Fly-past to farewell Brevet Club

Members of the Dunedin Brevet Club (from left) Fraser Mitchell (92), Don MacKenzie (90) and Neville Selwood (90) catch up ahead of the final chapter in the club's history.  Photo by Dan Hutchinson
Members of the Dunedin Brevet Club (from left) Fraser Mitchell (92), Don MacKenzie (90) and Neville Selwood (90) catch up ahead of the final chapter in the club's history. Photo by Dan Hutchinson

Nothing can last forever, not the last of the summer wine and not the Otago Brevet Club. Star reporters Jonathan Chilton-Towle and Dan Hutchinson spoke to three of the six remaining members about why they have decided to end the club. 

The Otago Brevet Club plans to go out with a roar when it wraps up with an event that will coincide with the 74th anniversary of the Battle of Britain next month.

Brevet Club member Neville Selwood (90) said it was sad that the club was ending. At its peak there had been 150 members but now there were only six members left who had served in World War 2. The club was open to anyone who had their air force wings. The surviving members jokingly call themselves ''the last of the summer wine''.

''We decided it was time to wrap it up while there's a few of us still alive,'' Mr Selwood said.

To mark the Brevet Club's final meeting on September 21, a special dinner will be held at the Leviathan Hotel and 12 aircraft and a helicopter will fly over the city as a salute to the remaining members. The final meeting will coincide with the anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

Organiser Paul Ward, who served in Vietnam as an air force medic, said he was ''just helping these old guys out'' after their incredible service in World War 2.

''It will be one of the better fly-pasts seen in Dunedin for a while,'' he said.

Mr Ward had gained sponsorship from Pak'nSave for the dinner and from Z Energy for fuel for the aircraft.

Mr Selwood said the Otago Brevet Club had been at a disadvantage because there was no local air force base to keep membership strong.

The group met three times per year at the Dunedin RSA Clubrooms and at the Leviathan Hotel. The club had begun after the war as the Prune Club. Pilot Officer Prune was the Royal Air Force's symbol of incompetence. If there was a wrong way to do anything, Prune would find it. A group of pilots had wanted to commemorate his legend.

Later they decided they wanted to do something a bit more serious and the Brevet Club began in 1952.

Mr Selwood did not join until the 1980s.

He knew of some former airmen who had not joined because they did not want to remember the war, including at least one who lived in Mosgiel.

Combat was hardly ever talked about; the group preferred to focus on the good times they had.

Mr Selwood and fellow surviving club member Don MacKenzie (90) had both served in No. 75 squadron and flown in Lancaster bombers. Mr Selwood had been a navigator and Mr MacKenzie a rear gunner.

Mr Selwood took part in 25 bombing missions, two food drops, and three flights transporting rescued allied prisoners of war.

One of their proudest moments during the war was taking part in Operation Manna, where British and American forces air-dropped more than 11,000 tons of food into the Nazi-occupied western Netherlands.

Fraser Mitchell (92) was a navigator in a Lockheed Ventura aircraft in the Pacific.

The other three surviving Brevet club members are Frank Coory (92), Gordon Parry (94) and Jack Roberston (98).

The other member of the group is Peter Laing, who had been made an honorary member in recognition of his father David Laing.

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