Obituary: Lord Cheshire VC

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The Independent Online
FURTHER to the obituary of Leonard Cheshire (by Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley Norris, 1 August), I think it should be mentioned that he was at the Dragon School, Oxford, before going to Stowe, writes Ruari McLean. I would lay heavy odds that it did more to build the foundation of the man he became than any other institution he attended.

At the Dragon, Leonard, the late Richard Blackwell and I considered ourselves best friends, and each of us wrote a letter to the others to arrive on each one's first day at public school (respectively Stowe, Winchester and Eastbourne). At Oxford, while Leonard was cultivating a glamorous facade, I was learning printing at the Shakespeare Head Press in St Aldates, and we hardly met. Incidentally, despite what Foxley Norris suggests, of course we all knew that war was coming, whatever we hoped.

In 1940 I remember hearing with awe, on the mess-deck radio of a destroyer, how Leonard brought back from Germany that half-destroyed Whitley bomber. Later in the war, he met and married the actress Constance Binney while on a recuperative/propaganda mission in New York: a courageous lady, considerably older than Leonard, she crossed the Atlantic in a cargo ship to rejoin him and act the group captain's hostess at his station. Realising later that the marriage could not last, they made a dignified and non-acrimonious parting.

A few years later, after the war, my wife and I were motoring back to London from Portsmouth, and the car broke down in Midhurst. A garage said they could repair it in a few hours; but what to do in Midhurst? I bought a local paper and read that Leonard Cheshire was at that moment in the local hospital. I was taken to see him: there was the old Leonard, a glint of humour in his half-closed eyes.

The first thing I could think of saying was, 'I read about you in the paper]' 'Not in the Police Court News, I hope?' was his instant reply.

Not bad for a man still doped up after a serious operation.