Continuing the legacy of Baroness Susan Ryder of Warsaw and Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC at Campion College
By Siobhán Reeves
The legacy of Baroness Susan (Sue) Ryder of Warsaw (1924-2000) and Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC (1917-1992) lives on at a student residential hall at Campion College, Sydney.
Leonard Cheshire was the youngest group captain in the Royal Airforce (RAF) in 1944 and the most highly decorated British airman of World War II. He completed over 100 missions, and in 1944 took command of the legendary 617 Squadron, the Dam Busters. He received the Victoria Cross in 1944. In 1948 Cheshire took into his home a terminally ill man, Arthur Dykes. Dykes was a Catholic and his faith had a deep impact upon Cheshire. After Dykes’s death, Cheshire converted to Catholicism, and by the following year, Cheshire was caring for 28 patients in his home, thus starting the Cheshire homes for the ill and disabled.
Sue Ryder, at the outset of World War II, joined the first aid nursing yeomanry at the age of 15. She later became part of the Polish section of the Special Operations Executive. Witnessing firsthand the sufferings of refugees and wounded soldiers, Ryder set about establishing homes for these people at war. She also worked tirelessly for the former inmates of concentration camps, many of whom were then tragically in prison. Like Cheshire, Ryder was also a convert to Catholicism.
Sue Ryder and Leonard Cheshire met in 1954, and were married in India in 1959, spending their honeymoon establishing a home for sufferers of leprosy. After their wedding, Ryder and Cheshire visited Australia in order to gain support for the new home in India, and Ryder-Cheshire Australia (RCA) was formed soon after. RCA supports three Ryder-Cheshire homes in Australia, located at Mount Gambier (South Australia) and Ivanhoe (Victoria), and overseas RCA supports the Ryder-Cheshire homes Raphael, at Dehra Dun in northern India, and Klibur Domin, at Tibar in Timor-Leste, which was founded by Air Commodore Peter Newton AO RAAF (Retd) in 2000.
The official naming of the Ryder-Cheshire Hall at Campion College took place on 5 October 2023. The keynote address was given by General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK AC (Mil) CV MC (Retd), who spoke with great warmth of his connection with Leonard Cheshire, his relationship with Ryder-Cheshire Australia, and his connection to Klibur Domin in Timor-Leste. General Cosgrove also spoke of the profound compassion demonstrated by “these great humanitarians (Sue Ryder and Leonard Cheshire) and the ongoing legacy of their work”.
Fr Francis (Ted) Burns PE, RFD., B.A., Dip.Ed., M.Ed., MACE also spoke, and it is thanks to his generosity that Ryder-Cheshire Hall is so named. Fr Francis Burns spoke of his memories of Sue Ryder and Leonard Cheshire and their influence on his long relationship with Klibur Domin in Timor-Leste. Fr Burns also discussed what it means to genuinely “love your neighbour as yourself” and the ethos of “small is beautiful” as it relates to the work of RCA and Klibur Domin, an ethos that also resonates at Campion College.
Sue Ryder and Leonard Cheshire were extraordinary individuals, who after seeing firsthand the trauma of war and ‘man’s inhumanity to man’, dedicated their lives to the relief of suffering around the world. It was a great privilege and blessing to be part of the naming ceremony of the Ryder-Cheshire Hall, and I have no doubt that students and alumni of Campion College will continue to be inspired by their legacy. To quote Leonard Cheshire: “We will find that it is in going out to help someone whose need is greater than ours that we solve our own problems and become fulfilled as a person more fully the unique masterpiece that God wills us ultimately to be”.
Siobhán Reeves is an alumni of Campion College (Class of 2011), has volunteered at Klibur Domin on several occasions, and is a member of Ryder-Cheshire Australia.