New Forest East



By David Goodall (Review)

The Tablet – 17 June 2000

Leonard Cheshire, Richard Morris, Viking, £20

The life of Leonard Cheshire, as Richard Morris remarks in his preface, followed a classic pattern of Christian hagiography: birth into a well-to-do family; a dashing, turbulent and spiritually thoughtless youth; an unexpected encounter with God followed by conversion, suffering, voluntary poverty and dedication to prayer and good works.

... In early 1939, with war clearly looming, he applied for a permanent commission in the RAF. When war broke out, he opted to pilot bombers rather than the more popular fighters, because he calculated that he would thereby rise to prominence more quickly. Between June 1940 and August 1941, he carried out more than 100 bombing missions, encountered hazards and deaths on an almost unimaginable scale and won the DSO with two bars. In March 1943 he became the youngest group captain in the Service, and in September that year was given command of the celebrated "Dambuster" squadron, which specialised in low-level bombing. A year later he was awarded the VC for sustained courage, "cold and calculated acceptance of risk" and "contempt for danger".

Following a staff job in India, he was nominated by Churchill in 1945 to be one of two British observers (the other being Sir William Penney) at the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Contrary to popular belief, this experience – vividly described by Morris – did not bring about his conversion to Christianity; but it convinced him that no government could ever again face the risk of nuclear attack, and that nuclear deterrence therefore opened up the possibility of world peace. To the end of his life, he believed in world peace as an attainable goal and nuclear deterrence as a necessary condition of achieving it[ ... ]