WWII Memories
Personal Histories of World War Two

Serving in the Royal Air Force

This is a record of an interview with Dick Chandler of North Ferriby. He was interviewed by Gareth Horton and Lizzie Draper.

RAF planes
RAF fighters scrambled and ready for action

Before the war I used to live and breathe aeroplanes.

I came from Richmond, Surrey, and the Battle of Britain took place there, and I sat in my parents' garden and I watched it.

That was a momentous experience for me.

I heard it at high altitude and saw the vapour trails and sometimes heard the sound of fire.

I saw it at medium altitude and once or twice I saw it at low altitude.

I remember once when a German fighting aircraft was chased by two Spitfires right in front of me and headed off towards Barnes and I later heard it had crashed into the Medway somewhere.

So, you can understand what I felt like at fifteen.

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I was mad keen on aeroplanes and I wanted to be in one of them.

I wanted to fly Spitfires.

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I just wanted to fly aircraft and wear those wings, because those pulled all the girls.
Dick Chandler

It was a dream I had.

I didn't want to kill anybody.

I just wanted to fly aircraft and wear those wings, because those pulled all the girls.

You wore those wings and had your top button undone and, oh, it was marvellous.

My father was very cross with me, because he was in the First World War in the trenches and he thought I wanted to fly for all the wrong reasons.

He wanted me to fight the Germans and fight for King and country and I didn't know what he was talking about.

I wanted to fly aeroplanes.

You've got to dream.

I volunteered to join the Royal Air Force in August/September 1942 at the age of seventeen and a quarter.

I had a medical and they said they would call me when they needed me.

When they called me I went to London to the recruiting centre.

It was a boring wait and then eventually I was sent to South Africa.

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I joined a troop ship at Liverpool Docks in about November 1942.

Flying training was done overseas e.g. Canada, Rhodesia, America etc.

One key reason was there was good weather (in this country you could only fly for 60% of the time) and the other key reason was you were away from the bombing.

It wasn't conducive to training in those conditions.

It was called the Overseas Training Scheme (OTS).

I went to Rhodesia.

We had five weeks on a troop ship with 3,000 people and then we arrive in Durban and went right up to Bulawayo, in Rhodesia by train.

Flying training started in a Tiger Moth.

You flew a light aircraft like that first, then a more advanced aircraft called a Harvard, then to an Operational Training Unit (OTU) to fly whatever you were going to fly: Spitfires, Hurricanes or the heavy aircraft.

You did it near Bulawayo, a beautiful place on a high plateau.

I suppose I was there about 9-10 months and then I was sent out to India.

I was then assigned a pilot and I went to do an Operational Training Unit in India on dive-bombers and when I got there I spent about 6 to 7 months wasting my time flying Harvards and never got to fly a Vengeance dive-bomber.

Although I would have loved to have done, there just wasn't a need at that stage in the war.

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I came back to the Middle East and then went to another OTU, flying Spitfires.

I had now been flying training from eighteen months to two years and was still in training.

We learnt to fly in OTS then in the OTU we learnt how to kill, drop bombs, fight with the plane etc.

By this stage I was beginning to realise what war was all about, that it was a dirty, ugly, rotten business.

We got a bit macabre.

We drew a little halo around the photos of the men who got killed in flying training.

So, by this time, at nineteen, I was beginning to realise what it's all about, but I still wanted to go into the war.

Having done the OTU in the Middle East, I was then posted to Italy where I was in a Squadron.

The planes I flew here were American.

However, most planes were built in England and then had to be delivered to the Middle East or wherever.

Later in the war I joined Transport Command and had to organise the delivery of planes.

You might pick up a Spitfire in Algiers and fly it up to Italy.

There was no in-flight refuelling.

The Squadrons had to be followed by all the supply lines.

The question of supply was crucial, including bombs, ammunition etc.

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The great thing about the RAF and the war was the enormous friendships you made.

The Squadron was the epitome of the team-building concept; everyone working for everyone else to survive.

When someone was killed there was sadness, but it happened and it happened all the time.

Therefore after a few beers in the mess everyone got on.

You couldn't become inconsolable so that the job was threatened.

You made enormously good friends.

Occasionally we met WRNS too, for example in Jerusalem.

Here, you had to wear a hat and cover your shoes in the Mosque.

I keep in touch with some of the pilots.

There are one or two quite good organisations that arrange meetings of units, but it's getting harder as everyone is so old.

They were a good crowd of blokes.

By the time I got into the war a lot of the pressure had gone off.

But the guys who had been in the war 2 years (a year earlier than I) if they survived then they would go back into training and new recruits would come in.

When I was involved the pressures were off but new recruits still joined all the time.

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I was commissioned as a Flight Lieutenant before I came out of the RAF and I was getting £11 and 18 shillings a month and I sent some of it home.

I have only just stopped flying.

British Aerospace (BAe) has a Blackburn aircraft from 1932 and I've only just stopped flying that in displays.

Mostly in the war I dropped bombs and I dropped troops, but I didn't get involved in air to air combat, which is what I wanted to do as a pilot.

I didn't want to shoot anybody down, though!

If it was to aid the war effort I would do it.

Some guys really wanted to kill.

For example, I met some Poles who wanted to kill Germans, but they were few and far between.

Most people were too frightened to.

When I passed out as a pilot I was a Sergeant Pilot.

I didn't have any ambitions to be an officer, but in those days you could be promoted to a commissioned rank in the field, and I was.

I went in to see the CO for half an hour and he asked me questions about algebra etc. and I changed in that half hour from a flight sergeant to a pilot officer.

You don't normally go back to the same unit after this, but I did and it was very strange.

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The whole economy of an occupied country comes to a grinding halt.

The whole system of government is finished, only military police and the occupying forces, you're lucky if the water works and their currency is worthless.

So, the forces had to have their own currency and I still have examples of currency made for France, Italy etc.

The local people can then exchange this currency for goods with the army.

I had never been out of England before the war.

In the war I saw a lot of South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Middle East, India, North Africa, the Far East, Malta and Cyprus.

Subsequently I've travelled to all those countries except Zimbabwe and they are all different to how I remember them.

An exception was Blida, in North Africa.

We were trying to sell Hawks to the Algerians when I was with BAe and I was taken back to the same sites as had I been in 13 years previously and they were identical, including the mess.

That was strange.

Speaking to you is different because this is a project.

It's brought back good and bad memories, but I don't think it does good to look back all the time.

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