A FAMILY HISTORY TREASURE BOOK
When my father Ron Chapman died in 1980 from cancer, like many families, we knew too few details of his service as a WWII pilot with the RAF.
A plane he flew crashed (he lost his teeth), he served in West Africa and the Middle East (where he caught malaria) and he’d flown Dakotas (he still had the pilot manual). That we knew for sure.
Thirty years later, after our mother died, amongst her effects we discovered a diary he had written detailing what he was doing and his thoughts during 1943.
On the surface, it revealed a host of stories: searching for missing planes, friends killed, recovering crashed aircraft, and crossing paths with VIPs. But I also researched RAF Operational Records and other sources to discover more details of what else was happening around him and elsewhere.
That provided a much deeper insight into his life, the people he served alongside and what my family endured during the war.
It’s clear that by 1943 war weariness was setting in while at the same time a dawning recognition that victory was possible.
The diary is significant not only for my family, but also as a historical record of the experiences of a regular airman during the war – an experience that would be reflected in what happened to so many others. I hope it resonates with families who don’t have the good fortune to find such an incredible first hand source of their own history.
Below I share the diary transcript and the accompanying explanatory notes, photographs and commentary as an insight into the courage of my father’s generation and a tribute to their quiet bravery.
Pre-1943. Leaving Blighty to ferry planes from West to North Africa then being posted to Iraq via Egypt.
Download an introduction to his diary entries as a PDF file.
The aircraft pictured with each section are all featured in the diary. Nearly all are planes my father flew.
The US and UK agree at Casablanca only ‘unconditional surrender’ would end the war ; Ron Chapman searches for a Squadron Leader’s plane, which had crashed, killing 11.
A pivotal month in the war, with 130,000 German troops surrendering at Stalingrad; Ron Chapman receives a new ‘goolie chit’ for personal protection.
Preparations are under way to mark the 25th anniversary of the RAF’s formation; Ron Chapman encounters typhus, a deadly disease that thrived in wartime conditions.
The armed uprising in Warsaw raged while in North Africa German and Italian forces retreated; Ron Chapman ferries a team of technicians to a remote island to rescue a downed Bisley plane.
Victory in North Africa kickstarts the campaign to reclaim the European mainland; Ron Chapman remembers a friend killed a year earlier.
Hitler is deceived over the upcoming plans to invade Sicily; Ron Chapman learns about the pilots he knew who were killed in plane crashes in Sudan.
Sicily is invaded, Italy sues for peace and the largest tank battle takes place in Russia; Ron Chapman hears about gold smuggling uncovered at his old unit in Africa.
The Allies control Sicily, as Germans and Italians turn on each other; Ron Chapman swelters at Baghdad Airport looking after VIPs, including Noel Coward and Lord Mountbatten.
Read or download this section.
Italy surrenders and Russian forces advance; Ron Chapman remains at Baghdad where senior military leaders pass through.
The USA, UK and USSR plan for the end of the war; Ron Chapman reflects on being stuck overseas as the build up of troops continues back home.
Bombers pound Berlin and troops make steady progress in Italy; Ron Chapman begins a gruelling land-air journey from Baghdad to Bari to join 267 Squadron.
German bombers attack Bari port resulting in a cargo of poison gas being released; Ron Chapman witnesses Allied revenge attacks and enjoys Xmas and New Year celebrations.
The aircraft pictured with each section are all featured in the diary. All are planes my father flew during his service.