Brian Patrick McNamara

Serial Number: 42856
RAF Trade: Pilot
Date of Enlistment: 14th of August 1939
Rank Achieved: Pilot Officer
Flying Hours: 408 hours
Operational Sorties: 34 Ops

Date of Birth: 18th of August 1914, at Westport, New Zealand
Personal Details:
Brian was the son of Michael and Helena McNamara (nee O'Brien), of Cambridge. He was the older brother of Mary McNamara who became a WAAF. He was educated at Sacred Heart College in Auckland, but was well known in the Cambridge area before the war. He passed his Public Service Examination in 1931.

In his younger life before the war Brian was a motor mechanic at Blaine's garage in Duke Street, Cambridge. He was interested in anything to do with engines.

Service Details: Cambridge airman Gordon Easter remembered that Brian was recruited by the Royal Air Force in 1938. Gordon recalled that he and Brian had both applied for the Royal Air Force when an RAF recruiting team toured New Zealand in an attempt to sign up Kiwis for their Air Force. These were actually probably RNZAF officers working on behalf of the RAF.

Gordon says this team consisted of a doctor and an officer with several medals, probably from the First World War, among its members. They visited Cambridge seeking aircrew recruits, and as Brian and Gordon had both desired becoming pilots, they went along for the tests. Gordon was disappointed to not pass the selection himself on medical grounds, but his mate Brian McNamara was selected, he says.

Brian's niece, Mary-Ann Kane, talked to her mother Mary McGovern, who was Brian's sister, and she says, "Mum says Gordon Easter is right about the RAF recruiting Brian, although she says they didn't have to try very hard!!! Every spare moment he had he would go to Hamilton to learn to fly and he had many hours flying experience before he joined the RAF. Mum said he wanted to join more than anything in the world because he just wanted to fly and when their mother gave her permission, he joined immediately."

Having been pre-selected, Brian worked his passage as a steward aboard a ship to Ireland, with his father Michael and uncle Patrick also making the trip with him as all three intended to visit relatives there. The ship left New Zealand in April 1939 and they arrived in Ireland in June 1939.

After visiting his relations Brian then enlisted in the Royal Air Force as a Pupil Pilot on the 14th of August 1939, and began his training as a pilot at No. 7 Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School (Civil Flying School) at RAF Desford, on the 14th of August 1939.

On the 23rd of October 1939 Brian was granted a Short Service Commission of four years as an Acting Pilot Officer, and on this date he advanced to No. 3 Initial Training Wing on the 23rd of October 1939 for a short disciplinary course.

From there he progressed onto No. 6 Service Flying Training School on the 6th of November 1939. He passed his training course and gained his wings on the 25th of March 1940.

Meanwhile, whilst Brian trained as a pilot, Michael and Patrick McNamara continued spending time touring Ireland (where they had been born) and Britain. Their tour included also being present to see Brian pass out as a pilot and gain his Wings and a commission before they left the UK.

With war having broken out, there was quite a wait to get passage home, but Michael McNamara finally got a berth, sailing on the Strathallen, which carried 1060 passengers and a crew of 600 to New Zealand. That trip in itself was eventful, but nowhere near as dangerous as what his son Brian was soon to be doing - bombing Germany.

Brian's training continued as he moved onto Vickers Wellingtons at No. 15 Operational Training Unit, starting there on the 1st of June 1940. On completion of this phase he was posted to No. 75 (NZ) Squadron on the 25th of July 1940, again flying Wellingtons.

He flew 25 operational sorties with the squadron. His rank of Pilot Officer was confirmed with effect from the 14th of August 1940.

Michael McNamara had eventually arrived back in New Zealand and he had reported on his trip to the Waikato Independent newspaper. These extracts come from a summary of the report, published on the 14th of December 1939:

 

"Having a son in the Royal Air Force, Mr McNamara gained an insight into the work that is being carried out. He was reassuring when he stated that there was no possibility of an air raid over London. He detailed the efficiency of the balloon barrages which completely encircled the city and meant death to practically every enemy plane that tried to pass it. In addition the Royal Air Force was so trained that there was not a hope of invading planes reaching London."

"Mr Brian McNamara went home to England with his father, and displayed great aptitude as an Air Force pilot. He gained a commission, and before his father left he was a flying officer, detailed for special fighting duties."

"To instance the completeness of training for the Air Force, Mr McNamara said that he understood that it cost the Air Ministry £5000 for every trained pilot. One of these in the making was his son, who had been asked to be remembered to all his friends in Cambridge."

Brian became the first Cambridge airman to go into action, as a member of No 75 (NZ) Squadron, flying Vickers Wellington bombers.

We have the privilege of discovering some of Brian's thoughts on the war, however toned down for the folks at home they may have been, through letters that were published in the local Waikato Independent newspaper.

On the 16th of October 1940 this report includes a letter he wrote home to Cambridge, telling of his work in No. 75 Squadron:

 

CAMBRIDGE AIRMAN

RAIDS OVER GERMANY

EXPLOITS OF PILOT OFFICER B. McNAMARA

Exciting details of air raids over Germany are given by Pilot Officer Brian McNamara, in a letter to his parents, Mr and Mrs M.J. McNamara, of Cambridge.

Leaving New Zealand in April last year, Pilot Officer McNamara joined the Royal Air Force immediately on his arrival in England, and he is the first Cambridge airman in action in the present war.

He states that he is attached to the crack New Zealand Squadron, which consists of Wellington bombers. Most of the pilots are New Zealanders, including Squadron leader Kay, who flew out to New Zealand a number of years ago with a fellow airman named Piper.

"When I arrived here I had my tail-gunner changed and was waiting out in the machine for a new one to come from the Kangaroos," states Pilot Officer McNamara. "When he arrived, he turned out to be Emmett McMahon, who used to go to Sacred Heart College with me. He is a Sergeant Gunner. We get on well together and talk over the old College days."

"After I have been here about four months, I shall go to a training school as an instructor. It is supposed to be more or less a rest job. I have been flying over to Germany, France and Holland quite often. Don't worry, it is quite safe as they are all night trips. After 35 trips over there we chuck it up and let someone else have a go at it."

German Factories Flattened
I have flattened a lot of their big factories, especially in the Ruhr valley. One night I was sent to an aerodrome about 40 miles from Berlin, arriving there at midnight. We found it, and dropped over a ton of bombs, and returned back at 4.30 a.m. the next day. We fly very high out of the range of the anti-aircraft fire."

"When we do these trips over enemy territory, we have to clean out all our pockets in case we are carrying anything that might help the enemy. I and others in the squadron have got brand new machines and we have called them after the names of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We picked Dopey and have a painting of him on both sides of the nose."

"The squadron has not lost a machine since the beginning of the war, as we are taught the best evasive methods and not to take chances. So if we stick to those two things nothing can happen, and besides old Emmett and the other two gunners are very good at their job."

Searchlight Competition
"They often practice on the German searchlights and see who can put out the most. At the moment Emmett is winning by two searchlights. The trouble is that it is a bit tiring as the trips last about 7 hours each. After we do our bombing we have hot coffee and biscuits. We come home like greased lightning as we know there is a big plate of fry and eggs waiting for us, and then we sleep till noon."

Pilot Officer McNamara states that by the time the letter arrived he would have completed his 35 raids and would be sitting on the ground enjoying the English winter. He mentioned that he had been photographed recently when the March of Time Film Company took pictures of all the crews and machines.

 

Note: As L7857 was the regular aircraft of Brian's crew at this time, this must have been the Wellington that wore the "Dopey" nose art


Brian McNamara and crew - via Mary-Ann Kane 

Above: A photo of Brian McNamara and his No. 75 (NZ) Squadron crew. Brian is fourth from left.

 

 

A further article followed in the Waikato Independent newspaper on the 6th of February 1940.

 

OVER GERMANY

CAMBRIDGE AIRMAN IN BOMBING RAIDS

PILOT OFFICER B. McNAMARA

Further details of bombing raids over Germany are contained , in a letter in Cambridge recently by Mr and Mrs M.J. McNamara from their son, Pilot Officer Brian McNamara, of the Royal Air Force.

He wrote that he had been flying over Germany and enemy occupied territory. More recently the trips had been shorter, mostly to the French and Belgian coasts. The enemy had been given a severe shaking, he said.

"Last night I went to Ostend and dropped 1¾ tons of bombs on the docks where the 'Jerries' have large barge and boat concentrations. They put up a tremendous barrage of anti-aircraft, but we went sailing through it and over the target, which, by the way, is looking pretty sick at the moment."

"One of the best trips I have done was to the Black Forest, right in the South of Germany, on the border of Switzerland. We were hardly fired at at all. We left at about 8 p.m., and got back about 6.30 a.m. after flying over parts of Belgium, France, Luxemburg, Germany and Switzerland, and coming back by way of Holland. Not bad for just before breakfast."

Pilot Officer McNamara stated that the border of Switzerland was just touched. He saw the city of Basle lighted up and it looked marvelous from 15,000 feet.

"Since I started this letter I have been to berlin again. It was the biggest raid the Berliners have had. We left at 9.30 p.m., and arrived back at 6.30 a.m. It was an exciting trip, during which we covered about 1200 miles."

Very little leave was granted, only three days every month. On his last leave Pilot Officer McNamara went with another officer to his home in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. He said that all the trees and fields reminded him of home.

Brian completed 34 ops over enemy territory, having bombed targets in the Black Forest, Emden, Berlin, (all in Germany), and Antwerp, Ostend Docks and Brussels (all in Belgium). A piece on Brian appeared later as a tribute in Contact, The Magazine of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Here is part of that tribute:

"Brian wrote in one of his numerous letters home - letters not intended for publication - "About our raids: On Friday night we flattened out a power station in Kassel, so I guess they'll have a more or less permanent black-out for some time," - a sense of humour typical of the men fighting over there. Another letter said, "When you receive this I'll have completed my 35 raids and will be enjoying the English winter as an instructor.

But that was not to be - Pilot Officer B.P. McNamara, age 23, lost his life during his 35th trip over enemy territory. *

A friend has written to us, "The letters so looked for now no longer come, but his family and his many friends find consolation in the inspired words of our own New Zealand poet, Eileen Duggan, who wrote for him:-

BRIAN McNAMARA

Pilot Officer, RAF

Never for you the ageing chill of twilight
Who flung your life, not even as a boon,
Your sun, arrested at its fiery solstice
Bestows a deathless noon

Brave intimate of stars, young holy martyr,
Never in hearts that loved you are you slain,
Always you fly reconnaissant above us,
Pure and exultant, shielding us from bane.

 

*Note - this is not the case as stated, Brian was killed in a ferrying accident within the UK, not over enemy territory

Operations: Here is a list of the operations that Brian flew with No. 75 (NZ) Squadron

Date
Wellington
Target
Crew
As Second Pilot
15/16 Aug 1940
L7857
Target L85, Germany
P/O Eric Best (Captain)
P/O Harry Goodwin (Observer)
Sgt Green (Wirless Operator)
Sgt Emmett McMahon (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Lawler (Front Gunner)
17/18 Aug 1940 L7857 Airfields, Germany P/O Eric Best (Captain)
P/O Harry Goodwin (Observer)
Sgt Green (Wirless Operator)
Sgt Emmett McMahon (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Lawler (Front Gunner)
26/27 Aug 1940 L7857 Bombed five Anti-Aircraft guns in Duisberg-Essen area P/O Eric Best (Captain)
P/O Harry Goodwin (Observer)
Sgt Green (Wirless Operator)
Sgt Emmett McMahon (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Lawler (Front Gunner)
29/30 Aug 1940 L7857 Airfield target in Germany P/O Eric Best (Captain)
P/O Harry Goodwin (Observer)
Sgt Green (Wirless Operator)
Sgt Emmett McMahon (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Lawler (Front Gunner)
1/2 Sept 1940 L7857 Failed to locate target, returned with bombs intact P/O Eric Best (Captain)
P/O Harry Goodwin (Observer)
Sgt Green (Wirless Operator)
Sgt Emmett McMahon (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Lawler (Front Gunner)
4/5 Sep 1940 L7857 Thuremier Forest, Black Forest and woods south of Strasbourg P/O Eric Best (Captain)
P/O Harry Goodwin (Observer)
Sgt Green (Wirless Operator)
Sgt Emmett McMahon (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Lawler (Front Gunner)
12/13 Sep 1940 L7857 Emden and Schwerte P/O Eric Best (Captain)
P/O Harry Goodwin (Observer)
Sgt Green (Wirless Operator)
Sgt Emmett McMahon (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Lawler (Front Gunner)
14/15 Sep 1940 T2550 Oil depot at Antwerp, Belgium P/O Eric Best (Captain)
P/O Harry Goodwin (Observer)
Others not recorded
18/19 Sep 1940 L7857 Channel Ports, Le Harve P/O Eric Best (Captain)
P/O Harry Goodwin (Observer)
Sgt Green (Wirless Operator)
Sgt Emmett McMahon (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Lawler (Front Gunner)
20/21 Sep 1940 L7857 Channel Ports P/O Eric Best (Captain)
P/O Harry Goodwin (Observer)
Sgt Green (Wirless Operator)
Sgt Emmett McMahon (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Lawler (Front Gunner)
23/24 Sep 1940 L7857 Berlin P/O Eric Best (Captain)
P/O Harry Goodwin (Observer)
Sgt Green (Wirless Operator)
Sgt Emmett McMahon (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Lawler (Front Gunner)
2/3 Oct 1940 P9292 Airfield targets P/O Eric Best (Captain)
P/O Harry Goodwin (Observer)
Sgt Green (Wirless Operator)
Sgt Emmett McMahon (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Lawler (Front Gunner)
As Captain of his own crew
1/2 Jan 1941
T2250 Channel Ports P/O Alexander Ryan (2nd Pilot)
Sgt Richard Elliott (Observer)
Sgt John Olive (Wireless Op)
Sgt Matthew Ritchie (Front Gunner)
Sgt Ron Ashby-Peckam (Rear Gunner)
4/5 Jan 1941
T2250
Brest
P/O Alexander Ryan (2nd Pilot)
Sgt Richard Elliott (Observer)
Sgt John Olive (Wireless Op)
Sgt Matthew Ritchie (Front Gunner)
Sgt Ron Ashby-Peckam (Rear Gunner)
8/9 Jan 1941
T2250
Willhelmshaven, Germany - failed to locate target in 8/10 cloud
P/O Alexander Ryan (2nd Pilot)
Sgt Richard Elliott (Observer)
Sgt John Olive (Wireless Op)
Sgt Matthew Ritchie (Front Gunner)
Sgt Ron Ashby-Peckam (Rear Gunner)

Details of Death: At 23.30hrs on Friday evening, the 10th of January 1941, Brian left RAF Feltwell to carry out a Night Flying Test, or NFT, on Vickers Wellington Ic (coded T2550/L) from No. 75 (NZ) Squadron. He and his crew completed the test successfully and then flew towards RAF Bassingbourn, in Cambridgeshire, with the intention of dropping off P/O Alex Ryan and collecting a new pilot. However the weather was poor and visibility was markedly reduced, and while descending to pinpoint their position, the aircraft struck trees on a hilltop at Heath Farm near Stapleford, 4 miles south of Cambridge. Of the six onboard only the rear gunner Sgt Ronald Edward Ashby-Peckham survived, with serious injuries. Brian was aged 26

Buried at: Brian was buried at St Nicholas' Churchyard, Feltwell (Row A, Grave 4).


Brian McNamara's grave at Feltwell. Photo kindly supplied by Rob Pritchard.

Brian's niece Mary-Ann Kane tried to find out details from her mother, Mary, who was Brian's sister. She wrote, "Mum is not very forthcoming. She and her mother found it very hard to cope with Brian's death in 1941 and Mum's father died in 1945. We think Gran blamed herself for his death because he only went when she gave her blessing. Mum said she never got over it. There are no letters, nothing left behind except a few photos of him in service and photos of his funeral which Mum managed to keep. I have these now. Also his war medals were issued, but Mum says she never saw them. Dad thinks Gran probably destroyed them. We do have miniature copies now.

Connection with Cambridge: Brian was a resident of Cambridge before the war

Waikato Independent Reports That Mention Brian McNamara
Royal Air Force (just name in list)
Men in Camp (RAF ) 2 Dec 1939 (just name in list)
The First Echelon 11 Jan 1940 (just name in list)
In Bombing Raids 6 Dec 1940 (see above)
Raids over Germany (photo) 16 Dec 1940 (see above)
RSA Roll of Honour 18 May 1942 (just name on roll list)
Return at Dawn 26 May 1944 (Photo goes home with Governor General from 75 Sqn Commander)

Note: Sources for this page include Mary McGovern (Brian's Sister), Des McGovern (Brian's brother-in-law), Mary-Ann Kane (Brian's niece), the Waikato Independent newspapers as listed above, and official RNZAF records. Also Contact magazine dated June 1941. Also No. 75 Squadron History compiled by Squadron Leader Ron MacFarlane RNZAF, retired, sent via Don Simms. Details of this airman and his death were also sourced from Errol Martyn who wrote the excellent volumes of 'For Your Tomorrow'. See more details on these highly recommended books here


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