ANAVETS Shoulder to Shoulder

March 2017

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to embark upon a life in hell. Interrogated and beaten from the first day, he went on to be Senior Allied Officer in several prisoner-of-war camps. He became a role model for all those he commanded. He defended his men whenever he saw them abused. Once he punched a Japanese sergeant who was kicking a sick man. He broke the sergeant's jaw. Air Commodore Birchall was court-marshalled. He was beaten and hung by the thumbs all day. He was sentenced to death by beheading on three occasions. Once a mock execution complete with chopping block and samurai sword was staged. Then he was reprieved, beaten and tossed into a cell with nothing to eat for almost two weeks. The last time it happened he turned to the Japanese officer in charge and told him. "You have just made a grave mistake. We will win this war and I will live to see you hanged." And he did. The point was made. His tormentors couldn't break him – and that's why they let him live. The Japanese Army understood bravery only too well. If he had broken he would have been a dead man. And he went on to save many other men's lives. He organized stealing parties to collect food. He bribed guards to get medicines. He always intervened when his men were ill-treated, and he made his officers do the same. It is thus fitting that St. Leonard is the patron saint of prisoners. But more than these things, Air Commodore Birchall kept records with names, dates and places. A year after the end of the war he went back to Tokyo to take part in the War Crimes Tribunal. He had the grim satisfaction of seeing three of the most brutal guards brought to justice by the testimony of his own 22 diaries. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire. And in 1948 he was sent to Washington as Canada's Air Attaché. There he was presented with the American Legion of Merit: "His exploits became legendary throughout Japan," the citation reads, "and brought renewed faith and strength to many prisoners." It was signed by President Harry S. Truman. The Saviour of Ceylon ended his career in Kingston where he had started; commanding the Royal Military College from which he'd graduated so many years before. In 1991 he was honoured with the prestigious Vimy Award, given to a Canadian "who has made a significant contribution to the defence and security of Canada and the preservation of democratic values," by the Conference of Defence Associations each year. He was president of the Kingston area Salvation Army, a lifetime governor of Kingston General Hospital and a founding member of the Burma Star Association., In Len Birchall, Canada lost a true hero. Members of RCAF 413 Squadron flew in from Greenwood, Nova Scotia to attend the funeral of their Honorary Squadron Leader. They will not look upon his like again. SHOULDER TO SHOULDER 13

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