Posted in Stories

Wing Commander Kenneth Selby Brown

My Only Photo of Kenneth Selby Brown
My Only Photo of
Kenneth Selby Brown

Kenneth Selby-Brown is the husband of my 1/2 cousin once removed, so his connection to me is actually quite distant, and only through marriage.  He not only had an incredibly interesting career but suffered heartbreaking lows in his personal life, so I believe he has earned his place in our family and should be remembered by all.

Kenneth was born in Surrey, England on 24 October 1909 in a house on Cheam Common Road in Cuddington, although the birth was not recorded until the December of that year.  As Kenneth was the fifth and last child born to his parents John Alexander and Theresa Beatrice nee: Rusbridge, he was welcomed quietly into the home and grew up playing with his older siblings.  He had three older brothers – John Selby Brown, Denis Selby Brown and Leslie Selby Brown and one sister Constance Margaret Brown.  You will note that all four male children carried the middle name of Selby and it must have carried a great significance for this family, but to date I have been unable to find the person that was the catalyst for the middle name of these children.

On 2 April 1911 Kenneth is listed as a two year old living with his parents in Wealdstone, Middlesex, England  but then there is no reference to him until an entry of arrival into Australia of  a Kenneth Brown who could be our Kenneth when he was about 17 years old, and he appears to have travelled here alone.  This is yet to be confirmed, however I can find no other entry that fits his birth.

In the Australian Electoral Rolls for Victoria in 1934 Kenneth is listed as Kenneth Selhy Brown c/- A. Terrill, Rutherglen, farm labourer.

By 1936 Kenneth is residing in Mildura, New South Wales and seems to have been involved in both labouring and mechanic work in that area.  It is intriguing that there is a Leslie Selby Brown living in the area at this time, but I have not proved a connection between the two men at this time.  It is possible though that the young Kenneth came to Australia to join his brother Leslie Selby Brown; I will have to do some more research to try to validate this point!

In 1937 Kenneth is  listed on the Australian Electoral Rolls as living at Commercial Street, Merbein, Victoria and working as a labourer.

It is in Mildura though that the we know that Kenneth met Barbara Alice Hitchins, the Australian Aviatrix. Barbara was grounded whilst she was made repairs to her Gypsy Moth plane in Mildura during 1937 but just how they became acquainted is not known.  After falling deeply in love Kenneth finally asked Barbara to marry him and their engagement was announced in newspapers across the country on 4 November 1938. Interestingly, all the articles in relation to the engagement state Kenneth’s name as Kenneth Brown or Kenneth Selby Brown.

Airwoman EngagedEngagement Notice

I can imagine the excitement when Kenneth received a letter dated 30 Dec 1939 advising he’d been selected by the Air Board to “undergo a course of flying training for appointment either to a commission on probation with the rank of Pilot Officer or as an Airman Pilot with rank of Sergeant” dependant upon his success in the course.  Kenneth was required to report to No. 4 Elementary Flying Training School at Mascot, New South Wales on Monday 8 Jan 1940 “in readiness to take up duty” as an Air Cadet.  Kenneth was recommended for a Flying Badge and for PASS of 67.84% on 25 May 1940 and by 30 Dec 1940 Kenneth had just managed to scrape through his Abridged Navigation Reconnaissance Course which was held in Darwin in the Northern Territory.


Kenneth Flew an Anson

From May 1941 to July 1941 Kenneth was posted in Darwin and undertook a “Short Astronomical Course”, which he failed.  The comments of the Officer conducting the course was ” Could possibly do better with coaching but failed in G. R. course – not considered suitable”.  It does not state what position Kenneth was not suited for however it had become evident that whilst Kenneth may have been good in the air, he was not and academic.

During the early part of October 1941 Kenneth took a Flying Instructors Course in which he received a PASS with 1456 points out of a possible 2000.  The general remarks on his Summary of Marks Obtained state ” Keen and confident.  Low marks in ground subjects due partly to illness during course.  Considered suitable as Pilot Navigation Instructor”.  The report was dated 16 Oct 1941.

With the outbreak of World War 2 Kenneth joined the Royal Australian Defence Force, and was stationed in Darwin as a pilot, flying to New Guinea and Borneo. He appears to have flown cargo planes which provided much needed food and munitions to the troops on the ground. Kenneth was commended on his efforts and received a citation for:

From August, 1943, until the end of December 1943, whilst flying as captain of Dakota aircraft operating outside Australia, in New Guinea, and to islands north of New Guinea, Squadron Leader BROWN flew more than 130 sorties, both with and without fighter cover. 

Since January 1944, in addition to flying transports in operational areas, he has been engaged in the training of parachute troops and pilots for paratroop and supply dropping, during which he volunteered for and carried out a parachute jump.  Whilst carrying out this work, he has also been responsible for the training of many pilots for transport flying. 

Sqaudron Leader BROWN has proved to be a most competent and versatile pilot, and throughout his service totalling over 2,500 hours’ flying, has demonstrated a capacity for hard work and devotion to duty of the highest order.”

In 1943 Kenneth is listed in the Australian Electoral Rolls for the Northern Territory in Darwin, as a Pilot Officer.

From: Museum A1 Hawker Fury box. A1-60 Hawker Fury A-A over clouds, c. 1939 Museum Job No 00-134Hudson MK 1Kittyhawk

Kenneth Flew Hawker Demons, Hudson Mk 1 & 2 and Kittyhawks

At some point after he joined the Air Force Kenneth’s surname appears to have been changed to Selby-Brown.  It had never been Selby-Brown except for one occasion when he notified his superiors of his marriage to Barbara Alice.  He had filled out all his induction papers as Kenneth Selby Brown and any correspondence relating to his professional performance was always addressed to Kenneth Selby Brown.  There is a possibility that the use of a hyphen in the surname came into play through his wife Barbara Alice. Certainly, Kenneth’s father and grandfather had the surname of Brown.

Kenneth was posted to Tamworth, New South Wales for a flying course from 25 Jan 1943 to 10 Feb 1943 where his record states the was “an average pilot who has shown considerable improvement”.

Kenneth and Barbara were very much in love when they got married in 1940 but the marriage was destined to be an incredibly unhappy one. They had one child together – John Alexander Selby-Brown b. 29 Apr 1943.  Kenneth’s work and physical stamina suffered quite badly from the effects of his marriage break down during the 1950’s and very early 1960’s, and this shows quite clearly in his Royal Australian Air Force Confidential Reports (performance reviews).  The reports initially seemed to have mixed thoughts on his performance ranging from Capable to Excellent, but as the years progressed, aligning with the deterioration of his personal life, the quality of his work plummeted and he was reportedly “unsuited to his position”.  From the accounts of his work written by his superiors Kenneth seems to have suffered with depression, and a tendency to drink heavily whilst off duty. Kenneth had always been just bright enough to get himself through exams, and was more of a “hands on” person than an academic, but between the years of 1940 to 1944 he had proved himself to be a valued and a somewhat gifted Air Force Pilot.  His fall from grace is heartbreaking for us to learn about however it would have been a nightmare for him to live though.

Sadly Wing Commander Kenneth Selby Brown died in a motor vehicle accident on 9 Feb 1963 and is buried at Rookwood Cemetery in an unmarked grave.


Wing Commander Rank Insignia


Wing Commander Rank Insignia: “RAAF O5 rank” by PalawanOz – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Picture – Hawker Demon:

Picture – Kittyhawk:

Picture – Hudson Mk1:

Picture – Avro Anson:


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