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The Airmen's Stories - S/Ldr. J S O'Brien


Joseph Somerton O'Brien was born 9th April 1912 in India, the son of Wulstan Hubert O'Brien (1883-1917) and Edith Muriel O'Brien (nee Somerton 1885-1971).

His father, a Major in the Inland Water Transport, Royal Engineers was killed on 7th February 1917 aged 33 and is buried in La Gorgue Communal Cemetery near Merville.

His father's brother, 2/Lt. Francis Joseph O'Brien, was killed in action on 31st July 1917 aged 31 serving with the 1st Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres.


JS O'Brien trained on HMS Conway for a career in the Merchant Navy. After spending several years at sea, he joined the RAF on a short service commission in March 1934.

He completed his flying training at 3 FTS Grantham and joined 3 Squadron at Kenley on 16th March 1935. He went with it to the Sudan in September, during the Abyssinian crisis. Back in the UK, he joined 23 Squadron on 9th July 1936.

He married Marguerite Josephine O'Reilly in July 1938 in Wandsworth.

After war broke out O'Brien was a Flight Commander, still serving with 23 Squadron. His promotion to Squadron Leader was gazetted on 1st June 1940.



On the night of 18/19th June O'Brien was captain of a Blenheim which shared in the destruction of a He111 near Cambridge with a Spitfire, flown by Petra of 19 Squadron. Both British aircraft were shot down by return fire. O'Brien baled out but his observer, P/O King-Clark, and his gunner, Corporal Little, were both killed.

O'Brien received a Mention in Despatches (gazetted 11th July 1940). He left 23 Squadron shortly after this to take charge of the Operations Room at Pembrey.



On 1st July 1940 he joined 92 Squadron there as a supernumerary Squadron Leader. Awarded the DFC (gazetted 30th July 1940), O'Brien took command of 234 Squadron at St Eval on 17th August.

He shared in the destruction of a Ju88 on the 21st and destroyed a Me109 on the 24th. O'Brien was presented with his DFC by the King at Buckingham Palace on 3rd September. He destroyed two more Me109s on the 6th.

He was shot down and killed in combat over St. Mary Cray the next day. His Spitfire, P9466, crashed near Biggin Hill.



O'Brien was 28 and is buried in St Mary Cray Cemetery. Orpington, Kent.







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