93-year-old North Van veteran shares harrowing WW2 experiences
The three newspaper clippings Alfred Brenner places on his kitchen table are more than 60 years old. They have a few small tears and are tinted yellow from old age, but otherwise they’re in good condition.
The headline “4 of 5 Planes Canadians as Nazi Ship Torpedoed” runs above Brenner’s photo in bold font. Dressed in uniform, the young pilot posed for the camera as the Second World War began.
On this day, says the newspaper article, Brenner and four other men flying torpedo-carrying aircraft were shot at by Nazi destroyers in the Bay of Biscay along the border of France and Spain. The planes in the squad were sent out to attack a blockade runner that was accompanied by five German destroyers.
When they reached the target, the article continues, three German aircraft attacked from one side and two from the other. Only one Royal Air Force plane was destroyed from the “intense flack,” while the others escaped badly damaged.
“We could see the destroyers circling and opening up with big guns,” the newspaper quoted Brenner saying at the time.
“Seconds later our kite was shaking from the shell bursts,” he continues. “Sure we got hit, but we got home safely.”
Sitting in his North Vancouver apartment where he lives with his wife, Brenner, now 93 years old, can still remember that day vividly. His parents in Toronto cut the clippings out of their local newspaper to save for him when he returned home from war.
Brenner was 21 years old in 1942 when he made up his mind he wanted to fight for Canada. A year later, he was a trained pilot based in Scotland and England.
“I wanted to fly — there was a war on — and all my friends were joining,” he tells The Outlook, sitting back in his chair.
He’s not sure yet where he will be spending Remembrance Day this year, but says he has turned on old war documentaries in the past.
When the Second World War ended in 1945, Brenner had seen many friends killed and knew he was lucky to make it home alive.
“Your life is in danger all the time,” he says, touching another newspaper clipping on the table.
He stares at a photo of himself, 69 years younger, dressed in a standard military hat and uniform.
This time, the newspaper article reads, Brenner and his crewmates were marooned nearly two days in a dinghy in the North Sea before they were rescued in the midst of machine gun fire.
As they attacked a shipping convoy off the Dutch coast, their aircraft was damaged, forcing them to ditch their plane on the way back to England.
“The aircraft sank and we had to swim to the dinghy,” remembers Brenner, adding the crew was shot at by Germans as they were rescued.
“For Brenner this was not altogether a novel experience,” the reporter writes. The summer before, his Beau-fighter crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near Portugal while he was en route to the Middle East.
Asked whether he spent most of the Second World War being afraid of what would happen next, he replies: “It was quite exciting, it was interesting. I wasn’t scared.”
Brenner was awarded a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) as a result of his service.
After the war, he retuned to civilian life and settled in Vancouver. He later had two sons, one a pilot and instructor for Boeing and the other a former Chief Justice of B.C. Today, Brenner holds 15 national titles for seniors tennis.