'Honest, hardworking, modest' – Final respects to be paid on Friday to Biggleswade war hero John Brennan
PUBLISHED: 16:48 09 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:54 09 May 2017
Respects are to be paid on Friday to a war hero and great-great-grandfather from Biggleswade who has died at the age of 96.
John ‘Paddy’ Brennan survived two air crashes while serving as an RAF air gunner during the Second World War, and moved to Biggleswade in 1950 after being posted to RAF Henlow.
And granddaughter Laura Brennan has paid heartfelt tribute to John – who she called ‘much more than just a grandad’ and unfailingly modest.
She said: “When I was growing up my dad lived abroad and wasn’t a big part of my life, so grandad filled that gap.
“He taught me to tell the time, took me on long walks across fields and countryside, and explained about wildlife, birds nesting and nature.
“I grew up hearing his stories about Ireland and the war and was captivated by his quiet manner, patience and steely reserve – and of course his wicked sense of humour.
“He was much more than just a grandad to me. He was the most honest, hardworking and modest man I have known, and he found it baffling that complete strangers would come up and shake his hand, or buy him a drink in the pub.
“I am extremely lucky and very proud to have had him in my life, and I loved him very much.”
John was born in Ireland in 1921 and came to England in 1937 with nothing but the suit he was wearing and a pocketful of shillings. He worked as a hotel porter and pastry cook in London until he joined the RAF in 1940.
John was promoted to sergeant in 1941 on passing out as an air gunner. In Malta later that year, his plane was thrown onto its back on landing by a string of German bombs. John recalled that the plane was a write-off, but he and his comrades were ‘only badly shaken’.
The next year he was aboard a Vickers Wellington tasked to take supplies from Egypt to Crete. One of the engines caught fire, prompting a crash into the sea. Surviving in the aircraft’s dinghy, John and the crew were later inducted into the Goldfish Club – for airmen saved by inflatable devices.
After a spell at RAF Kinloss in Scotland as a wireless instructor, John received an officer’s commission in 1943 and returned to the skies. The next year he survived a crash into the Grampian Mountains.
John later took part in bombing raids on Germany and, after VE Day in May 1945, built airfields on Okinawa. In November that year he received the Distinguished Flying Cross for courage and dedication to duty.
A book about his wartime experiences, Coming Down in the Drink, was written by author Sean Feast and published just two months ago.
After leaving the RAF in 1950, John worked for Biggleswade firm Weatherly Oilgear from 1956 to 1975, and Stevenage-based British Aerospace from 1976 until his retirement 10 years later. In later life he was a devoted full-time carer for his wife Angela.
John died on April 20 at Stevenage’s Lister Hospital.
His funeral is on Friday at 4pm at the Norse Road Crematorium in Bedford. The hearse will be escorted into the crematorium by Royal British Legion bikers and standard bearers. Weather permitting there will be a flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
It will be family flowers only, but donations to the Salvation Army are welcome at the funeral or through G & H Seamer funeral directors of Sandy. The wake will be at the RAFA Club in Bedford’s Ashburnham Road.