Pilot Officer Edward Fred Chandler
The entry for Saturday 4 April 1942 in 485 (NZ) Squadron’s Operation Record Book (ORB) was succinct:
… P/O Fox and P/O Chandler of 485 (NZ) squadron failed to return and were last seen in the target area going down smoking in a gradual dive. Nothing further has been heard of them…..
PO Chandler, who was 24 years old with 273 flying hours under his belt and flying a MkVb Spitfire BM231, had left Kenley at 0945 as part of Circus 119*.
485 Squadron, along with 457 Squadron, were to escort 12 Boston bombers to bomb the rail yards at St. Omer in the Pas de Calais. Flak was reported over the French coast and again over the target area although there it was less intense. After dropping their bombs the Circus group turned for home over Aire Sur La Lays to the south of St. Omer when the bombers were attacked by about 30 German aircraft from above and below. Two Bostons were seen to be flying on one engine but the ORB reported that “all were escorted safely until over England”. (1)
However, Chandler and his fellow New Zealander PO Thomas Fox [link when available] were not so lucky. Fred Chandler’s aircraft was seen to be on fire and descending in a gradual dive with no sign of him in the cockpit. (1)
In a letter written in 1942 to Fred’s cousin, Sub-Lieutenant Selewyn Littlejohn, Squadron Leader Reg Grant, CO of 485 Squadron from May 1942 and who had taken part in the sortie, wrote:
We were close escort to a section of bombers bombing Lille (sic) and had just turned away from the target area when we were attacked by about 30 FW190s. … Freddie’s No 2 [PO Fox] got into a bit of trouble and was shot down and in assisting him we all think his own aircraft had been hit and that he had to bale out. You can fully appreciate that in a swiftly changing action like that a full check can’t be maintained on everyone all the time but the members of the squadron with myself, knowing what a good level headed pilot Freddie was, hold out every hope. I have since had word from the Red Cross that the other chap P/O Fox was killed and his grave was found, but no word has been heard of Fred. …(2)
Fred Chandler’s body was never recovered. He’s commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey and also on the war memorial of Auckland Grammar School which contains the names of 342 Old Boys who fell in World War 2. In 1935, he had played in the School’s 1st XV rugby team and was also the school’s tennis champion. (3)
Fred Chandler was the eldest son of Edward and Evelyn Chandler and grew up in Epsom, Auckland. His father, an American from Chicago, had emigrated to New Zealand in 1900 and set up an advertising company in Auckland, Chandler & Co. Edward Fred Chandler senior died in 1925 and later his wife remarried a widower, Arthur Dodd, from Thames a country town south of Auckland in the North Island.
In March 1941, after completing ab initio flying training in New Zealand, Fred was posted to the RCAF’s No 6 Service Flying Training School at Dunnville, Ontario, where he honed his skills on Harvards. His course, No 24, was the first attended by New Zealanders under the Empire Air Training Plan. Dunnville had a particularly high casualty rate during the war, with 47 students and instructors losing their lives during training including five New Zealanders.
Fred received his commission as a pilot officer and was presented with his wings on 6 June 1941 by Group Captain Leonard Isitt **, the RNZAF’s liaison officer in Canada, who told the graduates:
“Your individual reports, which I have read, clearly show you to be a credit to yourselves and your country. I give you this motto – Make a good effort and continue hoping.” He also thanked the local residents for “their kindness to our airmen”. (4)
The following August Fred Chandler was posted to 485 Squadron. He was joining the squadron, equipped with MkV Spitfires, at the same time as the new Focke-Wulf 190 fighter was being introduced into Luftwaffe front-line squadrons in France. The Fw 190 quickly proved superior in all but turn radius to the Spitfire MkV, particularly at low and medium altitudes which tended to be where 485 Squadron was operating on its Circus and Ramrod** sorties escorting bombers.
Fred had a younger brother, John Lincoln Chandler, who also attended Auckland Grammar School. A good athlete like his brother, John was a boxer and played in the school’s 1st XV in 1939 and represented Auckland University College in rugby and boxing. Following in his brother’s footsteps, John enlisted into the RNZAF and trained as a pilot. On 29 June 1942, on his way to England, John survived the torpedoing of the SS Waiwara 400 miles NW of the Azores. After spending four days in a lifeboat in what was reported as ‘mountainous seas’ he was rescued by a Norwegian ship and landed in New York City. (5)
On his eventual arrival in England, and now a Flight Sergeant, John was posted to 131 (County of Kent) Squadron RAF which was equipped with the Spitfire Mk5c. The squadron deployed from RAF Castletown in northeast Scotland to RAF Exeter on 26 June 1943. On Wednesday 30 June 1943, almost a year to the day after his torpedoing experience, John Chandler, with 349 flying hours logged and flying Spitfire AB504, went down in the English Channel south of Plymouth during a convoy escort sortie. He was 22 and his body was never found.
John is also commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial (Panel 198 ) and, with his brother, on Auckland Grammar School’s War Memorial.
Having already lost one son, it’s hard to imagine what a devastating blow this must have been to Fred and John’s mother back in New Zealand.
Kia okioki katoa ratau – May they both rest in peace.