Ipswich and Kesgrave war veterans reflect on Second World War ahead of Remembrance Sunday
PUBLISHED: 10:00 11 November 2016 | UPDATED: 17:51 11 November 2016
sarah lucy brown
‘When you go home, Tell them of us, and say, For your tomorrow, We gave our today’. That inscription can be found at the British War Memorial in Kohima, India.
Today, on the eve of Remembrance Sunday two war veterans, from Ipswich and Kesgrave, paint vivid accounts of the horror and anguish which blighted the lives of ordinary soldiers.
In their own words and recorded on film for the first time, they evoke the chilling mood and physical terror of battle, and reveal their bravery when confronted with Nazi Germany.
The town will fall silent on Friday and Sunday to commemorate the war dead, remembering with gratitude the young men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
A total of 1,481 men from Ipswich died in the First World War. More than 600 perished in the Second World War.
Remembrance began almost as soon as the guns fell silent in 1918. But for Stanley Chambers and Gerald Hayles, who have 51 years of war service combined, they remember the fallen every day. Mr Hayes publicly spoke about his time in the war for the first time.
Stanley Chambers, 165 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Lives: Ipswich. Age: 99
“I was posted to what they call the Operating Training Unit – the Spitfires. Ooh, we thought that was great. Going to Ashton Down to fly on Spitfires, cor! And then go to a squadron? Marvellous.
“I did 30 hours on Spitfires, all for fighter tactics, armament and gunner practice. I was posted to Number 81 squadron, up at Newcastle. Snow was on the ground and it was cold. They had just came back from Russia and left the Hurricanes behind for the Russians to learn to fly and spare parts, and going on to Spitfires. We were brand new and were teaching them. We learnt battle tactics and battle formations.”
He was later drafted to RAF Squadron No 165 and supported the D-Day operation by patrolling the English Channel and escorting bombardment formations to the French coast.
Stanley operated between Cherbourg and Morlaix, close to the beaches of Normandy.
“Was I frightened? Of course I was frightened. The adrenaline used to run very fast. My shirt was ringing wet. Soaked.
“People ask me, when you went into battle, what were your feelings? Well, we were going into action, you get into formation with the squadron, you watched and made sure you were all in position, then it would open up and you would see these black puffs come up.
“They would get a bit closer and you would hear the sound of aluminium rattling against the side. Your aircraft would shake and all your controls would go limp. They would just go limp. Your propeller, when you get hit by a bomb blast like that, the bomb expands against the cockpit and buffered you all over the place. You can’t do anything about it.
“Then the air rarefies and forms a vacuum. And then all of a sudden it picks up and you think ‘thank Christ for that’. The adrenaline runs bloody fast. You can feel it. You are frightened all right. There is no good hiding it. You can’t.
“The policy of the RAF was not to make friends. Here today, gone tomorrow. They would be killed, so you didn’t make friends. That was the life of a fighting pilot.”
Asked what Remembrance Day meant to him, he said: “Nothing. For the people who were sacrificed, their lives and that, I say, they with me, fought for their freedom. Don’t betray it. That’s my message. That’s all I have to say.”
Gerald Hayles, Chief Communications Yeoman, Royal Navy
Lives: Kesgrave. Age: 97
“I joined (HMS) Ganges in 1934 and was discharged in 1964. That was 30 years, man and boy.
“It was very hard. Out on that Shotley Peninsular, it was very cold. I remember having been in the navy about three days, I’d had all my hair cut off, my lips were very sore, and I stood over, saw the lights of Felixstowe, and had a little weep. It wanted a lot of taking. But you surmounted it all.
“The war had only been on some months before the British Expeditionary Forces had to be evacuated from Dunkirk. I went over with a force from Chatham, a brigade of 1,000 sailors, as beach parities to help the soldiers and get them onto boats. (Winston) Churchill said get as many people and equipment as possible.
“We were there for three-and-a-half days, with no food, except what we could catch. We did get a certain amount of soldiers off the beach. The commander asked if I could row the dinghy in. When you got to the beach, there were exasperated soldiers who wanted to get off. I got about 10 people on. They flooded it, but I managed it and made several trips.
“There was a certain amount of panic, trying to get these soldiers. You have seen pictures of the beach with thousands of people. And the German machine gunning. It wasn’t much fun.
“After being on corvettes and having been on a mine-layer, HMS Ivanhoe, I went to a leader of a mine-sweeping squadron and we were sweeping mines of the southern part of the Irish Sea. This was after the war.”
He explained how he married his wartime sweetheart Peggy during the conflict.
“I wanted to take her to the cinema but her parents thought she was a bit young and I never thought anymore of her,” he said.
“I saw (in a newspaper) that she not only had lost her brother in the RAF but her fiancé in the north-African desert. He was blown up in a tank and killed.
“So I wrote her a letter of condolence, and it said could we meet. In the meantime she had been a psychiatric nurse at St Audry’s, given it up surreptitiously, joined the army, was an ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) driver, came down off the train at Ipswich platform and I met her in uniform in 1944.
“I just said ‘I would have known you from anywhere’. It was just the same Pegs. We went on from there and we married in 1944.”
Remembrance Sunday services in the Ipswich area
Ipswich: War Memorial, Christchurch Park, at 10.50am.
Kesgrave: Services at the War Memorial and All Saints Church at 10.50am.
Woodbridge: War Memorial, at the junction of Church Street and Market Hill, at 10.45am.
Claydon: Claydon and Barham Church, Church Lane, Barham, at 11am.
Stowmarket: Military parade at Red Gables at 10am and marching through town to St Mary’s Church.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Ipswich Star. Click the link in the orange box below for details.