Donald Robert Chinery, 14/8/1921 to 25/10/2017
Don was born in Upper Sheringham, Norfolk to James and Maud. He was the fourth of their five children; three boys and two girls. Tragically James was killed in a wagon and horse accident when Don was about twelve years old, leaving Maud to bring up the children alone. This was before the welfare state and times were very difficult for them.
Don won a scholarship but due to family finances it was decided he would have to get a job instead of continuing in education. He joined Lusher’s Bakery in Sheringham as an apprentice baker and confectioner. He often spoke of his work in the bakehouse with affection.
Soon after the outbreak of WW2 in September 1939, Don slipped away to Norwich and signed-up for the RAF, volunteering for aircrew. His boss told him he was “a very silly fellow” or words similar to that! Maud went ballistic and raved at him in no uncertain terms.
At one stage prior to operational duty, Don was posted to RAF Bassingbourn for air gunnery training. Whilst there he went to a dance in Meldreth Village Hall, there he met Margaret Jacklin who was playing in Gordon Handscombe’s Band, “The Rhythm Rascals“.
Soon after this meeting the USAF 91st Bomb Group, took over Bassingbourn and Don was posted to a number of different aerodromes, ending up at RAF Coningsby and Skellingthorpe with 61 Squadron. This brave fellow did two operational tours over occupied Europe as rear gunner. It is quite unbelievable for us to comprehend today. He was in the first 1000 bomber raid on Nuremberg; 100 aircraft and 700 crew failed to return.
Before his de-mob, Don by now promoted to Warrant Officer, wangled a posting back to Bassingbourn, as an air gunnery instructor. He soon popped back to Meldreth to see Margaret and proposed to her. They were married in Holy Trinity Church in 1946.
In 1946, Don was a founder member of the revived Meldreth Football Club. Originally founded in 1921, the Club had folded in about 1930. Don and several other players started it up again and you can listen to him talking about his playing days on our page on the history of the club in the 1940s. He was Hon. Secretary of the Club in 1950.
Don worked for a short time after de-mob at “The Corner Cafe” on Royston Cross but the pay was low and the hours unsociable. He was offered and accepted a non-shift job at the Atlas Stone Company in the village, where he spent the rest of his working life. He was presented with a gold watch in 1978 for 25 years service. He really should have received this five years earlier due to keeping “bakers’ hours”; he was always at work an hour early!
In the early 1960s Don was involved with Meldreth Church Lads Brigade, alongside the Rev Jukes and Mr Frazer. Don was also a keen sportsman, playing football and darts, being a founder member of the Dumb Flea darts team (he took the minutes of the inaugural meeting). He also went fishing and ten pin bowling, winning a great deal of silverware with the Atlas team in the Stevenage league. Margaret and Don were also accomplished ballroom dancers.
Don and Margaret’s Ruby Wedding party in the Village Hall was a memorable occasion. Don had made the cake for the celebration. He eagerly greeted all with “suitable refreshments”; I believe he also had the odd one himself too. It came to light, later, that he had also had one or two at the Atlas Sports and Social Club that lunchtime to mark his retirement. Part way through the evening, Don was overcome with “a fit of the vapours”: legs wobbly, eyes out of focus, losing his balance. He was assisted home to bed. Our son had to step in and help Margaret to cut the cake. Don awoke in the morning with a bent ear and black coffee!
Don and Margaret lived in the village until her untimely death, whilst on holiday in Sheringham. Don later moved into a bungalow in Clear Crescent in Melbourn, along with his infamous red buggy. Whilst there he fell ill and spent many months in Addenbrookes. After this he luckily he secured a place in Moorlands, where he lived for 17 years.
Moorlands site was redeveloped during his time there resulting in him getting a superb new flat. He loved his time there and was their longest lease holder. The staff there are the most dedicated one could ever meet; they are just fantastic. The love and kindness the whole staff gave Don, especially in his later years, was exceptional. Robert, one of the carers, even took Don to IWM Duxford a number of times to see his beloved Lancaster, all in his own time, too. On one trip, Don was interviewed by the BBC Antiques Roadshow programme and repeats still pop-up on TV. When asked by Christine Trevelyan “Would you do it again?” “Yes, tomorrow” was his instant reply.
Don was awarded The Légion d’Honneur in 2016 by the President of France, for his part in the liberation of France on D Day. This was presented in a ceremony, beside the rear turret of “his”, Lancaster at IWM Duxford by Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire DFC; all kindly arranged by IWM Duxford.
Don died peacefully in his own bed, thanks entirely to the dedication of the Moorlands staff, our local doctors and the district nursing team. His funeral was conducted by Marion Long in Holy Trinity Church with committal in Fenny Lane cemetery, and was followed by refreshments in The British Queen.
Don leaves two daughters, Pam and Trish, three grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Don was interviewed by Meldreth Local History Group in 2009 and two extracts from the interview are available on this website: one on this page and one on the History of Meldreth Football Club in the 1940s.
I didn’t get called up, I volunteered and I had all the war years and I really enjoyed it. I went round and about. I had a spell at Waterbeach, I had a spell at Coningsby and I finished up at Skellingsthorpe that’s in Lincolnshire. Oh I had wonderful times up there. I’ve got my old flying log book somewhere and I very often get that out and have a look in it and I can remember every raid I done as if I’d done it yesterday and the worst raid I ever done was Nuremberg and that night the RAF lost 90 odd aircraft. Of course when you come back you get interrogated as you know. I sat down and the Interrogation Officer said “Well, what was it like?” I said “What was it like? it was bloody rough” (Pardon my language). I said “There was aircraft going down left, right and centre. I said “I should think we lost best part of 100 aircraft” and the Interrogation Officer said “Don’t talk so darned ridiculous” he said “I wrote down 30”. I said “Alright put down what you like” I said “But I know what I’ve seen.” And of course, when the news come on we’d lost 90 odd aircraft so he sent for me and he said “I doubted your word when you told me you thought we’d lost 100 bombers” he says but when I heard the news this morning, well I was shocked” he said “And all I can do is apologise to you for doubting your word.” and that’s the first time I had an RAF officer apologise to me. I was a Rear Gunner and I flew a Lancaster it was a really good old aircraft. Believe it or believe it or not I done 51 raids. You used to go on a tour of operation of 30 trips and you got a six month rest and then you went back for another tour. Well we’d got a skipper he was like the rest of us. He loved flying, so we volunteered to carry on for a second tour so of course we all said yeah we’d go with him and we did. I had some wonderful times when I was in the Air Force. And I regretted it after I come out, I turned it over in my mind time and time again. I should have stayed in and served out my time, done full time and come out with a good pension but you didn’t think of that, you get out of it. As I say, when you got out you wanted to get back again.