Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, known as Leonard Cheshire or 'GC' was born in Chester, Cheshire, UK on 7th September 1917. After attending the Dragon School in Oxford and Stowe School in Buckinghamshire, he studied Jurisprudence at Merton College, Oxford University.
Leonard graduated in 1939 to a commission with the Royal Air Force. During World War II he served almost without interruption in Bomber Command and his record of one hundred operational bombing missions was unequalled. He was the most highly decorated bomber pilot of the second world war, with three DSOs, a DFC and then a VC. He became Wing Commander of 617 Squadron the 'dam busters' in 1943. As his final war duty, he was selected by Winston Churchill to be the British observer at the dropping of the atom bomb on Nagasaki in August 1945 - an experience which had a profound effect on him.
Leonard was discharged from the RAF in 1946 with a 'war neurosis' diagnosis and struggled to adapt to civilian life. In 1946 he set up a community for ex-Service personnel called Vade In Pacem (V.I.P), based at Gumley Hall in Leicestershire and then Le Court in Hampshire. It was designed to help them settle back into civilian life, but the project eventually failed.
In 1948 Leonard offered to look after one of the former members of the community who was dying of cancer and had nowhere else to go. It was contact with this man, Arthur Dykes, which initiated Leonard Cheshire's conversion to the Roman Catholic faith and started the charity known today as Leonard Cheshire Disability.
In 1950 he took a job in Cornwall, and there discovered a need for a second residential service. Whilst this service was being established as St Teresa's Cheshire Home, Leonard was diagnosed with Tuberculosis (TB) and spent two years at the King Edward VII Hospital at Midhurst in Surrey recovering from extensive surgery to remove a lung and some ribs.
By the end of 1955 he had inspired five Cheshire projects in the UK and had travelled to Mumbai, India, to establish the first overseas service. By 1970, with 50 UK services and a presence in 21 other countries, his foundation were beginning to pioneer community based projects.
In 1981 Leonard's humanitarian work was rewarded with the Order of Merit, and in 1991 by a life peerage.
A wartime marriage had ended in divorce, and on 5 April 1959 Leonard Cheshire married Sue Ryder whose own international charity was already well established. Together they set up the Ryder-Cheshire Foundation to take on projects for which there was a clear need but which lay outside the scope of their separate foundations.
Leonard Cheshire was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the end of 1991, and died from the effects of the illness on 31 July 1992.