Leonard Joseph Birchall was born on July 6, 1915, in St. Catharines, Ontario. He
served in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, then, in 1937, he joined the Royal
Canadian Air Force to train as a pilot. After the start of World War II, he flew
convoy and anti-submarine patrols from Nova Scotia. In early 1942, he joined 413
Squadron, then based in the Shetland Islands and flew patrols over the North Sea.
After the Japanese successes in South-East Asia, the squadron was sent to Ceylon
to provide a reconnaissance force. On April 4, 1942, only two days after arrival,
Squadron Leader Birchall was flying a Royal Air Force Catalina flying boat that
was patrolling the ocean to the south of Ceylon. Eight hours into the mission, as
the plane was about to return to base, the lookouts spotted ships on the horizon.
Investigation revealed a large Japanese fleet, including five aircraft carriers,
headed for Ceylon, which at that time was the base for the Royal Navy's Eastern