I had been aware for a while that 75(NZ) Squadron had an association with the ‘Great Escape’ from Stalag Luft 3, immortalised, of course, in the film of the same name. A few weeks ago, whilst at my Mother’s 90th birthday party, I was remarking on the same fact to a relative who had asked me about the blog and research on Bob.
Incredibly, on returning home I received an email from Dianne about her father, Jack Haydon – who had been involved in the escape from Stalag Luft III. My initial excitement about the contact was increased when it dawned on me later that Jack was the sole survivor of the Roberts crew, who were lost on the night of the 31st August on the Berlin Raid. My interest in this crew has existed since the early days of my research when I discovered through the Squadron ORB’s that the crew had arrived at Mepal with my father and his crew from 1651 Conversion Unit. My initial investigations had led me to pictures of some of the Roberts crew, but at the time I had not been able to find anything about Jack – including his Christian name. It shames me to admit that with the time involved processing information on the other aircrews that was being sent to me that even when I received the Squadron Nominal Roll from Stewart, I didn’t think to look for Jack in the Roll.
In a return mail to Dianne, I included a group picture including dad from 1651 – I had already identified Eric Roberts, the Wireless Operator Kensington Jackson and Darcy Haub, the Rear Gunner. Dianne was unable to identify Jack in the image – but I am confident we will find him.
The Roberts Crew were;
F/Sgt Eric John Roberts RNZAF NZ417107. Pilot .
Died Tuesday 31st August 1943, age 25, during a raid on Berlin. Buried Hanover War Cemetery Germany.
24.7.43 first 2nd Dickie flight with the Whitehead crew – Hamburg.
25.7.43 second 2nd Dickie flight with the Baile crew – Essen.
F/O. Robert Gorman Rainford RAFVR 134553. Navigator.
Died Tuesday 31st August 1943, age 28, during a raid on Berlin. Buried Hanover War Cemetery Germany.
Plt Off John Cecil Giles RAFVR 138329. Air Bomber.
Died Tuesday 31st August 1943, age 19, during a raid on Berlin. Buried Hanover War Cemetery, Germany.
F/Sgt Kensington Campbell Jackson RNZAF NZ 42330. Wireless Operator.
Died Tuesday 31st August 1943, age 23, during a raid on Berlin. Buried Hanover War Cemetery, Germany.
Sgt Eric Saunders RAFVR 1605321. Flight Engineer.
Died Tuesday 31st August 1943 , age 20, during a raid on Berlin. Buried Hanover War Cemetery Germany.
F/O Jack Henry Haydon RAAF AUS.408400. Mid Upper Gunner.
Shot down night of 31st Aug 1943 during a raid on Berlin, the sole survivor of a crew of seven. PoW # 2366. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft III. Safe UK NK.
F/Sgt Darcy Leslie Conrad Haub RNZAF NZ42326. Rear Gunner.
Died Wednesday 31st September 1943, age 23, during a raid on Berlin. Buried Hanover War Cemetery, Germany.
Roberts crew Operational History;
27.7.43 Hamburg EE897 AA-G
29.7.43 Hamburg EH880 AA-J
2.8.43 Hamburg BF518 AA-E
6.8.43 Mining in the Gironde Estuary EF461
16.8.43 Turin EF518
23.8.43 Berlin EE918 AA-D
27.8.43 Nuremburg EE918 AA-D
30.8.43 Munchen-Gladbach EE918 AA-D
31.8.43 Berlin Failed to Return. EE918 AA-D
Dianne sent the following regards the event of that tragic night;
On the night of 31 August, 1943 he was mid-upper gunner in Stirling Mk.111 EE918 AA-D and was returning home, having dropped bombs on Berlin, when the aircraft was hit by enemy fire. The aircraft sustained damage but continued to fly for possibly 10 – 15 minutes. Eric, the pilot radioed Jack (as mid upper gunner he was the closest to the rear gun turret) and requested that he go back and check on Darcy (rear gunner) because he had heard nothing from him since the attack. Jack discovered that he was dead and was returning to his position when there was an explosion which broke the plane into two pieces.
Jack, the only member of the crew not in his position, was not in his harness and therefore fell out of the plane which went down with the rest of the crew all still harnessed in. Upon landing, Jack only suffered a badly injured foot, which caused him trouble for the rest of his life. He began walking to habitation, where he was captured.
After being given medical treatment for his , Jack was now a Prisoner of War and was first moved to Dulag Luft.
Dulag Luft was the abbreviated name given to Prisoner of War (POW) transit camps for Air Force prisoners captured by Germany during the Second World War. Their main purpose was to act as collection and interrogation centres for newly captured aircrew, before being transferred in batches to the permanent camps. Dulag Luft derives from the German Durchgangslager der Luftwaffe (Transit Camp – Air Force). Several camps where set up throughout Germany and the occupied countries, however the main centre used throughout the war was at Oberursel near Frankfurt. A satellite camp at Wetzlar was set up later in the war to help cope with the large numbers of aircrew captured as the bombing campaign intensified against Germany. Allegations of interrogation under torture have been made by numerous POWs who passed through the camps.
Jack was next moved to the now (in)famous Stalag Luft III.
Stalag Luft III (Stammlager Luft, or main camp for aircrew) was a Luftwaffe-run prisoner-of-war camp during World War II that housed captured air force servicemen. It was in the German province of Lower Silesia near the town of Sagan (now Żagań in Poland), 100 miles (160 km) southeast of Berlin. The site was selected because it would be difficult to escape by tunneling. The camp is best known for two famous prisoner escapes that took place there by tunneling, which were depicted in the films The Great Escape (1963) and The Wooden Horse (1950), and the books by former prisoners Paul Brickhill and Eric Williams from which these films were adapted.
During his incarceration, Jack “celebrated” his 21st birthday and the birth of his first daughter.
One of the activities he participated in was stacking wood on the back of a truck. The instructions were to put a nail in every 5th /6th log to secure the load for travel. The prisoners placed a nail in every log so that the logs were absolutely solid wood when they came to be unloaded. Apparently, every PoW took very seriously the order to hinder the enemy in any way possible!
Jack was involved in the preparations for the Great Escape. His skill as a cabinetmaker was useful to maintain the stability of the bunks which were depleted of wood and he also had gold fillings in his teeth which were removed to make compasses.
On the night of the escape Jack was waiting to go when the alarm was raised. Like others, he was placed in solitary confinement for at least 3 week and on 5 days running was dragged out and actually lined up in front of a firing squad. No one knows why he was not shot, but one theory was that he was young and good-looking and as Hitler wanted a pure Aryan race he may have been spared for that. He was also given a photograph of a young, pretty blonde woman, maybe to encourage his willingness.
Towards the end of the war, when defeat was inevitable, the Germans removed the prisoners and they began “The March”.
“The March” refers to a series of forced marches during the final stages of the Second World War in Europe. From a total of 257,000 western Allied prisoners of war held in German military prison camps, over 80,000 POWs were forced to march westward across Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Germany in extreme winter conditions, over about four months between January and April 1945. This series of events has been called various names: “The Great March West”, “The Long March”, “The Long Walk”, “The Long Trek”, “The Black March”, “The Bread March”, but most survivors just called it “The March”. As the Soviet Army was advancing, German authorities decided to evacuate POW camps, to delay liberation of the prisoners. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of German civilian refugees, most of them women and children, as well as civilians of other nationalities, were also making their way westward on foot, in hazardous weather conditions.
Jack Haydon was returned to England and later embarked on a ship headed for the war against Japan, but peace was declared while he was en route – Dianne does not know if he was returned to England or Australia at that stage.
On his return home he spent many weeks in rehabilitation and in truth, she believes he suffered from PTSD for the rest of his life. He apparently did manage to write to the families of at least 2 of the 3 NZ members of his crew.
Jack Henry Haydon died at the age of 48, in 1971.