Dad, Philip, was born on the 15th of December, 1918, to parents Creswell and Bice Brentnall. He was the youngest of 3 (with brother, George and sister, Margaret) and he was born in Manchester, where the Brentnall line can be traced as far back as 1503. Creswell was a doctor and Bice a Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music.
During WWI, Creswell was a ship’s doctor, and, shortly after leaving the Royal Navy, he moved, via Birch in Essex, to a practice in Turnham Green, where, because of London’s bad pollution, Dad had so many bouts of pneumonia that Creswell was told if he didn’t move away, Dad might not survive. The family moved to the Mendips, near Wells, in Somerset for four years before returning to Essex and settling in Brightlingsea on the coast. Evidently clean air did the trick!
Through his near century of life, Dad has witnessed enormous change. He recounted early memories of: watching the gas street-lights in Turnham Green being lit by hand; milk delivered by horse and cart with pints ladled out; gentian violet being painted onto his inflamed tonsils; the earth closet at the Devon farm; and the family car being manually crank-handle started. His first phone number was …. 7! He lived through: the discovery of penicillin, WWII, and the arrival of the computer, internet and mobile phones (embracing all of the latter). He was born shortly after the first manned flight and he witnessed supersonic transport, man landing on the moon and, today, commercial airliners flying half way round the planet non-stop.
Dad attended West Buckland School in Devon from the age of 8 – 16. The regime was austere with cold baths, strictly enforced discipline, church twice every Sunday, and a terrifying matron figure. Here he started his lifelong love of Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. He shone academically, with Mathematics, Science and Latin being his favourite subjects. On departure in 1935, he was awarded the Fortescue Medal, presented to the most outstanding school pupil of the year.
On leaving school, Dad became articled to a firm of Chartered Accountants, starting in Colchester and later moving to London. After his final exams he volunteered for the RAF. After his induction in the UK, he crossed the Atlantic on the converted Queen Mary 1 (where his love of bridge was cemented during the five day crossing) and he trained to fly in Americus, Georgia. Returning to the UK in 1942, he joined Squadron 218, Bomber Command, where he flew Stirlings and Lancasters becoming Squadron Leader in 1944. Aged 25, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in creating the D-Day decoy flotilla.
Since the war, Dad has never talked about what went on out there, so we will never know how cold, alone and terrified he and those young men with him felt. Self-effacing to the last, he never sought any credit for his part in delivering the safe and free country we have lived in or enjoyed since – a luxury we must never forget.
After the war, he transferred to commercial 4 engined flying with BOAC, earning Captaincy after 6 months. He enjoyed a pioneering aviator’s career flying early propeller aircraft with steam driven autopilots, Captaining the world’s first jet passenger service to Johannesburg in April 1952 in the ill-fated Comet 1, and flying delivery runs from Seattle of BOAC’s first Boeing 707 in 1960 and 747 in 1971. He ceased flying at the end of 1976 and completed his time with BA in March 1982, easing into retirement with a part time accounting and systems role in Gerrards Cross, arrived at by bicycle.
His broader career achievements are many, including a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air, in 1966, and the Guild of Air Pilots Cumberbatch Trophy in 1980 for Personal Contribution to Safety in Aviation. That award notes: “From the start of his career in aviation, Capt Brentnall was recognised as an outstanding instructor, who took a leading part in establishing the training standards for most of the aircraft types introduced by BOAC. He has been involved in the training of flight crews for jet aircraft for some 28 years, longer than any other instructor. By far the majority of all 4 engined jet pilots in the UK received their training under his guidance. The training and safety standards of British Airways are looked up to throughout the world of aviation. No one man has been more responsible for those standards than Capt Philip Brentnall.
Dad met Mum in 1956 and they were married two years later at All Souls, Langham Place. It was a small occasion as Dad said he wouldn’t come if Mum planned a big celebration! They moved to Gerrards Cross in 1959, and made many lifelong friends at school gates, and through St James’ Church, where Dad was baptised and confirmed in 1962, when Stewart and I were small. Our favourite memories are of a quiet, patient and fun father who tended a perfect garden, pushed us round in a wheelbarrow, taught us the names of garden birds, solved mathematical puzzles with us at the kitchen table, performed conjuring tricks such as pushing coins through the same table or pulling his thumb off, and he read us many bedtime stories. Dad ran a strict regime (including a teenage lie-in deadline time of 9am for me and a maximum hair length for Stewart!), but he was consistently loving and fair, always providing a knee to sit on, a polo mint to eat and a cuddle when needed. For the last 26 years, his Jordans home has been a haven of family love and warmth cherished by us, his children–in–law and his grandchildren.
As a result of Dad’s flying vocation, products from America graced our home long before they were commercially available in the UK. Dad became a district renowned chef on our barbecue and we have family ciné films dating back to the 1950s. We were also treated to many truly memorable family holidays to far away destinations. Dad was, in his quiet way, supportive of our academic and sporting pursuits, a sounding board for our career aspirations and a strong moral compass for us as adolescents in the 1970s. Quite simply, he was always there for us.
Apart from being a wonderful father, Dad was a gentle and caring husband to his beloved Mops. When not looking after us, they spent countless hours together around the bridge table, buried in crosswords and enjoying various theatres, concert halls and opera venues. When we became dog owners the extra dimension of family walks became a regular fixture, culminating in our annual hiking week in the Brecon Beacons. Memories of just how much Dad and Mum loved their retirement together, and did so much with family and friends is inspirational, as is the extraordinary legacy of the selfless care and support Dad gave Mum in the comfort and security of their own home as her health declined and finally failed 5 ½ years ago.
In the years since Mum died, I have loved seeing Dad at least once a week and often more. His dry sense of humour took us through those early months of grief. We spent hours together walking his little dog, having picnics at Windsor Great Park and enjoying our shared love of crosswords and jigsaw puzzles along with the occasional game of cribbage.
Dad has shared in his grandchildren’s lives with immense pleasure and has embraced becoming a great grandfather with his usual humour and generosity. Just a few weeks ago, Ezekiel called him “Papapa”.
So how do we best remember our loving and wonderful Dad, Grandpa, Uncle, friend and mentor whom we all just thought would be here forever?
Dad was our friend and someone we all loved and respected deeply. His bridge prowess and stamina and his thoughtful, self-disciplined independence, to the very end, will never be forgotten. The warm hospitality and kindness that shaped his person and his homes will always be remembered. His love for Mum and deep grief on her loss touched us all profoundly. As one grandchild said, “we are all so lucky to have had so many years of patience, love and toilet humour”!
Our faces always brightened up when we were with him or spoke about him.
Dad, you made a difference to so many people’s lives - we shall miss you so much.