“Nazi radio reports vernon airman alive,”
read a dramatic newspaper headline in a September 1941 edition of the Vancouver Sun. Flying officer Lorne Chambers had been missing since May of that year when his plane was shot down, and the worst had been assumed. Although the news that Chambers was instead being held in a Prisoner of War camp in Germany brought its own concerns, the confirmation that he was still alive came as a great relief to his parents in Vernon.
Lorne Chambers was the son of Edward and Ella Chambers. Prior to the beginning of World War Two, in 1937, he traveled to England to join the Royal Air Force (RAF). In 1939, he was picked for a Canadian unit of the RAF, Squadron 242. Members of this squadron were trained to fly spitfires and later hurricanes. Their shifts would consist of three 18-hour sessions, followed by a day of rest. During this training, Chambers met Beverley Smiley of Wolseley, Saskatchewan, and the two became roommates.
May 18, 1941
On May 18, 1941, Chambers’ plane was shot down while flying above France. Smiley, witnessing the explosion, presumed his friend dead, information which he relayed in a letter to his mother, who in turn passed it along to Ella Chambers. A few days later, Smiley’s own plane was shot down; he escaped using a parachute but was taken to a Prisoner of War hospital. He awoke a few days later to find himself in a bed next to Chambers.
A few weeks after reuniting with Smiley, Chambers wrote the following in a letter to his parents: “This is just to let you know I am well and happy. I was shot down in France on May 18. My plane exploded and I jumped in my parachute. I was in a French hospital under German control for eight weeks recovering from burns on my face, hands, right leg and both feet. I am perfectly all right now.”
One of Fifteen
After leaving the hospital in France, Chambers was moved to a Prisoner of War camp on the shores of the Baltic, under watch of the German Air Force, where they were said to be well-treated. In September of 1941, Chambers and several other American and Canadian pilots in the camp were permitted to broadcast messages home to their families. Chambers reportedly relayed that the message that he was well, and told his parents not to worry. In late 1942, he was moved to a camp near Dresden, around the same time as he received his promotion from Flying Officer to Flight Lieutenant.
Chambers was one of fifteen Vernon men who were held in German or Italian Prisoner of War Camps during World War Two. In May of 1945, following German surrender, the Vernon News reported that the fifteen prisoners were eagerly anticipating their release but had remained in relatively good spirits throughout the ordeal.
At this point, records about Chambers’ life dwindle in the Vernon Archives. It is presumed that he was released shortly after, as there are a few references to him having eventually settled in Seattle. It is also known that he went on to have a family of his own.
**Update November 7, 2023: The following additional information was kindly submitted by a descendant of Lorne Chambers.**
After the war Lorne married a nurse, Emily, who had cared for him on his return. They settled in Penticton with the rest of the Chambers family, his parents, brother Lyall, sisters Eileen and Ruth and their families. Lorne and Emily and their two children moved to Honolulu in the late 50s. After Honolulu they settled in the Seattle area. Lorne retired to the Palm Springs area later in life and passed away in 1997.
To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!
Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives