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Hadfield to be honoured with Birchall Leadership Award

Internationally-recognized astronaut Chris Hadfield, one of Canada’s modern heroes, will be honoured in Hamilton this fall with the prestigious Birchall Leadership Award, created in honour of a Canadian Second World War hero.


January 31, 2017
By The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

The award will be presented at a gala at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum on October 28, 2017. Colonel Hadfield, through his work in space and here on earth, exemplifies Birchall’s qualities including the ability to lead in the face of difficulty or adversity to promote the welfare and safety of those under his command.

The Birchall Leadership Award is presented annually to honour the memory of Air Commodore Leonard Birchall (1915-2004), who was an exemplary leader during the Second World War in combat and in prisoner of war camps, and post-war as a senior RCAF commander. The 2017 gala is being jointly hosted by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and the Royal Military Colleges Club (RMC Club) Hamilton branch.

Birchall, while pilot of an RCAF Canso seaplane on April 4, 1942, spotted a Japanese raiding fleet off the coast of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). His report allowed a Royal Navy fleet to save most of their ships and reduce damage to bases on the island. However, Birchall was shot down and spent the next three and a half years as a POW. As the senior Allied officer in his camps, he personally intervened during brutal mistreatment of the POWs and inspired others to do the same, saving many lives but receiving severe beatings in return. His secret diaries were used after the war as evidence at Japanese war crimes trials.

Birchall was born in St. Catharines, Ont. and was a 1937 graduate of the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, rising to the rank of Air Commodore after the war. He was Commandant of RMC from 1963 until his retirement in 1967, after which he became Vice-Patron of the RMC Club. The club is the sponsor of the award and chooses the Birchall Award honoree. It is made up of alumni of Canada’s military colleges including RMC, Royal Military College St.-Jean in Quebec, and the now-closed Royal Roads Military College in British Columbia. The 2017 gala in Hamilton is raising funds for the Royal Military Colleges Foundation, which is a registered Canadian charity; and Hamilton’s Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.

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