WWII Fighting Ace & Treasured Hero of Ipswich Passes Away at 101

The Royal British Legion’s Ipswich branch is mourning the loss of one of its own with the passing of WWII Royal Air Force veteran Stanley Chambers, who died on May 20th, 2018.  Chambers’ military service spans five decades, first as a pilot in the Royal Air Force from 1937 to 1959 and then for the Royal Navy from 1967 to 1981.

Remembered as “a real Ipswich hero,” Chambers flew Spitfires during the Second World War defending the British coast from German bombers.  He is credited with destroying two V-1 “doodlebug” buzz bombs and later defended ground troops from enemy fighters during the D-Day landings.

Eight Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX
Eight Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX

Chambers was born in Ipswich during the Great War when the city was itself a target of German zeppelin raids, and his earliest memories were of British fighting men from the cavalry and artillery in the streets of his hometown.  He joined the RAF in his early twenties, first as a medic at RAF Feltwell and then as a pilot.  His flying skills were formidable, and he was soon tasked with training younger pilots.

His efforts patrolling the coast of England and escorting bombers over France earned him the French Legion D’Honneur just last year, making him one of only six Ipswich veterans to receive France’s highest military honor.

After the war, Chambers continued in the RAF for over a decade before retiring.  Retirement didn’t suit the energetic fighting ace, and at 51 years of age, he re-enlisted in the Royal Navy, remaining active until retiring once more in 1981 at the age of 65.

The French Legion D’Honneur.
The French Legion D’Honneur.

He remained busy in his autumn years, serving in his local Parish Council and doting on his three children, six grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.  The Chairman of the Ipswich Royal British Legion branch commented on the late hero’s popularity, describing him as “a well-decorated veteran who was greatly admired and liked by members of the branch in Ipswich.”

Chambers was one of a shrinking number of veterans of the Second World War, and he worked hard to ensure that the sacrifices of his countrymen and brothers-in-arms were memorialized.

Ipswich War Memorial Project member Andrew Beal noted that while Chambers never lost his sense of humor, his mood could turn quickly into one of somber reflection when he recalled the horrors of war during the numerous interviews he gave to Project historians.  His efforts helped to ensure that the nightmare he and others experienced was neither forgotten nor fought in vain.

His work for the War Memorial Project was substantial –  like many veterans, it was important to Chambers that the lessons of WWII be preserved in the memory of future generations.  Despite all of his hard work, however, he retained his good humor and was well-loved in Ipswich.

As recently as last year, the Martlesham Heath Aviation Society threw Chambers a party for his centenary – he remained friendly and social into his final years, and he will be remembered for greeting people with a hearty “bonjour!”

Chambers lived independently past his 100th birthday and remained as sharp as ever, contributing regularly to efforts to memorialize Ipswich’s history and the sacrifices of his countrymen.  His parting words from one such interview session will survive forever in the history he helped to create:

“As a 100-year old, I can say whatever I like … but take this with you: so many men gave up their lives for our freedom… Please don’t give your freedom away.”

Chambers was a treasure to all who knew him and will be dearly missed by his friends, his family and his beloved hometown of Ipswich.  A photo of him wearing his RAF uniform and his countless medals featured prominently in a recent Ipswich cultural celebration in the weeks following his passing.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE