Air Commodore Birchall Award Dinner: Oh what a night
The Air Commodore Birchall Award Dinner 2017 is now history.
In partnership with the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, the Hamilton Branch of the RMC Club hosted this high profile dinner on saturday (Oct 28) in Hamilton, ON.
The 630 people who attended were not disappointed
A combination of a recipient the status of Chris Hadfield; a skilled Master of Ceremony in Peter Mansbridge – both household and popular names across Canada would almost be enough to make it a good night. Add a John McDermott – the internationally-known tenor; toss in The Band of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. For good measure add two colour parties of cadets from RMC and CMR and you have a winner.
It was much more than good. A ’10 on almost every one of the 630 scorecards!
Besides the visible players, a number of other elements played a big part in the success of the evening.
For starters, Bob Carr (President of the Hamilton Branch of the RMC Club) and Dave Rohrer (President & CEO Canadian Warplanes Heritage Museum) the two co-Chairs – two seasoned veterans in organizing high-end events left no stones unturned in ensuring the venue and the program were winners.
The finger prints of the husband and wife duo, Barbara (Chair from the RMC Foundation) and Michel Maisonneuve were noticeable all over the place, in particular, the super decorated tables & chairs and the special gift bags for everyone in attendance.
For an event of this magnitude to go off so well there had to be a number of other key individuals involved. To them, we tip our hat and say ‘well done’.
The most famous Canadian astronaut of all-time was as much, at ease on the stage, as he likely was during his three spaceflights. The 1982 RMC graduate centered his 15 minute high tempo talk mostly on the leadership principles of Air Commodore Birchall. See add-on by Stephen Kalyta below.
The multi-talented Hadfield, also took time to sing two Gordon Lightfoot songs – ‘Early Morning Rain’ and ‘Song for a Winter’s Night both of which were highly applauded by the appreciative crowd.
Prior to wrapping up his time on the stage – he made a point of publicly announcing: ‘RMC the best undergraduate university in Canada.’ He also mixed and engaged with a good portion of the guests at various tables – doing walkabouts.
To put a ribbon on the evening, the MC announced that the total sum achieved from the Dinner, amounted to $175,000.00, to be split evenly between the RMC Foundation and the Canadian Warplanes Heritage Museum.
Well done to all involved.
Add-on by Stephen Kalyta
Air Commodore Leonard Birchall is described as the Savior of Ceylon. Last night, his honorary award for outstanding leadership was granted to RMC graduate, Chris Hatfield. I will reserve this article however to Birchall, and save our contemporary hero for another article.
Birchall is recognized, as a war hero who successfully warned the inhabitants of Ceylon island, of an impending Japanese attack, during WWII. However there was no parade in his honor, for Birchall was shot down shortly thereafter, by the Japanese. For his bravery in Ceylon, Birchall was “rewarded” by the enemy with 31/2 years in a POW camp.
In an interview before his death in 2004, he joked about inviting torture as a means of diverting the enemy’s hateful energy toward him, rather than toward the other prisoners. His extraordinary selflessness, immense conviction he could persevere, was tested through a constant barrage of humiliation, mock executions, and physical beatings. Reduced to a mere 95 pounds, he could not even keep his pants up without holding them.
He survived as a matter of personal defiance against his captors and to serve as an example to the men he led. He used a higher purpose as a salve to help heal the atrocious physical and mental wounds he endured.
As Birchall demonstrated, YOU as an officer serving to preserve peace and freedom, may risk surrendering your personal freedom for a higher cause. The noble path of selflessness can be a lonely one, however righteous.
What we can also learn from Birchall is your reality is a state of mind. If you choose to overcome, you will. If you choose to surrender, you will. Both the choice to persevere or surrender, are served the same opportunity. It is what you choose to do with your circumstance that transforms ordinary young officers into heroes. Choose well.