Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire Collection

Scope and Content

The majority of the collection is paper-based with some photo prints. There is a small amount of material from Cheshire's war days, including a copy of his log book, but the collection mostly covers his work from 1948 as Founder of Leonard Cheshire Disability and the Ryder Cheshire Foundations.

The collection contains general correspondence (mostly copy letters), invitations received, correspondence and notes on specific aspects of his life such as the Royal Air Force (RAF), Order of Merit, House of Lords and on particular interests of his such as the Hoply Shroud of Turin, remembrance, disability, Christian faith, film making and nuclear deterrence.

There are diaries, address lists, scripts of speeches, handwritten manuscripts of his literary works, journals and books collected by him alongside cuttings and some first day covers and press cuttings of obituaries after his death in 1992.

The collection also includes papers gathered by his three biographers Andrew Boyle and Russell Braddon, who wrote his biography during his early life, and Richard Morris who published a comprehensive biography in 2000.

Administrative / Biographical History

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.


The collection is grouped into a series of files, numbered 1 - 412.

Conditions Governing Access

Access is granted by appointment with the Archivist, address: Leonard Cheshire Disability Archive Centre, Newlands House, Main Street, Netherseal, South Derbyshire, DE12 8DA email Access to some items is closed.

Acquisition Information

Group Captain Leonard Cheshire set up the Leonard Cheshire Archive in 1985. Between 1985 and 1995 there were 3 consignments of records sent from his foundation office, and 4 consignments sent from his home office at Cavendish, which make up the main body of this collection.

Up until 2017 there have been a further 9 consignments. Most of these are individual items donated by long standing volunteers or by offices of Leonard Cheshire Disability. In 2016 and 2017 there were 2 significant additions to the main collection donated by the Cheshire family, originally from Group Captain Leonard Cheshire's Cavendish Office.

Other Finding Aids

An item level description of the collection's contents is available to use at the Leonard Cheshire Archive at the Archivist's discretion.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction of certain items from this collection are governed by Copyright and Data Protection legislation.