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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. D W E Chapple


Douglas William Ernest Chapple was born on 17th May 1917 in Plymouth and enlisted in the RAF in September 1939. He later remustered as an Air Gunner and, after completing his training, he joined 236 Squadron on 19th July 1940.




While at 5 Bombing and Gunnery School he wrote to his younger sister, Iris May, then aged 14:


902225 Chapple D
Barrack Room 5
RAF Station Jurby
Isle of Man


Dear Little Sister,

You don't mind me calling you that do you, Iris, as I like to think of you like that for you know you are the only sister I have and although you are a bit trying sometimes I still love you. Thank you for your lovely letter, I can tell you it was quite a surprise and a very pleasant one I may say and any time you feel like writing I am always on this side of the line you know.

I'm sorry to hear your girlfriend in America has lost her mother and I am sure you sympathise with her as you can guess what you would feel like if you was to lose Mum. I hope you are treating Mum well and doing what she tells you and not kicking up a row every Saturday.

You ought to think you are lucky getting to the pictures once a week.

Now to answer those questions you asked me. The first one was; how can I tell an officer, well, I tell them by their uniform, you see they have bands on their sleeves or rather their cuffs which tell us which ranks they are. As regards what I do I like the air, I think its absolutely marvellous, I can't describe the feeling but its like floating on air.

You want me to describe the gun I've just learnt, well sis that's a long story but I will try and explain so you will understand. It is a machine gun which fires nine hundred and fifty bullets in a minute. It weighs about 20lb. and its rate of fire is caused by trapping the gases caused by the bullets being fired. These gases are used to drive the parts of the gun that recoil to the rear of the gun while strong springs force them back again so keeping up the movement of the gun with only one pressure on the trigger. All the time bullets are being fed into the gun by a round magazine that fits on top of the gun. You must understand this is happening very fast so they all more or less happen at the same time. This is not a quarter of it but I will explain more when I see you again.

There is no difference in rank between a fire control officer and a Pilot officer, the only difference is one is a gunner and the other can be anything from an officer of the store to the pilot of a plane. yes the Browning is another gun which fires another two hundred rounds per minute, the other gun making it 1150 rounds per minute. This gun is about ten times more complicated than the Vickers Gas Operated so I will not attempt to say much except that instead of being fed by magazine it is fed by a belt which runs through the gun.

You want to know about turrets and relative speed sighting. First we will take relative speed sighting. Well now Sis I want you to think very hard now. You realise of course that if you're firing at an enemy plane which is travelling at say 50mph faster than you are it is not much use aiming straight at him is it, no ? Well we must make some allowance for that mustn't we. I will draw you a little sketch to show you what I mean.

The ring you see is the sight on the gun and the dot is the bead. Well if the enemy is going faster than you say 50mph you place the nose of the plane on the outside of the ring as you see in the sketch. Alright so far ? right, so by the time the enemy has reached the position where the dot was the bullets will be there at the same time. But if the plane is travelling the same speed as you the plane is put right on the dot in the centre, if slower than put it accordingly, understand. Well Iris if you can't understand see if Dad or Ron or Mum can tell you.

You want to know something about turrets, eh ? Well a turret is where a gunner sits to fire his guns. There are turrets in the nose, in the tail and underneath besides being on top. You can turn them round and work your guns up or down by a control column which you hold in your hands. I'm afraid that's all I'm allowed to tell you till I see you again, at least about turrets as some of them are still on the secret list. If you have any more questions don't forget to ask them in your next letter.

I hope this letter is long enough and I hope you right (sic) as long a one to me. By the way I am glad to hear you have reached the top class so keep it up kid. So I will say so long now.

With all my love
To my little sister Iris
From her brother

Doug xxxxxxxxxxx

The same to you




Above: aircrew of 236 Squadron, Chapple standing second from left.



Chapple was killed on 28th June 1941 as a Flight Sergeant serving with 7 Squadron operating in Stirlings from Oakington.

Stirling N6007 was outbound on a sortie to Bremen but was involved in a running fight 20 miles off Flamborough Head with Me109's from 1./JG52. It was shot down into the sea.

Also lost were:

F/Lt. JK Collins
Sgt. W Hardie
Sgt. GT Webb RCAF
Sgt. C Kelly
Sgt. AT Cole
Sgt. FC Williams


The Commanding Officer of 7 Squadron wrote to his family (above and below).


R.A.F. 0akington,
Long Stanton,
2nd July, 1941.

Dear Mr. Chapple,
With deepest regret I vrite to extend my sympathy and that of all members of my squadron at the loss of your son who was killed in a very gallant action against the enemy on the 28th June, 1941 at 1545 hours. Your son was rear gunner in a Stirling that was attacked while over the North Sea by nine Messershmit (sic) 109's. After shooting down two and probably destroying another two the Stirling was badly hit and had to be landed in the sea. The aircraft broke up on impact, and there were no survivors. This gallant action must rank high among the many fine efforts in aerial warfare and reflects the greatest credit on your son who fought so doggedly against superior odds. He like the rest of this gallant crew was an airman in which all take a pride in having been associated.




Additional research and all images courtesy of Douglas Soady (nephew, son of Iris May).


Chapple was 24 and is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, panel 35.



Above image courtesy of Dean Sumner



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