had been suggesting, was unrealistic. The Japanese would have to be notified of the place and time, and might make special arrangements to shoot the plane down or move their POWs into the target area. Nobody yet knew whether the bomb would explode on the forthcoming ground test, let alone when dropped from the air, and there was the added risk of an unintentional bombing error which might have disastrous consequences. With only two bombs available, and the possibility that the Japs would think it was a stage-managed trick if it were dropped away from Japan in the presence of neutral observers, any attempted "demonstration" would be unlikely to succeed and might even frustrate the whole project. The only effective way the bomb could be used, they concluded, was against a military target.

Almost all the President's advisors were now agreed that the bomb offered a way of ending the war in the shortest possible time and with the minimum loss of life; Britain had given her assent; and before leaving for the final Allied summit, the Potsdam Conference, Truman had taken the fateful decision to use the bomb. Yet, despite the undisputed probability that it would bring the war to an end, Truman and his advisors still held back. They unanimously agreed that the first thing was to try and persuade Japan to surrender by warning her in the strongest possible way of what would happen if she did not.


(18) Leonard Cheshire, The Light of Many Suns: The Meaning of the Bomb (1985)

Four possible targets had been chosen: Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata and Nagasaki, all of them major military complexes, but also heavily populated. Kyoto had been on the original list, but Truman had vetoed it because of its long and important cultural history. The man responsible for selecting the actual target, the date and timing of the attack and all other operational details was General Carl Spaatz, Commander of the Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific, and he was to act in consultation with his Chief of Staff, General Curtis LeMay. The attack itself would be under the command of Colonel Tibbetts, a highly rated pilot with considerable battle experience, chosen because of his outstanding decision-making ability. His primary task was to work out a battle plan that would give him the optimum chance of getting safely through the defences and then ensuring an accurate drop on the aiming point.
This posed considerable problems: the B29 was vulnerable to the Zero, a formidable fighter, and also to ground attack. A fighter escort would not guarantee protection, and in aclclirinn wmuld draw attention to the aircraft. Nobodv knew the likely effect of the explosion on the attacking aircraft, but it was clear that the fewer there were in the area the better. Tibbetts discovered that by stripping the B29 of most of its armour plate, and all its guns except one in the
tail, at his required height of 30,000 feet he would be as fast as the Zero and out of range of ack-ack. Only if the Japanese had enough advance warning of the attack to enable the Zeros to be already positioned above his aproach was there any real danger. It was an inspired decision, but one that startled his crews.

(19) Leonard Cheshire, The Light of Many Suns: The Meaning of the Bomb (1985)

At 08.00 a warning light on the black box in Sweeney's aircraft indicated a fault in the bomb. It was far too late to start testing all the circuits, and Ashworth made an intuitive guess; he found and repaired the faulty switches. But Sweeney now had an additional worry. He had done two runs onto Kokura from opposite points of the compass without managing a visual, and when his flight engineer reported the fuel level as dangerously low, he left for Nagasaki, telling his bomb-aimer, Captain Beahan, that they could only afford one run and if there was no visual sighting it would have to be a no drop. The weather on the approach run was even worse than Kokura, and it began to dawn on Sweeney that with no fuel latitude he would have to fly a direct course to Okinawa, the nearest emergency landing field, and jettison the bomb over the first open stretch of sea that was clear of shipping. At 10.00, with the city still visible only on radar, Beahan suddenly shouted: "I've got it. I see the city. I'll take it now." One minute later, at 11.01, the bomb dropped, Sweeney went into a rate-four turn to get as far away as possible from the shock waves, and Bock, flying behind him, dropped the instrument capsule in which was Alvarez' record message to Sagani.

For the past twenty minutes we had been staring intently around us looking for the explosion and wondering what on earth could have happened to Sweeney. All we saw was smoke coming from a town, the result of a medium bomber raid, until there was a cry on the intercom and to port we saw a gigantic plume of billowing white smoke. "Yes, that's it," I shouted, but I was wrong; it was an incendiary attack on a town of mostly wooden houses. Quite what warned us I am not certain - I think perhaps a fleeting flash - but we all seemed to know as if by instinct, for there was a simultaneous cry and Hopkins swung the nose round to starboard and into line with the flash of light. The ultra-dark glasses we each had round our foreheads to protect our eyes from the blinding light of the bomb were not needed because we were about fifty miles away. By the time I saw it, the flash had turned into a vast fire-ball which slowly became dense smoke, 2,000 feet above the ground, half a mile in diameter and rocketing upwards at the rate of something like 20,000 feet a minute. I was overcome, not by its size, nor by its speed of ascent but by what appeared to me its perfect and faultless symmetry. In this it was unique, above every explosion that I had ever heard of or seen, the more frightening because it gave the impression of having its immense power under full and deadly control. "Against me", it seemed to declare, "you cannot fight." My whole being felt overwhelmed, first by a tidal wave of relief and hope - it's all over! - then by a revolt against using such a weapon. But, I remembered, I had been sent here for a purpose and as best I could I must get on with my job. The cloud lifted itself to 60,000 feet where it remained stationary, a good two miles in diameter, sulphurous and boiling. Beneath it, stretching right down to the ground was a revolving column of yellow smoke, fanning out at the bottom to a dark pyramid, wider at its base than was the cloud at its climax. The darkness of the pyramid was due to dirt and dust which one could see being sucked up by the heat. All around it, extending perhaps another mile, were springing up a mass of separate fires. I wondered what could have caused them all....

We were a silent crew on our way home. I thanked Hopkins for the courtesy of a cockpit seat, and wriggled my way down the tunnel to join Bill in the central compartment. He startled me by suddenly saying: "That's only the detonator compared with the bomb that is to come." He meant the hydrogen bomb, but I asked no questions, because it was beyond my comprehension. Foremost in my mind was a growing conviction that Sweeney had missed the aiming point by two miles or more. I wondered how this could have happened with a crew that had been consistently averaging a 200-yard error from 30,000 feet, but I did not yet know the pressures under which Sweeney had been operating. He had left the target immediately after dropping the bomb and crossed the Okinawa coast with one engine dead through lack of fuel. His mayday call for an emergency landing was refused - as happened to me in precisely the same predicament over Linton-on-Ouse in 1941 coming back from Berlin - so he fired all his distress flares and kept coming in on his approach. At dispersal point they found less than 10 gallons in his wing tanks, apart from the 600 he could not use in the bomb bay. It was 12.30. His co-pilot, Lieutenant Charles Albury, went to the chapel and prayed that what they had just done would put an end to the killing.

(20) Leonard Cheshire, News Chronicle (18th September, 1945)

Atomic energy is a stern reality and is not in the realm of religion or magic. It is a staging post along the road of scientific knowledge and is not a secret locked in the bowels of the earth which may either be uncovered or hidden at the will of man.

Scientific knowledge is the property of the world and not of nations. It is not a physical possession like territory, and therefore cannot be denied or withheld except by denying the right to carry out research. Its progress cannot be halted any more than the development of industry or medicine can be halted... atomic energy will very shortly cease to be the exclusive property of England and America. We do not possess the power to withhold it... Today it carries the absolute power of victory because, so far as we know, no one else possesses it. Tomorrow, however, when the whole world possesses it, it will not by itself carry the power of victory any more than high explosive did a year ago.

(21) Leonard Cheshire, Sunday Graphic (9th December, 1945)

To achieve something great involves in one way or another overcoming unequal odds, which means that men must go beyond the normal call of duty. Ideals are not sufficient, because... we need to see our cause embodied in an individual, and therefore we look to leadership.

Today, for the first time in our history, we seem to have thrown leadership overboard, and we prefer a committee or a council.

These may be a safeguard against mistakes, but they are little else. A committee cannot lead: it can only give orders. It can never be in front for others to follow and, therefore, it cannot inspire. It relies on logic and efficiency, and disregards human emotions.

It sees men and women not as separate human individuals but as names, and it cannot influence them beyond their normal capacity for work. It thinks in terms of mass organization and not of individuality, thereby it builds not a team
but a machine.

(22) Leonard Cheshire, Sunday Graphic (21st April, 1946)

A few of us, some one hundred families in all, met last Sunday and discussed a plan...

We will take over a disused aerodrome or any other suitable estate and move into it. Our first task will be to make ourselves self-supporting, for least of all do we want to live on charity... whatever we lack in skill or resources we will make up for by hard work and unity.

Therefore we will farm and cultivate the land and carry out any productive industry that lies within our power.

When that is done we will create an organization to train those who need it in their own particular trade. We will use our pooled endeavours and knowledge not to make our personal fortunes but to help each and every member to set himself up in life to his best possible advantage.

The experience of war has taught us that there are qualities and talents in man, which in everyday life are never given a chance...

We do not by this mean to discuss the relative merits of collectivism or individualism, and above all we abhor Communism. We wish to live within and respect the framework of public government, and equally we wish to make ourselves useful members of society...

Our purpose is not to produce a closed community in which to spend the rest of our days. Instead, we intend to create a base, open to anyone of any class... from which... we may go out into the world, equipped to lead our own lives...

In the space of only six years, 1940 has been forgotten. Strength is once more measured in terms of guns, efficiency and dollars; the weak are still at the mercy of the strong, and we are already on the way towards another war.

If this trend is ever to stop, we shall have to go back in our minds to the time when we confounded the judgement of the world... Our greatness lay in our unity of purpose and our unselfishness... This spirit, which we all miss so much today... is nothing more or less than one of the basic principles of Christianity - the Second Commandment.

(23) Leonard Cheshire, Sunday Graphic (27th October, 1946)

The modern aeroplane has made the world a much smaller place than most of us realize. I want to acclimatize my mind to thinking globally, and not purely nationally... I think it is an essential part of modem education.

I grow more certain that... the ideal world is to be found in the behaviour and example of the ordinary man who lives close to nature, and occupies himself with the problems of day-to-day existence: that it is not to be found in the capitals of the world, or in economics, or in the mere exposition of political doctrines.

The ordinary man has no axe to grind... and therefore he is on common ground whatever his nationality or politics.

The day that he makes his own direct contact with his counterpart in other countries, the day that he begins to join forces in common insistence on world unity, then perhaps we shall have peace.

(24) Leonard Cheshire, Mission for the Relief of Suffering (February, 1957)

It was early June, but not very warm, so we lit a coal fire, this looked very cheerful as we came in the room supporting Arthur, and he seemed very pleased indeed. Needless to say, the nursing he received at my inexperienced hands was very rough and ready. Nevertheless, he soon settled down to this new life and I was much surprised at the change that came over him. I think he felt that he was wanted.

I was so struck by this that I began to wonder if there weren't others in his position, dying and unwanted. I also decided that I would not go out of my way to find them, but would merely leave things to take their course. If they came my way, I would accept them; if they didn't, I would turn my mind to something else.

(25) Leonard Cheshire, letter to Andrew Boyle (24th October, 1950)

I realize that, living in a physical world, force must play a part, but only a secondary part. To disobey any of God's moral laws is, at its lowest level, suicide and condemns you to failure. Deliberate area bombing involving civilians is murder, with the inevitable consequences to the perpetrators. Bombing soldiers is different: somehow it's part of the game and you know what you are asking for when you join up. Also we have a right and duty to defend our country - but only within the limits of God's laws.

At least that is what I think. Knowing that the beaten powers proposed to area bomb I contemplated trying to say what I think, but decided to keep quiet. I am only recently a Catholic - two years - and over-impulsive.

Converted is the right word. I was an out and out heathen. I'm not very keen on Le Court being written up except in its own right. To sell what you have and give to the poor looks very good on paper, but in fact it counts for very little. As you know better than I, it's giving up yourself that counts. And I never did that. I shouldn't like to give the impression that I did...

My profession was to destroy, and therefore to shrink from doing so was a contradiction in terms. Carried a few stages further, I can well see how even the gas chamber becomes a possibility.

It may be argued that this trend is the consequence of absence of Grace and not of the work itself... I draw a sharp distinction between fighting an armed force and attacking non-combatants, regarding the former as lawful and the latter as an outright violation of our natures, so that Grace cannot exist in the man who participates..

I have always enjoyed the thought of battle, and my conversion has not changed me... If there has to be a war, fighting comes to me as a natural and even wholesome activity, but only so far as it applies to the opposing armed forces.

From the beginning of life until the end, we are at war in one form or another: at war with the world, at war with our own baser instincts, at war with the seductions of the world. War as such does not strike me as intrinsically evil, but rather as the inevitable consequence of the Fall and, under certain circumstances, as a necessary instrument of our salvation. In short I can well conceive that for a man in a state of Grace battle may become both a prayer and a means of giving Glory to God...

When war extends to the civilian population... it changes its character completely, and I cannot conceive that any man engaged on mass indiscriminate bombing could super naturalize his actions as I know he can when he is fighting a pitched battle. It is on these grounds that I account for the moral blight that descended upon us at the time of Nagasaki...

My object is to make it clear that, given the will, one can set whatever limit one chooses to its application... This freedom of choice, by its very existence, involves every one of us in a share of responsibility for the outcome. We shall riot be able to plead that it was not our concern ... the disorders of the world are due to the fact that we are such bad Catholics, that we have failed to reflect the light that one needs to find his way. The responsibility is first and foremost ours.

(26) Leonard Cheshire, letter to Andrew Boyle (November 1950)

In point of fact the atom bomb did not influence the war one way or the other, for politically speaking the war was already over. What is more this was known to the Allies at the time... The argument that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justifiable on the grounds they saved more lives than they destroyed is therefore invalid....

As in all things... it is the first step that counts. The choice we are presented with is seldom all or nothing: we are merely asked to make one small concession, and being human we generally make it. We say that we will go so far, but no further, that this is the one exception, justified by unusual circumstances, and so imperceptibly the process repeats itself. Familiarity and pressure of danger combine to obscure our vision of where we were heading. The moral law has been broken... And so from innocent beginnings we arrive at Nagasaki. Without, so far as we know, ever having had to make a decision at all, we have assented to the doctrine of supremacy by force. We have turned to fighting Communism with her own weapons, and therefore we have lost not only our only hope of peace, but our own souls as well.

(27) Leonard Cheshire, The Light of Many Suns: The Meaning of the Bomb (1985)

My discussion with Walter Lippman had opened up a new dimension altogether: he had called into question the rights of the bomber offensive, even though he acknowledged it to be essential for the defeat of Hitler. That is an extreme stance; but I was on the way to becoming a Christian now, and this was one of the issues I must be prepared to face and resolve. What might he say if he knew about the atom bomb? There were other questions to be answered, too, even more fundamental than this one, about how we had got into the two wars in the first place, and who was at fault. It was time to look at that, now that I was going to be asked about the implications of the atom bomb for the future of war.

(28) Richard K. Morris, Cheshire (2000)

He (Cheshire) wished to see the abolition of war and the disarniament of nations, but parted from pacifists over the question of means. Unlike them, he did not see disarmament as an issue to be pursued aside from the chronic injustices which make wars likely. While he admired the peace movement for the emphasis it brought, it seemed to him that its campaign against weapons alone missed the point. A missile or a bomb is no more than an instrument of human intentions. In the absence of such intentions it is so much junk." Cheshire's project was to change the intentions. He wanted to pull war up by the roots rather than lop its branches.

This is why disarmament and his humanitarian work went hand in hand. They were aspects of each other, and his eagerness to develop the work in totalitarian countries drew from a faith that demonstrations of love would become sources of energy for more fundamental change. He knew that neither he nor the foundations would light the world's darknesses alone, or come anywhere near doing so. But in a black cavern, even the smallest flame is precious.

(29) Leonard Cheshire, The Light of Many Suns: The Meaning of the Bomb (1985)

One cannot, unfortunately, say that a nuclear attack by one side against the other is absolutely impossible, only that it is rationally impossible. For this reason, and because of the moral problems that nuclear deterrence involves, many people see the ultimate and only fully satisfactory solution as lying in the total abolition of all nuclear weapons. But let us suppose that the seemingly impossible has happened. All existing nuclear nations have destroyed their weapons, dismantled their manufacturing plants and solemnly undertaken never to build another weapon, never to engage in weaponry research, and never to communicate nuclear technology to another nation. Where would this leave us?

Firstly, the use of armed force once more becomes a rational option for the superpowers and this brings back the grim spectre of world war. One may say, "Yes, but this time we have learnt our lesson. A way will be found, simply because it must be found." I do not believe it. The spirit of violence in the world is growing, not diminishing. Nations, and their allies, have to be their own policemen, and who can police a superpower other than another superpower? If one of them thinks he can gain some advantage through the use of force and get away with it, can we really say that the temptation will never prove too great, even for the best of leaders, let alone the worst? We cannot be sure that the world will never see another Hitler. If nuclear war is thought to be a real possibility, even though manifestly suicidal, it is hardly rational to argue that, the deterrent once removed, conventional war is highly unlikely. Should such a war break out, each superpower would almost certainly set about regaining a nuclear capability, convinced that the other was doing the same, and with the carefully worked-out balances of the era of deterrence no longer there, a most dangerous and volatile crisis would confront mankind.

Secondly, nuclear knowledge cannot be disinvented; it will remain with us to the end of time, to be put to the service of mankind in more ways than we can at present foresee. The ever-accelerating advance of technology will make manufacture of all forms of nuclear power simpler and cheaper, and will ultimately bring weaponry within reach of any nation or major political grouping that has a strong enough incentive to acquire it. Can we be sure that no other nation would fall to the temptation? Extremism is another feature of today's world, among regimes and individual national leaders as well as at lower levels of society; possession of the decisive weapon could one day appear to one of these as the means of fulfilling what they see to be their God-given mission. Then where would we be? As things stand today, the superpowers might well join forces to stop him, for the last thing either of them wants is nuclear war triggered off by an irresponsible third party. But should they cease to be nuclear, the position radically alters. With the restraint of the deterrent gone, and armed force once more a potential factor in superpower rivalry, one can picture all kinds of dangers. If smaller powers started to become nuclear, the major ones would almost certainly feel they had to follow suit for their own safety, and the last state might well be worse than the first.

Pondering this vexed question, and reading and listening to the widely differing viewpoints that are put forward, evokes the memory of that fearsome atomic column, engulfing Nagasaki at its base and higher at its peak than any man-made object had ever before reached. To have to live with the horror which that single bomb caused is a harrowing experience and a source of great personal regret; but I find that the very fact of thinking about it immediately recalls the infinitely greater horror that the totality of the war up until that moment had constituted 55,000,000 killed and nobody knows how many maimed in one way or another for the rest of their lives. Then there is the further thought of the other millions who would have had to die, had the bomb not cut the war short. To reply that it might not have come to all-out war across the length and breadth of Japan is no adequate reply at all. Japan's surrender did not hinge round the wording of the Potsdam Declaration, nor upon the prospect of imminent and inevitable military defeat. To the military who governed, honour was more important than the survival of the nation, and honour could be preserved only by death to the last. "A hundred million may die," they argued, "but the national spirit will live on."

The atom bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not inflict as many casualties as the heaviest conventional attacks, either in Germany or Japan, but they proved decisive; they achieved in just twelve days what the bomber offensive kept hoping it could achieve but never quite could. The full implication of the bomb's power to end a world war is obscured by the fact that it was available only at a time when the Allies were already closing in on Japan. We have not stopped to ask what would have been the result had it been ready earlier.

(30) Richard K. Morris, Cheshire (2000)

Although Cheshire was intensely patriotic, he drew a sharp distinction between patriotism and nationalisiu, regarding the former as culturally and emotionally wholesome, and the latter as inimical to progress. He saw the United Nations, for all its imperfections, as essential to the world's future.

When he reached it, the House of Lords fascinated him. In domestic politics he took positions on moral issues such as abortion and euthanasia, to both of which he was opposed, but had no party alignment. If he voted in 1945 it is not clear for whom, although in letters to friends around that time he expressed doubts about the Attlee government, just as he later departed from an initial neutrality towards Mrs Thatcher. He considered the poll tax a mistake, and deplored the relaxation of restrictions on Sunday trading. He took a keen interest in ecological and sustainability issues, causing investigation to be made of the potential of wind energy for the homes as early as 1979. At base, however, it was issues that touched the relief of suffering and the emancipation of sufferers that concerned him most, and for those purposes he would work with any MPs, ministers or peers who showed like concern. In 1970 he had much contact with Alf Morris during the formulation of Labour's landmark disability legislation, and he had a special regard for the advice of those with direct experience, like Jack Ashley.