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Okanagan Military Museum

MILITARY BIOGRAPHIES

REAR-ADMIRAL RICHARD LEIR

Rear-Admiral Richard Leir

Knight Commander
Order of the Bath

Knight Commander Order of St Micheal and St George
Pacific Star
1939-45 Star
Canadian Forces Decoration

Richard Hugh Leir was born on 19 November 1921 into a large, well established family in Penticton, BC (the family home, known as Leir House, is now a community cultural and arts centre in Penticton). Rear-Admiral Leir rose in the navy's ranks over a remarkable career that included witnessing some of the most dramatic naval battles of WWII and surviving the horrors of being a Japanese POW for three years. In 1940, upon finishing his schooling at Shawnigan Lake School on Vancouver Island, he joined the Royal Canadian Navy as a cadet. He received his initial naval training at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, England, before joining the Royal Navy's fleet at sea.

Naval Cadet Leir

His service at sea during the Second World War as a member of the Ship's Company of the newly commissioned battleship HMS PRINCE of WALES included the engagement between that ship, in company with the redoubtable battlecruiser HMS HOOD, and the German battleship BISMARCK and heavy cruiser PRINZ EUGEN. That sea battle saw the HOOD blown up and PRINCE of WALES badly damaged. Later that same year of 1941, while still serving in HMS PRINCE of WALES, he survived the sinking of that battleship in company with the battlecruiser REPULSE by Japanese land-based aircraft off Malaya.

Painting of the HOOD sinking as HMS PRINCE of WALES maneuvers past the wreck during the battle with Bismarck and Prinz Eugen
HMS PRINCE of WALES upon arriving in Singapore just prior to the Dec 7 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and her sinking off the Malayan coast on Dec 10, 1941.
Force 'Z' - HMS PRINCE of WALES and REPULSE under air attack, Dec 10, 1941. Crew of HMS PRINCE of WALES abandon ship after Japanese aerial torpedoes strike the ship.

Transferred to the cruiser HMS EXETER he survived the sinking of that ship by Japanese carrier aircraft in the Indian Ocean and was taken prisoner. He spent the next three years in Japanese POW camps while officially listed as killed in action. Upon his liberation in 1945 by allied forces he calculated what his rank should be by that point and duly promoted himself accordingly having informed Royal Naval authorities that he was indeed alive!

In the post war years Rear Admiral Leir served in the Royal Canadian Navy in five destroyers and two frigates,including Korean War service in HMCS ATHABASKAN. He commanded HMCS CRUSADER, a destroyer and served as the Executive Officer of the aircraft carrier HMCS BONAVENTURE. He followed this in a position as the Fleet School Training Commander at HMCS STADACONA, the Canadian naval base in Halifax.

He commanded the destroyer HMCS SKEENA with the Pacific Fleet in 1962 followed by command of HMCS VENTURE, the Naval Officer training establishment in Esquimalt,BC, in 1963 . August 1964 saw him appointed to a position at Canadian Forces Headquarters in Ottawa. He was appointed Commander, First Canadian Escort Squadron, based at Halifax in 1965. In the following year upon promotion to Commodore he became the Senior Canadian Officer Afloat Atlantic.

In 1967 he attended National Defence College followed by a posting to National Defence Headquarters in a Director General level position in 1968.

He was promoted to Rear-Admiral on June 18, 1970, and appointed Commander Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC) serving in that capacity for three years until he was assigned as the Chief of Maritime Operations in Ottawa. He retired from the Canadian Forces on 14 August 1975 and took up his hobby of carpentry in Victoria where he still resides.

 

 

 

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