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Lives Remembered: Christy O'Brien

Christy O'Brien, who has died at the age of 91, was one of the last surviving members of the RAF Regiment attached to Bomber Command during the Second World War.

Christopher O'Brien had emigrated to London from his native Cork City in Ireland in search of work in 1932 aged just 15. He quickly found a job as a painter and decorator until the outbreak of war in 1939. Joining the RAF, he was stationed at several bomber stations around England with the rank of Leading Aircraftman, always refusing promotion to senior ranks despite recommendations and encouragement from his commanding officers.

He was an anti-aircraft gunner during many Luftwaffe bombing raids on his airfields. Christy was involved in many acts of bravery but was always reticent to talk about these, although he did regale his family and friends with many other anecdotes from his war years. He was invalided out of the RAF in early 1945 after sustaining serious injuries in a road accident.

Throughout his life, he was regarded as a man of courage and great humour. He bore the ailments and infirmities of advanced age with fortitude. He was active right up until recent times and often returned to Cork with his family to visit his relatives and many friends in the city. He was a popular member of the Royal British Legion's South Harrow Branch, West London Trades Union Club and Our Lady of the Visitation Parish Club.

He was also a great sports fan, supporting Ireland in football and rugby union. He was also a staunch Gaelic games supporter, a Manchester United follower and a boxing fan. He liked a flutter on the horses and was remarkably astute at picking winners. He was the life and soul of any party, loved to sing – he had a song for every occasion – and also played the accordion and harmonica. He remained young at heart to the end.

Christy, a journeyman painter for most of his working life who did contract work on exhibitions in Earls Court and Olympia and also worked as a staff painter at Ealing Hospital, was particularly proud of his trade union involvement. He was awarded Life Membership of UCATT, which he joined in March 1945, for 50 years' active service at a ceremony in West London Trades Union Club in 1996 attended by senior trade union officials and local dignitaries. He also received a letter of congratulations from his local Labour MP, Harry Greenway.

Above all, Christy was a family man. He was greatly loved by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was also known to be charitable in word and deed. He celebrated his 69th wedding anniversary in June with his beloved Rose. Christy and Rose had moved to a lovely new flat in sheltered accommodation shortly before he became ill and went into hospital. Sadly, he did not live to enjoy his new home or get to know his neighbours – who, undoubtedly, would have become firm friends of this gregarious Irishman.

Christy died on Sunday 18 October at Ealing Hospital after a brief illness just two months short of what would have been his 92nd birthday on 22 December. He is survived by his widow, Rose, three sons, Terry, Michael and Tom, two daughters, Marie and Lynda, sisters, Mary, Nora and Lizzie, 11 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, nephews, nieces, sons- and daughters-in-law. Among the mourners was the former Ealing Mayor Philip Portwood, representing West London Trades Union Club, as well as UCATT colleagues and his many friends.

Jim Humphries

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