Wilbur Henry Chapman

RANK: Flight Sergeant

SERVICE NUMBER: 417157

UNITS SERVED: 514 Squadron RAF

Personal Details: Wilbur Henry Chapman was born at Peterborough, South Australia on 26th May 1917. There he lived with his parents Samuel and Harriett Chapman, working on their family farm at Dawson, South Australia. Wilbur was one of 8 children, having 2 brothers and 2 sisters. He married Isabel Jean McNeil, daughter of Mr & Mrs P. A McNeil, also of Dawson in December 1942. She became a nurse during the war and says she still remembers the day she received the news of Wilbur’s death vividly. She is still alive today, living at Morpeth Nursing Home, Semaphore, Adelaide. When on their honeymoon together at Victor Harbour, Wilbur and Isabel farewelled each other every morning before Wilbur went to work as it was unknown when he was to be called for service. Unfortunately, they were still on their honeymoon together when he departed for Europe.

Enlistment Details: Wilbur was 24 years and 8 months old when he enlisted to become an aircraftsman on 31st January 1942 at Recruiting Centre No. 5, Adelaide. He was 5 feet 6 ½ inches (169cm) tall and weighed a mere 136 lb (62kg). Wilbur had a fair complexion with brown hair and eyes. He was posted to No.4 Initial Training School, Victor Harbour at enlistment.

Details about his role in War: Wilbur was sent to No. 4 Initial Training Centre, Victor Harbour immediately after enlistment and remained there training for 3 months whilst on his honeymoon. He was then transferred to No. 1 Wireless Air Gunners School at Ballarat, Victoria. He returned to South Australia at Port Pirie where he trained in the 2 Bombing and Gunnery School. Wilbur was promoted to Sergeant on the 10th December 1942, a month before he embarked from Adelaide on the 9th January 1943. He disembarked on the 6th March in the United Kingdom and remained at the 11 Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre until he was despatched to the 2 Advanced Flying Unit on the 29th March 1943. From there he went to the 27 Operational Training Unit on the 11th May and was promoted to Flight Sergeant a month later. He then studied at the 1662 Conversion Unit in Lindholme from the 20th July to the 24th September, when he was placed into the 514th Squadron. Wilbur was one of seven crew members on board the Lancaster MK.II DS824 JI-K on their return flight from bombing Magdeburg, Germany on the 22nd January 1944. This was to be Wilbur’s last flight before he returned home when the plane was tragically shot down, hurling into the Ijsselmeer lake, in northern Holland. All 7 crew members died as a result of the crash and were presumed dead on the 21/22nd January 1944. Three of the seven soldiers’ bodies were never found. The remaining four were washed ashore at Stavoren and Makkum, along the east coast of the lake. Wilbur’s body was found on April 1st 1944 at the tiny fishing village of Hindeloopen.

He was the only Australian on board and is also the only Australian in the cemetery in which he is buried.

Age at Death: 26

Cemetery or Memorial Details: Chapman is buried with some of his crewmembers at Hindeloopen Protestant Churchyard and is also remembered on the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London.

 

Interesting Material: Although Chapman was officially a Flight Sergeant, he was also a Morse code operator. In a letter to his sister May Thomas, he tells her about his time studying electrical sciences and ‘work dealing with radio and its workings’ He says they completed “About four hours of science and four of Morse each day, then one of Physical Training or drill as well. We work 9 hours a day here, so are kept busy”