We as South Africans can be very proud of the 25 South African pilots that joined The Royal Air Force and were Churchill’s ” Few ” that flew in the Battle of Britain and thereafter, except for those that were killed during the BoB, they continued to fly throughout the war and made names for themselves as outstanding leaders as well as pilots.One of the objective we have in the Trust is to try and locate children of those ” Few ” . We have had a limited success so far but hopefully we will find more as we explore all avenues in an attempt to locate them.
One of those was Geoffrey David Leybourne Haysom whose children we managed to locate and we are pleased to include herewith a very interesting article which his daughter Cheetah sent me about her father.
David Haysom, B.Sc. (UND) D.F.C, D.S.O
David was born in October, 1917, and attended King’s Preparatory School in Nottingham Road, Kwa-Zulu-Natal. He went, on to Durban High School where, like his older brother, he was an outstanding athlete and scholar. After finishing school in 1932 David read science, gaining his BSc at Natal University in 1935. He went to England in 1936 with the intention of reading medicine at Edinburgh University, but after enjoying a chance opportunity to fly an airplane, flying became his passion. He gave up medicine in early 1937 and enrolled as a cadet officer in the Royal Air Force. He was commissioned in late 1937.
In 1938, aged 21, he joined 79 Squadron at the Biggin Hill Air Base and after war broke out he saw action in the Low Country, flying Hurricanes. When the Battle of Britain started in July 1940 he was lucky to be an experienced pilot – many were not. He soon took over the squadron after the commanding officer was killed in the air. He shot down between 5 and 7 enemy aircraft during the war – 5 during the Battle of Britain, which made him a legendary “Ace” of the air war and for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in July 1941.
Of these men Winston Churchill famously said “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
(David’s father Reggie once expressed astonishment that David had become a fighter pilot, saying his son was such a gentle natured character that he had once declined to shoot birds out of the sky.)
Shortly after the incendiary bombing raid on Coventry in November 1940, David shot was down a German Ju 88 reconnaissance plane over Coventry. Legend has it a plaque was erected in the city in his honour, though no one in his family could locate it. In the summer of 1942 he was promoted to Wing Cmdr, commanding 239 Squadron fighter-bomber wing, supporting the 8th Army in the Western Desert. At the age of 23 he was the youngest person in the RAF to have held this rank. For his service he was award the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) – presented for “extraordinary gallantry and leadership.”
He went on to the Italian Campaign where he was working in operations command, and privy to the Ultra Secret. Here he devised the air-born strategic planning system that became known as “Rover David” – an instant success that was used against enemy aircraft in the invasion of 1944. (Called “Rover Joe” it is still used by the United States Air Force, which acknowledges David Haysom as the originator of the air support system.* He ended the war at the rank of Group Captain (the Royal Air Force equivalent of Colonel in the Army).
While on active service in Italy he met Antoinette ‘Toni’ Gabrielle Brenna Beckett, serving with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). They married in November 1944 in Naples, Italy. Toni, who had attended Oxford University, was the daughter of Ronald Brymer Beckett (1891-1970), a High Court Judge in India under the British Raj. She had worked in radar intelligence, briefly based at Blechley Park, and was also privy to the Ultra Secret – something neither of them let on to the other until it slipped out inadvertently 40 years later.
In South Afriva he was regarded as a war hero and on Battle of Britain anniversaries he laid a wreath in honour of his many comrade pilots who died. He never spoke to his children of his war experience,never considered himself a hero or boasted about being an ACE. He had regard for the German pilots who flew Messerschmitt 109’s – the equivalent of the Hurricanes and Spitfires of the RAF.
Thank you very much Cheetah for sharing these personal details about your father with us.