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The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. P G StG O'Brian


Peter Geoffrey St. George O'Brian was born in Toronto on 16th September 1917, the son of Air Commodore Geoffrey O'Brian, a Royal Flying Corps pilot and founder-member of the RCAF. He was educated at Trinity College, Ontario and Toronto University.

He entered RAF College Cranwell in January 1936 as a Flight Cadet. He was awarded the Sword of Honour in December 1937 when he graduated with a permanent commission.

O'Brian joined 26 Squadron at Catterick in January 1938. He was severely injured in a motor accident at Catterick on 28th September 1939 and was posted from 26 Squadron to RAF Catterick on 12th November 1939 for Ops Room duties.



O'Brian was appointed Acting Squadron Leader on 16th November. He relinquished his acting rank when he volunteered to serve in Fighter Command and was posted to 5 OTU Aston Down on 4th August 1940.

After converting to Spitfires he joined 152 Squadron at Warmwell on 19th August. He was made temporary 'B' Flight Commander on 25th August when F/Lt. FM Thomas became non-effective sick. On the 27th he shared in the destruction of a He111 and on 17th September shared in destroying a Ju88. O'Brian relinquished his temporary command and took command of the newly-reformed 247 Squadron at Roborough on 24th September 1940.

He was allocated a number of Gladiator biplanes and some Hurricanes. The former remained with the squadron until March 1941, making it one of the last to fly biplane fighters. The British communities in Shanghai, Canton and Peking provided the funds for the Hurricanes and the squadron adopted the title 247 (China-British) Squadron.

O'Brian entered a correspondence regarding the design of the squadron badge with Chester Herald at the College of Arms. Agreement was eventually reached, and the squadron's links with the West Country were represented by the Exeter Lion on the Cornish Bezant with a scroll bearing the Chinese characters 'Cheu Feng' (meaning fierce wind, or Hurricane). The motto adopted was 'Rise from the East'.

He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 2nd December 1941) and led the squadron until May 1942.

In June O'Brian was posted to HQ 10 Group as Wing Commander Training. In September 1942 he returned to the Portreath Wing, leading Spitfires on escorts and sweeps over the Brest Penninsula and carrying out attacks on shipping.

On 16th April 1943 he led 412 (RCAF) Squadron to attack German shipping off the Brest Peninsula. In an engagement with Fw190's O'Brian's Spitfire was damaged and he baled out into the Channel, near to the French coast. After eight hours in his dinghy, he was picked up by an MTB of the Free French Navy and taken to Dartmouth, escorted for the last few miles by a flight of 412 Spitfires.

He was awarded a Bar to the DFC (gazetted 6th August 1943).

O'Brian was rested in July 1943 and returned to his former post at HQ 10 Group. From December 1943 until April 1944 he was a student at RAF Staff College.

In May 1944 O'Brian joined the Joint Planning Staff in London, in the Strategical Section.

After the war O'Brian commanded 8 Squadron in Aden flying the Mosquito before joining the directing staff of the Army Staff College.

After attending the USAF Staff College he returned to the fighter world at RAF Odiham, where two Meteor day fighter squadrons were based. Within a year he was promoted to Group Captain and left to command RAF Leuchars in Fife. His period coincided with the introduction into service with 43 Squadron of the Hawker Hunter, the RAF's finest post-war fighter.

O'Brian enjoyed playing golf at nearby St Andrews and, until a few years ago, he returned each year to attend the Royal and Ancient's annual meeting.

He spent the last four years of his RAF service at HQ Fighter Command and at the Air Ministry. From June 1957 until his retirement in July 1959 he was an ADC to the Queen. He was appointed OBE in January 1954.

He returned to Canada and became the vice-president of Southam Publishing, retiring in 1982.

In 1941 Peter O'Brian proposed by letter to his girlfriend, Edith Beatty, who was then living in Canada. Enclosed with the letter was a diamond engagement ring. He waited many weeks for a reply, not knowing that the ship carrying the proposal had been torpedoed.

A second letter arrived safely, but without a ring, for he could not afford a second one. Edith travelled to London, where they married in December 1941.

O'Brian died on 15th April 2007.

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