The Naming of Parts
If you had met Leonard Cheshire, as I did a couple of times, you wouldn’t suspect his extraordinary achievements. Quiet and unassuming, he led by example. Awarded a VC for his work as a bomber pilot at the end of the war against Germany, he was a passenger on the US plane which dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
Back in civvy street, and after a failed venture in the south of England, he found himself caring for a chum with a long term incurable illness. He realised that the health service had no provision for these sort of patients and this led him to found the first of his Cheshire Homes.
The Dowager Countess Ferrers first contacted him with a gift of clothes from her late husband. Then she persuaded him to come and look at her family’s ancestral home in Leicestershire. Staunton Hall, with seventy acres of gardens and parkland, had been sold in 1954 to a demolition company. Semi-derelict after use as a prisoner-of-war camp, we locals loved the house but could see no future for it. Leonard Cheshire took it on, though with no money to pay for it, and unleashed such a torrent of generosity and goodwill that it went on to become the largest of his Cheshire Homes.
One thing he did to raise some cash was to sell the stand of beech trees on the knoll above the Serpentine Lake, and replant with a mixture of beech and scots pine. These were well established when my family bought the lake and hillside from the trustees in 1974. I carried out a thinning, which my father said was too heavy – we always disagreed on this subject. Today they make a splendid setting for the holiday lodge which our children have built close by.
But this wood has no name, and Cheshire no memorial nearby. So, with family agreement we are going to call this Leonard’s Wood, and carve a plaque for it on the nearly Staunton Ridgeway. After all, we owe it to him that the house is here at all.