The Goldfish Club badge: Rhodri Marsden's Interesting Objects

Number 37
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Indy Lifestyle Online

If you fancy getting hold of one of these cloth badges featuring a goldfish with wings magically rising out of choppy waters, there's only one proper way of doing it. 1) Crash into water from a malfunctioning aircraft. 2) Be rescued. 3) Submit your application form to The Goldfish Club.

* The club, which "keeps alive the spirit of comradeship arising from the mutual experience of members surviving 'coming down in the drink'" was founded during the Second World War by CA 'Robbie' Robertson, chief draughtsman at PB Cow, manufacturers of air-sea rescue equipment. Aircrew who'd survived a ditching incident with the aid of dinghies and Mae Wests (life jackets) would visit the factory and recount their stories; this inspired Robertson to have an insignia designed, with gold representing life and fish representing the sea.

* Rationing by the Ministry of Supply forced Robertson to seek alternative sources of black cloth for the badges. Employees of PB Cow starting donating old dinner suits and, after an appeal was published in the Daily Express, suits began to arrive from all over the country. By the end of the war the club had 9,000 members, and the badge had pride of place in both the Imperial War Museum and the Australian War Museum.

* After the war, reunion dinners began to be held; one year the club received a message from Mae West herself, expressing pride that her name was associated with sea rescue.

* Soon, civilians began to be accepted into the club, too. Today's application form requires details of the cause of the crash, the time spent in water and an account of the rescue. In April 2012, Sir Richard Branson, whose repeated ballooning failures made him eminently eligible, proudly announced the receipt of his own badge on Facebook.