JEFFREY PETER MEURISSE HAYDON, DFC
IN THE grounds of the Royal Military College at Duntroon in Canberra is a heritage-listed timber cottage, Haydon House. Today it is the residence of the Regimental Sergeant Major Army.
Completed in 1913, the house was where Jeffrey Peter Meurisse Haydon, known to everyone as Peter, was born in the same year.
Months shy of 100 years later at Brighton in Melbourne, Haydon died, thinning even further the ranks of the Australians who flew and
fought with Britain's Bomber Command in World War II.
His death ended a lifelong link with all three of Australia's armed services.
As a youth he grew up with the army cadets flowing through the RMC. As a young adult he flew bombing missions over Europe and south-east Asia, and after the war he had a career as a civilian with the Royal Australian Navy.
His birthplace, at 4 Robert Campbell Road, Duntroon, was built to house the RMC's first professor of modern languages, J.F.M. Haydon, who came from Scotch College, Melbourne, to fill the post in January 1912.
Professor Haydon and his family were to become long-time residents of Canberra. He and his wife Beryl (nee Price) had three sons who grew up at Duntroon, and who would often join the cadets in hikes and sporting events and made strong friendships with many of Australia's future military leaders.
After he left Duntroon, Professor Haydon and
Dr L.H. Allen (1879-1964) were the first lecturers appointed
full-time to the teaching staff of Canberra University College, the foundation of the Australian National University. Haydon was a senior lecturer in modern languages. Allen, senior lecturer in English and Latin, had been professor of English at Duntroon.
The ANU's Haydon-Allen Building and the Haydon-Allen Lecture Theatre are named after them.
Peter Haydon believed his birth was the first registered for the new capital city after Canberra's founding ceremony on Capital Hill on March 12, 1913.
He and his brothers were foundation students of Canberra Grammar School
on its first day of classes on February 5, 1929.
After leaving school, Haydon worked for 10 years with the CSIRO and in private industry
in Canberra. He was one of the fledgling city's young social set and at a dance one evening he met Clarice ("Claire") Metford, the younger daughter of the Commonwealth's Commissioner of Pensions, Alfred Metford. As war loomed in Europe, they started going out together.
Despite Haydon's youthful years at Duntroon, it was the Air Force that attracted him when he decided to enlist in 1940, and the same year he and Claire married. After six months' training with the RAAF he was posted to England as a bomber pilot.
He initially flew slow old Whitley bombers on raids over Europe, but one particular raid stood out.
The British were puzzled
by a tower the Germans had erected on a clifftop at Bruneval, a village on the French coast. Believing it to be a Wurzburg radar that was behind heavy losses of Allied bombers, the Chief of Combined Operations, Lord Louis Mountbatten, authorised a raid, Operation Biting, to steal its secrets.
On the night of February 27, 1942, 12 RAF Whitley bombers of 51 Squadron, each carrying 10 paratroops of the 1st Airborne Division, took off from Thruxton aerodrome. Flying low despite heavy anti-aircraft fire on the coast, they dropped their paratroopers and an RAF radio mechanic near Bruneval.
Haydon was captain of one of the Whitleys. In his flight log he noted "flak on cliffs and half mile inland also flak ships" then "10 paratroops dropped from 275ft".
Many years afterwards he said they flew so low that at one stage the anti-aircraft guns above the valley could not depress their barrels far enough to aim at the aircraft.
The soldiers fought their way to the cliffs, where the technician dismantled the radar. They retreated to the beach with most of the vital pieces of the equipment, and fought off beach defences and German reinforcements before the Royal Navy picked them up for the trip back to England. The naval part of the operation was commanded by an Australian, Commander
F.N. Cook of the RAN.
Operation Biting's planners had expected heavy casualties, including loss of aircraft, but in the event all the planes returned safely despite some being hit by flak. On the ground two men were killed, seven wounded and six were missing, all of whom survived the war. The raid was a spectacular success. Two German prisoners were
brought back, one of them the Wurzburg's operator.
Four-engine Halifax bombers were by now replacing the old Whitleys in the RAF, and Haydon flew his Halifax,
code-named M for Mother, in raids over Germany until the night of August 6, 1942. He was with RAF 158 Squadron, flying from East Moor in Yorkshire, when his aircraft caught fire about 30 kilometres west of its target, Duisberg. The fire, in incendiaries in the bomb bay, killed the three crew members in the rear of the aircraft. The navigator, radio operator and front gunner baled out.
Haydon was last out, holding the plane steady while the others left. He suffered burns to the head and right shoulder, and knocked himself unconscious on the edge of the escape hatch as he left the aircraft. He could not remember pulling his parachute ripcord but regained consciousness as he floated to earth. M for Mother crashed near Genk in Belgium.
Haydon thought he came to ground about 30 kilometres from the other crew. He began walking, and after a couple of days saw a youth on the road ahead beckoning him. He followed, keeping his distance, and the youth guided him by hand signals to a small farmhouse.
Thus began a two-month adventure that involved the Belgian and French Resistance, a surreptitious reunion on a railway station with his three surviving crew members, false papers, train trips across France guided by schoolgirls and young women, and a stay in the loft of a Paris apartment building.
The building housed, in its lower floors, a brothel whose customers were German military officers. Above them, the airmen and other Allied escapees dined and wined in style on gifts ferried up from downstairs redirected tokens of appreciation from the Germans to the girls downstairs.
After a long train trip through France, again guided at a distance by schoolgirls and young women, the four airmen from M for Mother made a frantic rush across the border to Spain while German bullets whistled around them.
In Spain, the Basques sheltered them until the British ambassador sent his Rolls-Royce to San Sebastian to fetch them to the embassy in Madrid, then on to the naval base at Gibraltar.
In Gibraltar, Haydon and his Australian navigator, Ivan Davies, found themselves stranded
without papers because the
British suspected they might be Nazi plants.
By a happy chance, an old friend of Haydon's from
Melbourne walked into a bar where he and Davies were having a beer. The friend, Dick Shipton, was a junior officer on the battle cruiser HMS Malaya, and he
talked his captain into taking them on the Malaya back to England.
After 19 missions, Haydon was never to fly in action over Europe again. He knew too much about the Resistance and the risks were too great. In November 1942 he joined No. 1652 Conversion
Unit at Marston Moor, training Whitley pilots for Halifaxes, serving under Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, VC, one of the Allied air heroes of World War II. He and Cheshire became good friends.
In January 1943 at Buckingham Palace, King George VI pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on Haydon's best uniform.
Haydon, now a squadron leader, was with the conversion unit until November 1943, making multiple requests to be sent home to Australia to join the Pacific War. With Cheshire's help he returned to Australia in 1944, where he flew B24 Liberator heavy bombers from airfields in the north of Australia and from New Guinea in action against the Japanese, first with the USAF 528 Squadron and then with the RAAF's No. 24 Squadron.
Before being discharged in August 1945, Haydon spent six months at RAAF headquarters in Melbourne.
After the war he had a variety of jobs before joining the supplies organisation of the Department of the Navy, where he worked in support duties for the Fleet Air Arm, including a stint in the Australian embassy in Washington in the 1960s.
He spoke little of his war experiences for many years afterwards.
He and Claire did not have children. Claire died in
Melbourne on August 21, 1999. Haydon died peacefully at Mayflower retirement home in Brighton.
He is survived by the family of his nephew, the late Michael Haydon, of Brighton, whose widow Barbara Haydon and her family were a great support to him.