The exceptional English couple, Lady Sue Ryder (Baroness Ryder of Warsaw and Baroness Cheshire, CMG, OBE) and Group Captain Lord Leonard Cheshire (Baron Cheshire VC, OM, DSO & Two Bars, DFC), established homes in the UK and abroad for the sick, handicapped, destitute or dying.
Whilst visiting Australia, Sue and Leonard inspired a group of locals to set up accommodation for patients and carers in Melbourne. There are now about 400 Ryder-Cheshire Homes around the world, each one is self-governing but all are dedicated to the Ryder-Cheshire philosophy of the relief of suffering without discrimination.
The Ryder Cheshire name combines the names of two of the greatest humanitarians of this age, two people who beat daunting odds to bring assistance and relief to those in need. The under-privileged, the chronically ill, the mentally and physically handicapped, the hungry and the needy, regardless of country or creed, were the focus of their concern and life’s work.
Sue Ryder and Leonard Cheshire, both English born, first met in 1954, but independently of each other both had from 1948 begun to found houses to care for the needy and those who were without care. When they married in 1959 their work was joined, and today more than 400 homes in over 50 countries bear their names.
Sue Ryder seemed ever-destined to help those in need. By the time she was 18 she had seen and experienced the poverty and despair so prevalent in the slums of London and the industrial towns of northern England. Her war time role from 1941 to 1945 became a critical catalyst for what was to be her life’s work. Working then with the Polish section of the Special Forces in Europe, she made many parachute jumps into occupied Europe to work with the Polish underground. And it was the undergrounds of other occupied countries which saw her safely back to England after each mission.
After the war she set up the “Forgotten Allies Trust” to help those who had suffered. She cared for the homeless and the ailing sufferers of Nazi concentration camps when she worked with Guide International and the Red Cross.
Slight of stature, her energy and stamina were immense. Every year for more than 30 years she drove alone in a battered van distributing food and medical supplies throughout Poland. She directed her energies to the starving of Ethiopia, to the lepers in Northern India and the disabled in Russia, Japan and China.
She received the Order of the British Empire in 1953, was appointed a Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1976, was decorated by the governments of Poland and Yugoslavia, and became Lady Sue, Baroness Ryder of Warsaw. Lady Sue Ryder died on 2nd November, 2000.
Leonard Cheshire had a comfortable family life during his youth. He joined the University of Oxford air squadron in 1936 and in 1939 joined the RAF. Three years later at age 25 he was a Group Captain, an unbelievably high rank to attain at such a young age. His courage, skill and leadership were legendary. He flew 100 operational missions when 25 missions was beating the odds. He was the RAF’s most decorated airman being awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of cool, calculated bravery, together with the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Flying Cross with bars. He and his 617 squadron have gone down in history as the “Dam Busters”. Cheshire and his squadron destroyed Hitler’s secret weapon, the V3 bomb, and demolished the heavily-fortified Munich headquarters of the Gestapo.
He was involved in the planning of the RAF Bomber Command’s role in any invasion of Japan and flew as an observer for the British Government in a US Air Force B29 when an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki.
After the war ended he saw greed and self-interest where before he had experienced unity of purpose and camaraderie. To fill the void he felt himself to be in he started the Christian Socialist Colony of Ex-Servicemen, but it failed and nearly broke him financially. But a request from the matron of a nearby hospital was the watershed. The hospital could no longer look after a patient with an inoperable illness and Leonard was asked to look after him. He agreed and the experience of nursing a dying man was the start of it all.
Sue and Leonard’s “business” partnership began in 1958 with the establishment of the “Ryder-Cheshire Mission for the Relief of Suffering”. The couple drew strength from their belief in God and from the teachings of the Catholic Church to which both were converts. A conviction that their work was part of God’s plan was enormously strong. Thousands of people have been the beneficiaries of this conviction.
In 1991 Group Captain Lord Leonard Cheshire contracted motor neurone disease and died in 1992 only weeks after attending the unveiling of a statue to his old war-time chief, ‘Bomber’ Harris. Despite his suffering his war-time ideals and loyalties were not lost. His qualities of work were recognised by Queen Elizabeth in 1981 when she awarded him the Order of Merit. Only 24 people world-wide can belong to this Order at any one time.
The work of these two wonderful people continues to expand throughout the world, most recently with the opening of a new home supported by Australian volunteers in Klibur Domin Tibar, East Timor.