“Coming Down in the Drink” is the (slightly misleading) title of an Irish airman’s full-blown war-time flying record. The book covers most of his life, from the bleak days of his youth in County Kilkenny, all through the 2nd World War, his service in the peacetime RAF and his subsequent civilian career.
John Brennan emerges from this book as a sturdy, independent individual who ran away from home at 16 years of age, was successful in a number of civilian jobs in the late 1930’s and enlisted as an airman in the RAF during the summer of 1940. His preference was to be an air-gunner but, as a result of the twisted military logic that sometimes sends experienced truck drivers to a cook’s school, he ended up being trained as a wireless operator.
The book follows John through his training and his posting as a Sergeant to an operational squadron flying Vickers Wellingtons in the North African desert. It provides the reader with a graphic view of the desert war, as well as the dangers and mishaps that occurred during that hectic time.
Teething troubles with a new, Merlin powered version of the Wellington that caused loss of life, sand storms and maintenance problems in the desert and of course enemy action. During this tour, John becomes a member of the ‘Goldfish Club’ as his Wellington has to ditch near the African coast and the crew has to paddle to safety.
At the end of his ‘desert tour’ (40 operational missions as an air-gunner / wireless operator) John is posted to an OTU in Kinloss (Scotland). Frequent crashes caused by the combination of bad weather, mountainous terrain and inexperienced aircrews make this assignment nearly as lethal as fighting the enemy. In November 1943 John is promoted to officer. His two years of instructing end in mid-1944 and he is assigned to an operational bomber squadron equipped with Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers. He completes a second tour of twenty missions in March 1945, surviving raids on heavily defended targets in Germany and France. John is awarded the DFC in September 1945.
The book is well written and gives a personal view of the war, interspersed with statements by John. It is also very detailed – down to the serial numbers of individual aircraft mentioned in the narrative. I recommend this book to those who are deeply interested in the history of bomber command.
Published by Pen & Sword Aviation (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk)
ISBN 978 147389153 1
Reviewers note on “The Goldfish Club”.
C. A. Robertson, the Chief Draftsman at the PB Cow & Co., (manufacturers of air-sea rescue equipment), decided to form an exclusive club for airmen who owed their lives to their life jacket, dinghy, etc. The club was formed in November, 1942 and named The Goldfish Club: gold for the value of life, and fish for the water. Each member was presented with a heat-sealed waterproof membership card and an embroidered badge. Uniform dress regulations prohibited the wearing of the Goldfish Club badge on British and American uniforms but many RAF & USAAF airmen placed their badge under the flap of their left hand uniform pocket.