Mementoes bring past to life for Old Buckenham veteran

Many men and women of a certain age will have stark memories of the second world war and the effect it had on them and their families.

One man in particular, though, still has several possessions with which to bring those thoughts to life.

Now they have been shared by him as part of a narrative history project by the Ancient House Museum, in Thetford, which aims to digitally record people's experiences between 1939 and 1945.

From the sock which bears the hole caused by severe shelling which led to him losing the bottom half of his right leg, to the scarf he used to wave for help before becoming a prisoner of war, 89-year-old Kenneth Chapman has kept numerous items which remind him of his years serving his country.

From 1938 to the end of the second world war, Mr Chapman, who lives with his wife Kate, 71, at Oakfields, Old Buckenham, served with 214 squadron, stationed at Grantham.

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Shortly after joining up at the age of 18, and following just a two-week training course to become a flight engineer, he became part of a team flying missions from RAF Chedburgh, near Bury St Edmunds, to Germany.

These were aircraft sent to bomb German towns and cities in the dead of night, which Mr Chapman detailed in his flight logbook.

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On August 23, 1943, his wartime years changed when the Stirling plane he was in was shot from the sky over Berlin.

'We were sent on one of the first missions to bomb the headquarters and we flew past Berlin and came back at it from behind,' he said. 'The stuff that came up at us was amazing. It was coming up like fireworks and each stream was cannon shells and we were flying through them like rain. There were search lights following us and so were the gunners.'

Mr Chapman was shot through his right ankle and, as the rear turret of the plane caught fire, he and the rest of his crew were forced to jump. Mr Chapman landed along with the front gunner on a patch of German- occupied land, some way out of Berlin.

'We were spread all over the place,' he said. 'The gunner landed just yards away from me and he had been shot in the head but I couldn't do anything because my leg was shattered.

'I said I was going to go through the trees and see if I could get help, and I hauled myself through about 20ft of trees and then lay there. I got to the other side of another field and was blowing my whistle in morse code, which was SOS.

'In the end I felt funny and I took out my pack, which had things like a map in it, put it behind my head and passed out.'

Mr Chapman woke the next morning and, after beckoning for help by blowing his whistle and waving his silk scarf, which he still has today, he was taken to a nearby school by a group of locals.

From there he was taken to a hospital at German prisoner of war camp Stalag IV-B near Muhlberg, in Brandenburg.

Mr Chapman lost the bottom half of his right leg but still proudly owns the sock which was repaired by nurses who treated him and who left the poignant hole which had been caused by the shelling.

From there he was taken to the camp proper where he shared a hut with 200 other prisoners of war and was tasked with looking after a young Australian who had lost an arm. The pair were repatriated about 13 months later and Mr Chapman sailed into Liverpool before being taken to home to his parents in Great Yarmouth.

'I was quite surprised they picked me out to go home,' he said. 'They sent us right round the Baltic and into Sweden and our boat took all the British and the other went to Australia. My family were over the moon when I got home.'

Mr Chapman, who now has two sons and several grandchildren and great grandchildren, stayed in the RAF, moving from the rank of Flight Sergeant to Petty Officer, until the war was over before he retrained as a designer and then became a sales rep. He retired at 60.

Mr Chapman's story is just one which has been captured digitally by the Ancient House Museum in Thetford. For more on the project see the EDP on December 8.

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