Airman pulled lifeless body of six-year-old girl from the sea at Emsworth

Michael Brook and his wife Daphne at their Hayling Island home.
Michael Brook and his wife Daphne at their Hayling Island home.
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Some weeks ago I wrote about a railway signalman who saved the lives of three children outside Portsmouth and Southsea station.

It appears the area has another saviour, this time one who dived into the sea at Emsworth to save the life of a six-year-old girl.

Michael Brook has never seen the girl since and wonders if she is still in the area.

It happened in 1952 when Michael was an RAF national serviceman serving at Thorney Island, near Emsworth.

It had been a black week for Michael, of which more later. He had driven his motorbike to Emsworth for a break and parked near where the yacht club is today at the bottom of South Street.

He then strolled along the sea wall called the Promenade that separates Slipper Mill Pond from Emsworth Harbour.

He was having a nap on one of the benches when he was woken by shouts. A young girl was in the water some way from the Promenade, floating in the sea.

Without a thought Michael jumped in and swam to the girl’s aid. Although still alive she was unconscious.

Michael managed to get her back to the Promenade where, with the help of onlookers, she was hauled out of the water along with Michael. The girl appeared lifeless.

He laid her down and gave her artificial respiration. Michael wasn’t sure if he was doing the procedure correctly, but luckily a woman came along who did and took over. The girl soon recovered and was taken home.

Michael tells me: ‘It was amazing. I woke up to all this shouting with someone saying there was a girl in the water but no-one was doing anything to help. They were just looking and pointing. I was not a strong swimmer but didn’t think about that. I just jumped in.’

The next day he visited the girl’s home in a now-demolished row of cottages along the shore. The girl, Gillian Britain, had recovered well and her parents could not thank Michael enough.

They told a newspaper about the incident which got back to Michael’s commander at Thorney Island and he was congratulated on his efforts.

Although all this happened 65 years ago, Michael often wonders if Gillian is still living in the area. If someone reads this and has any knowledge please get in touch.

Earlier in the same week, Michael had the shock of his life. He was due to be on duty the previous weekend but had something on. He asked his pal James Langley if he would swap duties with him. This was done and Michael went off for weekend leave.

When he returned on the Monday he had a bad bout of flu and went to see the base doctor. While he was in the waiting area a stretcher passed him with a body on it. It was his pal James with whom he had swapped duties.

James had accompanied a pilot on a circuits and bumps test flight in a Second World War Wellington bomber. The test included different flight exercises.

When the Wellington came in to land at Thorney Island the pilot had disabled the port engine in an exercise called feathering the engine. It was to prove the plane could land with one engine disabled.

As it approached the runway the engine cut out and the Wellington bellyflopped with great force in the mud alongside the officers’ mess. Both the pilot and James were killed. Michael was distraught. It should have been him in the Wellington. Worse was to come.

He and three other airmen went to see the commanding officer to ask for time off to attend James’s funeral and if they could have railway passes to London. The compassionate leave was granted, begrudgingly, but the railway passes denied so they all had to hitch-hike to London. It took five hours but they managed to arrive in time for the service.

Michael now lives in retirement on Hayling Island.