John Barnes, Historian

Commander RA Brabner MP DSO DSC RNVR (1911-1945)

The presumed death of Rupert Brabner somewhere off the Azores, when being flown to Canada in March 1945, brought a promising front bench career to a sadly premature end. Brabner had entered the City with the banking firm Singer and Friedlander on going down from Cambridge, but although he became a director of the bank in 1940, he had determined on a political career. He was elected to the London County Council in 1937, and then to the House of Commons in July 1939 as the Unionist MP for Hythe. As a member of the RNVR, he joined the Fleet Air Arm in September 1939 and won both the DSO and DSC during carrier operations in the Mediterranean, in the course of which he had downed five enemy aircraft and shared in another kill and had flown aircraft from Illustrious, Eagle, Victorious and Indomitable as well as ashore in Crete and North Africa.

Rupert Arnold Brabner was the son of William Wilberforce Brabner, who was a senior clerk with the stockbrokers, Greenwood & Co and later organized the private interests of the first Lord Faringdon, creating Henderson Administration when Faringdon died in 1934; and of his wife, Lucy Maggie Knight. He was born in Loughton on 29 October 1911 and was educated at Felsted and St Catherine’s College, Cambridge. He was a keen games player, enjoying both rugby and cricket. He also loved music. After taking his degree, he entered the City, joining the merchant bank Singer and Friedlander. He traveled widely and was in Spain during the Civil War. He joined the Board in January 1940.

His first foray into politics came with his election to the London County Council in 1937 as the member for West Lewisham. Two years later he was chosen on 23 June to fight Hythe as a unionist in succession to Sir Philip Sassoon and he won the by–election on 20 July 1939. He was to remain on the County Council, however, until both he and Herbert Williams resigned in February 1945.

As a member of the RNVR and the Royal Aero Club, he joined the Royal Navy as a temporary Sub lieutenant in the Fleet Air Arm in September 1939 and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 29 August 1940. He was posted to 806 Naval Air Squadron. HMS Illustrious with 806 squadron aboard was dispatched to the Mediterranean and took part in operations near Rhodes in September 1940 and covered a Malta convoy in October. Brabner flying a Fulmar from Illustrious in November 1940 took part in a successful action that destroyed one enemy aircraft and probably shot down two more. On 10 March 1941 he was rescued by HMS Hotspur after being forced to ditch.

After transferring to 805 Squadron, he took command of a flight of Brewster Buffaloes which had been flown into Crete in March 1941. However, his first unsuccessful skirmish flying from Maleme was in a Fulmar which failed to catch a JU88. Brabner preferred the Buffalo, which was far more maneuverable. On the following day, however, his Buffalo had engine trouble and he was forced to crash land just short of the base. The plane turned over, but Brabner escaped unhurt.

Brabner’s maiden speech in the House of Commons was made just after returning from Crete from which he had made his escape in an “extremely battered aircraft” and he was able to detail “the almost chronic lack of most of the important materials of war” in the eastern Mediterranean. The speech impressed, but Brabner returned active service to take command of 801 squadron at Yeovilton in August 1941. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in December 1941. The squadron joined HMS Eagle and took part in Operation Harpoon in June 1942 and in Operation Pedestal in August 1942. Flying a Hurricane, he was credited with two kills and a shared kill on 14 June 1942. For his part in Operation Harpoon was awarded the DSO on 1 September 1942 while his part in Operation Pedestal earned him the DSC on 24 August 1943. Eagle was sunk on 11 August 1942 while Brabner was actually in the air and with her sinking the squadron temporarily ceased to exist. Brabner was appointed to the staff of the Vice Admiral commanding Aircraft carriers in September 1942 for Operation Torch. Before the completion of the North African campaign, he returned to London to become Naval Assistant (Technical) to the Fifth Sea Lord. He was promoted to Commander.

Although Brabner had written to The Times to urge better use of the regional centres to maximize war production in August 1941, inevitably his contribution to politics was limited, but he was invited to move the Address when the new session of parliament opened in November 1943. He won high commendation for the way in which he carried out his task. In June 1944 he lost his elder sister, Dr Jean Brabner, a house physician at one of the London hospitals, who was killed by enemy action while on hospital duty.

Brabner was appointed an assistant Government whip (unpaid) on 4 July 1944 and on 21 November he was appointed to be Joint Parliamentary Under Secretary for Air.

He had married Mrs Evelyn Myfanwy Berner in October. She was the daughter of the late Walter Molins of Longwood, Bexley, Kent.

The Liberator taking him to Canada in March 1945 was lost off the Azores on 27 March. All on board were presumed dead, although his body was never found.

Brabner is commemorated on the Lee-on-Solent war memorial.