club history

The rubber company, P B Cow,  originated in 1826.  Mr Cow was a great inventor and innovator, not only in rubber. He wrote a book `Cow on Boats` with illustrations of amphibious vehicles, landing craft and buoyancy aids.  Trials took place in the Boar War.  The company made miscellaneous articles in rubber and was fabricating hand made goods including diving suits and hot water bottles (a speciality).


By 1938 the company were in difficulties and a new director was appointed.  He was Mr C Renton-Coombes (an Australian) who set about looking for military contracts and acquired a trial order for gas masks – this was at the time of Munich.  Immediately orders flooded in and within 3 months  the firm was employing 300 women, all on piecework.  Meanwhile the head office was experimenting with several other wartime requirements and out of this came the production of dinghies.The main force behind  the development was Mr C. A. Robertson who was the Chief Draughtsman of P B Cow.  In addition `Robbie` was responsible for the Ministry of Aircraft Production Air Sea Rescue Equipment Drawing Office.  This department had taken over the experimental work done by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.  Farnborough made working drawings of dinghies and other ASR equipment which were produced by factories in the UK, Commonwealth and USA.


Many ditched aircrew visited Robbie at the factory to discuss their experiences after ditching and who owed their lives to the Mae West and rubber dinghies produced by PB Cow.  After hearing some of these stories Robbie had the idea of forming an official club for Airmen who had survived a successful wartime ditching.  Such a club, he felt, would enable members to meet and exchange experiences.


With P B Cow`s financial backing the club was named the Goldfish Club – Gold for the value of life and fish for the sea – and a badge was designed showing a white winged Goldfish flying above two symbolic blue waves.  Each member received a heat sealed membership card and an embroidered badge.


Due to wartime regulations the production of wire badges was prohibited.  But an appeal in the Daily Express by William Hickey produced many redundant evening suits from which the cloth badges were produced.  The badge was worn by the Navy on their Mae West`s and in the RAF it was worn under the left hand battle dress pocket due to RAF regulations !


The first real article about the club appeared in the Aeroplane magazine on the 26 March 1943, however the spoken word was ahead of the written because Wynford Vaughn Thomas, for the BBC, had already broadcast an interview with Robbie and two aircrew who had ditched on their first operational flight.


News of the formation of the club had spread rapidly, even to POW camps, where eligible aircrew soon claimed membership.  Their cards and badges were sent to their next of kin.  While the Air Ministry did NOT acknowledge the clubs existence Squadron Adjutants started forwarding membership application forms for their own crews who had qualified. The RAF Intelligence branch occasionally ran checks to make sure that no official secrets were being divulged in the ditching reports. In 1944 the Imperial War Museum requested specimens of the club badge and membership card for inclusion in their section devoted to WW2.


By the end of the war the club had over 9000 members and it had been intended that further membership should cease.  However membership application forms continued to be submitted to P B Cow and it was obvious that the spirit of the club was still very much alive.  Robbie resigned from P B Cow in 1947 to start a business in his own account.  He retained all the club records so that he could continue the administration at his own expense.  In Jan 1951, Raymond Blunt, who was  Editor of the RAFA magazine `Airmail` contacted Robbie for news of the club and as a result he published a series of articles on individual wartime ditching experiences.  Many members wrote in and enquired about the possibility of a reunion dinner.  With this encouragement Robbie and Raymond Blunt organised the first dinner at the `The White House Restaurant` in London on 26 May 1951.  The dinner was a great success and it was decided to organise the club on a permanent basis, managed by a committee which was finally elected on 6 March 1953.  The reunion dinners have been held annually ever since at various locations with many distinguished guests.  In the early days of the formation of the Club, and by kind permission of the Royal Air Force Reserves Club (14 South Street, W1) the Club was allowed to use their premises as a London address and Committee Meetings were held there until that Club closed in 1970.  Meetings were subsequently held in the RNVR Club, the Pathfinder Club and finally the Sesame Club.


The Club insignia has been embroidered on to ties, woven into cravats, printed on Christmas Cards, cast into horse bronzes and emblazoned on cuff links, lapel badges and motor-car badges.


A Club constitution and rules were drawn up to define eligibility for membership and all other aspects of administration, and a regular newsletter, currently three a year, is published to cover news of social activities, new membership details and items of news from members at home and overseas.

   

In 1955 eight epic stories were gathered together and published under the title `Down in the Drink`. The author was Ralph Barker and later editions were published by Pan books – it cost just 2/6d!



Footnote:


Richard Branson escaped from his trans-Atlantic balloon and could have become our first `lighter-than-air` Goldfish, but declined membership.


Gloria Pullen ditched a 1911 vintage Bleriot monoplane on an attempt to fly across the Channel and became our sole Lady Goldfish, although not the first.


With just 500 members, worldwide, and an annual subscription of just £5, we have become too small to enjoy special premises.  The Committee members work from their homes on a voluntary basis to keep us `afloat` as long as possible.  We exist now as a comradely entity with the aim of keeping in touch.  This we do by means of our newsletter and an annual get-together.


We also remember those gallants of the Air Sea Rescue Service who risked, and sometimes gave, their lives to enable us to live full lives later.