Air Chief Marshal Sir Ronald Ivelaw-Chapman GCB KBE DFC AFC
13 Base Commander - No 1 Group - Elsham Wolds
Ronald Ivelaw-Chapman was born in British Guiana in 1899, the son of a self made and successful merchant family.
He came to England in 1903 with his parents and attended the Junior School at Cheltenham College later graduating to the Senior School.
In 1917 at the age of 18 he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps and was posted to No 12 FTS ( Flying Training School ) at Thetford and then to No 53 FTS at Narborough. He qualified for his Wings in January 1918 and in February, with the rank of Second Lieutenant, he was posted to 10 Squadron RFC in France. Here he undertook mainly artillery observation flights along the Western Front and some bombing operations. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and soon after was promoted to the rank of Acting Captain, taking over the command of the Squadron B Flight.
At the end of the First World War Flying Officer Ivelaw-Chapman DFC RAF volunteered for service overseas and was posted to 97 Squadron in India in 1919. In 1923 he returned to the UK to serve as a test pilot with the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment at Martlesham Heath and later, as an ordinary pilot, with two multi engined night bomber squadrons.
In 1929 he volunteered for overseas duty and spent a year with 70 Squadron in Iraq taking part in the Kabul air evacuations. For his contribution to these operations he was awarded the Air Force Cross. In 1930 he returned to the UK and married his fiancee Margaret.
By this time Ivelaw-Chapman had made a name for himself in the Royal Air Force and was starting to be noticed. In the thirties he was posted to various flying units in positions of command and attended the RAF Staff College as a student and, on graduation, spent 3 years with the Air Ministry involved in intelligence staff work. This was followed in 1936 by a posting to command No 6 FTS at Netheravon. With the war clouds in Europe looming Ivelaw-Chapman returned to the Air Ministry and was engaged in rewriting the RAF War Manual Part One - Operations. He found this a heavy responsibility as it was clear that war was imminent.
Early in World War 2 Ivelaw-Chapman was promoted to Acting Group Captain and took over as station commander of Linton-on-Ouse No 4 Bomber Group. After 10 months he was posted back to London to undertake further staff duties. During this period he was involved in intelligence/planning staff work at the highest level which included the D Day landings.
With the rank of Air Commodore, he was posted to OC 13 Base Commander No 1 Group at Elsham Wolds in late 1943. In early May 1944 Ivelaw-Chapman flew in a Lancaster bomber as an extra crew member with Flt Lt Max Shearer RNZAF of 576 Sq. The target was a large German ammunition dump at Aubigne Racan. After bombing the target the bomber was attacked by a night fighter and shot down. Only Ivelaw-Chapman and the Air Bomber, Sgt Joe Ford RAAF, were able to escape by parachute. Ivelaw-Chapman sustained a badly dislocated shoulder when baling out. They were on the run in France for several weeks helped by many courageous French civilians.
The loss of Ivelaw-Chapman on this operation caused considerable concern in London in view of the fact that he had extensive knowledge of the coming Allied invasion of Europe. Orders were given to the French Resistance to keep him safe at all costs and get him back to the UK if possible. If there was any chance of him falling into German hands he was to be killed.
Eventually they were betrayed and Ivelaw-Chapman was captured in a raid by the Germans on the farm in which he was hiding. Joe Ford who was hiding in another farm nearby escaped across the fields and evaded for some months till he was eventually liberated. During a difficult interrogation by his captors Ivelaw-Chapman did not give away any information that would prejudice his French helpers or the D Day operations. The Germans never fully appreciated his importance and Ivelaw-Chapman was soon transferred to a normal prisoner of war camp.
He never forgot the bravery and courage of the French people who had helped him during his evasion and visited France several times after the war. He also remained a close friend of Joe Ford and his family right up to his death.
After the war Ivelaw-Chapman was promoted to Air Vice Marshal and took command of No 38 Group at Marks Hall. After 18 months he returned to London, this time to Whitehall, as the RAF Member of the Defence Research Staff and then to the Directing Staff of the Imperial Defence College, Belgrave Square.
In 1950 Ivelaw-Chapman was promoted to Air Marshal and offered the post of Commander in Chief of the fledgling Indian Air Force. He was delighted to accept and spent two happy and eventful years in India.
On his return to the UK he took up the new post of Commander in Chief of Home Command at White Waltham. After 7 months he returned to the Air Ministry as Deputy and later Vice Chief of the Air Staff with a seat on the Air Council. He retired from the service in 1957.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Ronald Ivelaw-Chapman GCB KBE DFC AFC passed away in 1978.
Written by David Fell