The biography of Phillip Edward Meric Leith is more that of a Biggles or Bulldog Drummond character than of a typical UBC Ag alumnus.
Phillip was born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1914 and attended Brown School and Upper Canada College. “However, most of my schooling was spent in England. When I was nine years old I was sent from Toronto to Wixenford, a Preparatory School in the South West of England. It was right out in the English countryside and I spent the happiest days of my life while there. From here, at thirteen years old, I passed the entrance exams into Eton College where I also became an outstanding athlete. Princes William and Harry went as I did to Wixenford and Eton and they will have seen my name in the first eleven teams lists hanging in the cricket pavilion at Wixenford.
On my father’s mother’s side, my grandmother, The Lady Mary Isabella Dalzell Leith, was the elder sister of my great-uncle General Sir Arthur Dalzell, the Sixteenth and last Earl of Carnwath. My grandfather was the youngest of four sons of my great-grandfather General Sir Alexander Leith, KCB, an outstanding General under Wellington in the Peninsular War. Grandmother was the daughter of George Richard Renfrew, who founded what later became Holt & Renfrew Furriers. Through my grandmother Dalzell, my ancestry goes back to 1300.
After leaving Eton College I worked in the Royal Bank of Canada in the City of London. I was paid 60 Pounds sterling a year and had to sometimes run 200 yards to deliver two cheques, each worth one million pounds sterling, at 3 pm to the National Westminster Bank for clearing. I did not waste any time doing this!
After being four years with the Bank I was able to get back to Canada and worked for the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto. While in London I had joined the Honourable Artillery Company in London. This company was the oldest regiment in the British Army, having been founded in 1540. On the outbreak of WW II I was back in Canada and volunteered for the artillery but was advised to wait for a Sergeant’s posting. As there were immediate demands for air force crew I volunteered and was accepted. I joined the RCAF on the 24th of June, 1940, and after training I was posted to England.
I took part in the first one-thousand Bomber Raids, on Cologne, Essen and Bremen and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. I was the first Canadian to have completed 30 operations over Germany on the first Canadian Heavy Bomber Squadron 405. Following the awarding of my DFC I was then put in charge of the Radar Navigation at the newly formed Sixth Group Canadian HQ. On completion of this assignment I was then posted south to instruct aircrew arriving from Canada.
I returned to Canada and was assigned to train navigators for overseas posting. Shortly after arriving I received a telephone call from Air Marshall Leckie, the head of the RCAF. who asked me if I would like to be Aide-de-Camp to the Governor General Athlone. I accepted and I was at Government House, Rideau Hall, in Ottawa from the end of 1943 to the end of 1944. I was treated as one of the family by Princess Alice and the Earl of Athlone.
After one year I asked to be posted back to overseas Operations. Thus began my second tour of Operations over Germany, as a pilot and Squadron Leader in the Pathfinder Squadron which was the Squadron that went in first and marked the German target to be bombed. Shortly afterwards, however, Germany surrendered and I volunteered for the War with the Japanese. But they also surrendered shortly after and I returned home to Mum in Vancouver in October, 1945.
I enrolled at UBC in and obtained my BSA and BComm degrees in 1949, after being only three-and-a-half years at the University. I took both degrees at the same time, going into a course in statistics and then one on botany, one after the other, etc. I then went to the University of Alberta in the fall of 1949 for graduate work, then to New Zealand for further research at Massey Agricultural College at Palmerston North. I wrote two theses there, one on Timothy Seed Development for which I received my MSc from the University of Alberta in 1952. My other thesis was on Red Clover Seed Development.
At the end of the war I purchased land and farms in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and land in BC with money I had saved from my good flying pay (generous because we were not expected to survive). Following my university years I farmed in Scotland and have a home in West Vancouver. I am exceedingly pleased to be a patron of the United Empire Loyalists and of the Christian-British-Israel-World Federation.”