2/Lt Patrick Alva O'Brien M.C.
  Pat O'Brien was eager to join in the war and like many Americans he crossed the border to joined the RFC in Canada. His story is one of heroics and determination, adulation by the American public with a brief glimpse of fame, but finally rejection and desolation.

Patrick Alva O'Brien was born in the small Illinois town of Momence, near Chicago circa 1894/5. He states in his book Out Witting the Hun? (Harper Brothers published March 1918) that he started flying at the age of 18 in 1912. His close family his mother, brother and sister resided in the town during 1917-21.

He started his flying career in 1912 near Chicago, and later went to California where he and an associate built their own aircraft. Patrick joined the American Flying Corps in 1916 and was stationed in San Diego, but became restless after some eight months due to the lack of action, so he resigned and made his way north to Canada and joined the RFC. He was sent to Camp Borden for his initial training, later becoming an Instructor.

In May 1917 along with seventeen other Canadian cadets he left for England onboard the Magantic. Other members of the draft are quite interesting from a 66 Squadron perspective. Those from the British Empire and Dominions were, T L Atkinson, F C Conry, A C Jones, C R Moore (59 Sqn kia 8/3/1918), A Muir, C. Nelmes, J R Park, Paul H Raney (66 Sqn kia 21/08/1918), E A L F Smith (57 Sqn kwf 27/9/1918). From America came A A Allen (46 Sqn kia 11/10/1917), H K Boysen (66 Sqn), E B Garnett (61 T S kwf 27/1/1918), F S McClurg, H A Miller, C C Robinson (66 Sqn), H A Smeeton, and A Taylor.

As can be seen four of these pilots would serve with 66.
Howard K Boysen (wia. 28 January 1918)
Pat O?Brien (pow 17 August 1917)
Paul H Raney (kia on 21 August 1917)
Charles C Robinson

After arriving in England they all underwent further flying training. Gaining his wings he was awarded Royal Aero Club certificate 5397 on 16 June 1917. Pat was sent to 23 Wing on 28 June 1917. 23 Wing main aerodrome was at South Carlton with a half flight at Thetford. By the 20 July 1917 he had been posted to Reading and 1 School of Instruction. His record indicates that he was then posted to 81 Squadron on 25 July, although 81 Squadron was not officially due to form at Scampton as a training unit until 1 August 1917 under the control of 23 Wing, but Pat O'Brian was posted to 66 Squadron in via the Pilots Pool in France on 28 July 1917. Pat joined 66 on 28 July along with E.H.Garland from New Zealand and C.H.F. Nobbs from Norfolk Island Australia, Garland was shot down on 22 August and Nobbs on 20 September both taken prisoners of war. On 17 August Pat on his first patrol of the day claimed an unidentified C type, but later in the evening, after shooting down an unidentified D type he was in turn shot down becoming a prisoner. .
Pat O?Brien was determined to escape from his German captors, and the story is well told in his inimitable style in Outwitting the Hun his book. Luckily his injuries were not too severe and on 9 September Pat O?Brien escaped from his German escort. Making his way through Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland he returned home on 19 November 1917.

He also claims to have witnessed the dogfight of the 21 August when his friend and travelling companion Paul Raney was shot down and killed, possibly by Ltn Weiss of Jasta 28. Also shot down and that day and killed was 2/Lt. William R Keast (In his book O'Brien mistakenly calls him Keith from Australia, although he was a native Brighton, Sussex, but may have emigrated to live in Carlton, Australia.), Keast is listed on the Arras Memorial.
After being presented to the King, Pat returned to the USA and his family in Momence. Whilst recuperating he wrote his book which was published in March 1918 about the time he relinquished his commission on 21 March 1918. His Military Cross was gazetted on 12 December 1919.

After his return to America it is known that Pat spent some time in Cuba, where it is thought he met his wife to be Virginia E Allen from Washington, they moved to California and made a film called Shadows of the West, which was released in 1921 not long after his death. Virginia stared in the film with Pat, using her stage name of Virginia Dale. Things turned bad between Pat and his wife, and they separated. On 18 December 1920 Pat O'Brien committed suicide in his room at the Alexandria Hotel Los Angeles.

His sister Clara Clegg and other members of the family claimed the death was caused by murder, but on 30 December 1920, Capt. Charles R Moffatt of the Los Angeles Detective Bureau announced that a second investigation of the death confirmed the findings of the first investigation.

This page is the copyright of John Grech August 2003.

BackNext Home