Second World War Spitfire veteran Stanley Chambers celebrates at Martlesham Heath Control Tower Museum ahead of 100th birthday
PUBLISHED: 15:42 18 November 2016 | UPDATED: 16:17 18 November 2016
Sarah Lucy brown
A born-and-bred Ipswich veteran who flew Spitfires during the Second World War enjoyed a toast today ahead of his 100th birthday on Sunday with a special celebration at Martlesham Heath Control Tower Museum.
Stanley Chambers, 99, was given a hero’s welcome at the museum where he shared a sherry with Martlesham Heath Aviation Society members and regaled stories from his war years, before being presented with a gift by air commodore Mike Bettell.
“It is very much an honour,” said Mr Bettell. “One doesn’t often get the chance to talk to Spitfire pilots they are so few and far between – it is a great honour to do that.”
“I don’t feel any different,” Stanley said on the eve of his centenary. “I just accept it and accept that all these people here I can talk to them and they can understand my language.”
Stanley was born on November 20 1916 in Ipswich, and was taught at Northgate High School. Stanley recalls a strict upbringing where he learned on the streets as much as in the classroom.
“It was hard, my grandparents were very very strict,” he said. “You mixed with the girls and the boys in your street and if you wanted a bit of fisticuffs you did, you learned things on the street.”
He joined the armed forces in the medical branch aged 20 before serving in the RAF during the Second World War piloting a Spitfire in the Photo Reconnaissance Unit,
After 20 years of service in the RAF he returned home to Ipswich, but a handful of years later ended up aged 51 enlisting in the navy after being “fed up” at home.
Fourteen years later aged 65 he hung up his boots for the final time and left armed forces service behind him.
Among other highlights have been running a bombing range and leading the RAF contingent during the 1952 recognition service at Westminster Abbey.
But one of his proudest moments came in January this year when he received his French Légion d’honneur.
“It was a very proud moment, I didn’t know what to say about it,” he said. “I was very pleased but it takes you back to what you did, what you had to go through and the air crew that didn’t come back – you remember them.”
The jovial veteran is ever in good spirits as he reaches his milestone birthday but he readily admits it is hard not to look back on his war years.
“I am always reflecting, it’s hard not to, especially when you get home on a summer evening, sitting on the lawn with your dog, smoking a cigar and with a whisky, I reflect on different episodes that have happened.
“A lot of our boys at Northgate died while on the battlefield, but I was proud of them. We had done something, we had gone out to prove ourselves and that’s what I like.”
The museum was an apt place for Stanley’s celebrations among friends, who he often sees on a Wednesday morning.
Martlesham Heath Aviation Society chairman Martyn Cook said: “It is brilliant, he is a great chap. We liven him up and he comes up here on a fairly regular basis to see us.”
Indeed, despite postings all around the world, Stanley was once able to make a landing at RAF Martlesham before it closed down in 1963, flying the high ranking officer Mr Parker from Horsham to Martlesham. The nearby Parkers Place road was named after him for his efforts as chairman of the Bradford Property Trust, which built much of the housing around Martlesham.
And while Stanley has no plans to celebrate the special day other than enjoying a whisky, the occasion at the museum today was one he couldn’t help but smile at – particularly with the presence of a senior officer.
“That was bloody marvellous, talking to the air commodore man-to-man,” he said, beaming. “It’s been a good life and I hope other people I talk to will do the same that I have done.”
But despite the gathered guests being there to pay tribute to Stanley, it is Stanley who said he is as much in their debt.
Leaning over as our interview came to an end he quietly concluded: “It makes you think at the end of the day they were worth fighting for – all the hardships we went through, it made it all worthwhile.”