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August 14 (15) V-J Day

On this day in 1945, Japan agreed to the surrender terms of the Potsdam Declaration.  The Japanese government announced its intentions to Allied leaders in the early morning of August 15th, (August 14th in North America) and to the Japanese people in a radio broadcast at noon that same day. Since the European Axis Powers had surrendered three months earlier (V-E Day), V-J Day would be the official end of World War II.

Most Canadians who served in Asia during the Second World War were members of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) or the Royal Air Force (RAF). Their duties were varied and dangerous. The Japanese, while having lost their air superiority as the war progressed, were definitely still a threat. Being shot down over the dense jungle made survival difficult. Allied air efforts were often undertaken even during the five monsoon months of the year that occur in that part of Asia—a wet season that gets as much as five metres of rain. In addition, landing and taking-off on the primitive airstrips was difficult. 3120 RCAF personnel served in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. At wars end 405 had died, 191 with no known grave.

Nos. 413, 435 and 436 RCAF Squadrons saw service in South and Southeast Asia during the war. No. 413 Squadron was posted to Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) on March 28, 1942, and took up reconnaissance, convoy-protection and antisubmarine warfare duties over the Indian Ocean. This was the first Canadian unit assigned to this theatre of action. They flew Catalina (or “Canso”) flying boats—large amphibious planes that could take off and land on the water. This force had an immediate and decisive role in defending Ceylon against a Japanese attack. Just days after arriving in the region, Canadian Squadron Leader Leonard Birchall and his crew were 600 kilometres south of Ceylon when they spotted Japanese ships. They were attacked and shot down, but not before they had radioed a warning back to base. This alert helped the Allies successfully defend the island from a surprise attack.

Air Commodore Leonard Birchall

Leonard Birchall circa 1945.

Air Commodore Leonard Birchall, CM, OBE, DFC, O Ont., CD, was born in St Catharines 6 July 1915.  After the completion of his studies at the Royal Military College of Canada, Birchall served with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals from 1933 to 1937.  In 1937 Birchall joined the Royal Canadian Air Force.  At the outbreak of the Second World War, F/O Birchall was flying anti submarine patrols with No. 5 Squadron in Nova Scotia and in 1942 the Squadron was posted to Ceylon.   On April 4, 1942 Birchall spotted the Japanese fleet heading for Ceylon and the Royal Navy’s base.  Birchall and his crew were able to warn of the incoming ships and save countless lives.  After sending out the signal, Birchall’s plane was shot down and he spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner of war.  In 1946 Birchall was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and Churchill named him, “The Saviour of Ceylon.”

The Museum is home to many articles from Birchall’s long and distinguished Air Force career. Come for a visit and learn more about this RCAF man of valour.

Air Commodore Leonard Birchall's medal set.