Storytellers – Haydon Skudder RAF Fighter Pilot

The meeting was attended by 70 plus members. It was particularly nice to see the return of Françoise Gilroy after breaking her leg a few months ago during her morning swim. There were a number of apologies too, the best being from Peter MacCormick … he was going to the opera. Hard to beat that one!

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The presenter for the evening was Haydon Skudder, a friend of Dick Morath. Haydon joined the RAF at the age of 17 in late 1942, and flew spitfires over France from 1944 after training in Canada. In the week prior to the meeting some BBC members were questioning which war Haydon was in and so for the younger members present Clive clarified that we were referring to WW2 no WW1 and Haydon was not 117.

Dick M introduced Haydon providing the following background; Haydon is Chairman of AFM Advisers which is an MLC Apogee Financial dealership. Dick & Haydon have been friends for a long time. Back in 2005 at a conference in Darwin which was held on Anzac day and had a military flavour, Haydon gave the talk that we were to hear presented and it was absolutely riveting. A couple of months ago Haydon celebrated his 90th birthday and Dick asked him to share his story with BBC members.

Heydon-Skudder RAF Fighter Pilot

Haydon joined the RAF at age 17 in late 1942, and flew spitfires over France from 1944 after training in Canada and was shot down over enemy territory and crashlanded in late 1944.

Haydon commenced his tale by showing a short video. It really set the scene as we saw and indeed heard the propellers of a spitfire fire up and take to the skies. Haydon said that every time he hears that distinctive sound it takes him back. On 12/12/44 he was flying one of these spitfires. He was stationed in Brussels and flew into Northern Holland to find some trouble. Things were a bit boring. We were flying at 10,000 ft. and he was flying Red 2 to his Squadron Leader, his tail man, He looked to his right and below and could see a train coming out of a tunnel. Trains were very important to them as targets in those days. The Squadron Leader peeled off to attack this train. Down to 4000 ft. He started to open fire, Haydon held fire. At that moment the sides of the train fell open at the end and about 20 -30 ack-ack guns appeared and started firing at them. The Squadron Leader went through and Haydon collected a hit. By this time he was 1000 ft. He wanted to tell his Squadron Leader that he was hit but his mouth was full of water with the drama. He pulled up but couldn’t get higher than 1000 ft. He realised that he was hit and was alright himself but the aeroplane was terminally ill. It was a Winter’s day in Holland, 4pm, very dark, 50 miles away from the Dutch border. He set for the south losing altitude, then darkness. 700 ft. and his engine stopped. He had to make up his mind quickly to crash or to bail out. (continued later in presentation).

All this started when he was 7 years of age. He loved aeroplanes from a young age. He lived near Northolt Aerodrome England on the outskirts of West London. He would go nearly every day to sit there and look at the planes. He saw Bristol Bulldog (talking 1931/2), Armstrong Sydney Siskin, the Hindenburg, and many more. This to Haydon was magic and the world he grew up in. Then he saw a Gloster Goldfinch, a Gladiator, (33/34) the aeroplane that was in Malta (One of the best-known campaigns fought by Gladiators was the siege of Malta in 1940. The fighter force defending Malta was, for a period of 10 days, a small force of British-operated Gladiators found in crates on the island, the Hal Far Fighter Flight, giving rise to a myth that three aircraft, named Faith, Hope and Charity, formed the entire fighter cover of the island). Then he saw the Hurricane. RAF 111 Squadron was based at RAF Northolt. These planes kept him so excited. Then along came the Spitfire. When he was 17 he saw an ad that he could join the Royal Air Force to become a pilot. He went through all the committees and boards and was selected as a trainee pilot but couldn’t join until he was 18. As a cadet the first task was to knock Civvy St (civilian life) out of him. There was lots of square bashing, marching, physical exercises, sleep outs in the open. He referred to his cadet intake photo and wondered how many lived through the war and were alive today. Then came the Grading. He flew a Tiger Moth and went solo in about 4 hrs (very short time by any measure).

He was graded and considered good material to be a pilot. So off to Canada for some serious training. Haydon showed some photos of himself in a Fleet Finch. He finished top of his course and was very proud of this, as he wasn’t a good student at school but when it came to flying then he was interested. He got his Wings and immediately afterwards his Commission. Wings one second then he became an Officer! As he was top he was allowed to choose what he wanted to fly. He wanted to be a fighter so was sent to Bagotville, Quebec, to fly of all things a Hawker Hurricane. When he arrived they said there’s the handbook, no instructor, no one sitting alongside, just get on and fly it.

Haydon recalled the stupid things they did too, example to see how fast we could go. We lived for the moment. Squadron life was something the normal person would never understand. They were in constant danger and played crazy games to distract themselves such as Highcockalorum (a mess game which involves two teams of roughly 12 people played in a large open space, such as a hall. One team, the supporting team, stands in a line at one end of the hall. The other team lines up at the opposite side. The other team must run as fast as they can and jump onto the backs of the supporting team. If all the players remain mounted for 10 seconds, the supporting team gets a point. They then swap over. The game, notorious for its danger, was banned in the 1950s after being popular in the Second World War).

He became a fighter pilot and was ready to go home to England. En route he decided to visit Chicago. He remembers well walking into the Officers Club and receiving a big welcome when they saw an RAF chap. He was told there were lots of people who’d like to entertain him ‘royaly’. Haydon accepted the kind invitation and met his host who said ‘We’re going to go out’. Outside the block of apartments he saw a gorgeous automobile. His host said ‘OK Haydon .. you drive’. Haydon said ‘I can’t drive … I could fly an aircraft but not a car’. He said get behind the wheel and Haydon ended up learning to drive around the loop in Chicago!

Back in England he converted to Spitfires. The Germans didn’t want to mix it with them. The RAF experimented with loading bombs on to the wings. Once they had 2 x 500lbs on their wings. Daily they looked for trouble. Haydon remembers flying at 200 ft. and seeing a man in a field running to a machine gun. He saw a V2 rocket starting to be raised he turned quickly and took a hit in his wing. Haydon lost lots of his friends, 25 – 30% of his squadron. After the war he was chosen to be an instructor and finished at RAF Cranwell College as a Flight Commander. Flack hit him down to 700 ft. Haydon knew that if you bail it you will hit the tail, so you need to turn upside down. He decided to crash, as it happened, in a school field at 200 mph .. bang .. bang .. bang .. Haydon said to himself “I’m dead and it didn’t hurt. I thought about my Mother. What will she think?” Suddenly he realised he was upside down and his head was touching grass. There was nothing left of the plane. Some Dutch people ran over and hid him in their cellar for two days. He was covered in blood and still has the scar on his head, but lived to tell the tale. He walked to join up with his people and then went into Antwerp hospital. He sent a letter to his mother and wrote that she hadn’t heard from him for ages as he had been in bed with a cold. When he was discharged from hospital he flew home to RAF Northolt and went home. His Mother opened the door and he gave her a kiss and followed her up the stairs. She asked about his bad cold and then to explain the telegram from the Air Ministry. “I regret to inform you that Flight Lieutenant H J Skudder reported missing. Believed killed as a result of enemy action dated .. ”

Haydon finished with the best story he had ever heard … King George VI, known to have a speech impediment, was at an investiture at Buckingham Palace. He walked down the line and came to a Sergeant Pilot.

King George VI – It gives me very great pleasure to present you with the Distinguished Flying Medal for shooting down 2 focke-wulfs.
Sergeant Pilot – Excuse me your Majesty but it was 3 focke-wulfs.
King George VI – It says here 2 focke-wulfs.
Sergeant Pilot – It was 3 focke-wulfs.
King George VI looked at the award – It says here 2 focke-wulfs, you say it was 3 focke-wulfs, but there is only one f…..g medal so there .. pressing it firmly on the sergeant’s chest!!

The meeting finished with a fine bottle of red being presented on behalf of the BBC to Haydon for sharing his wonderful story. In the post meeting melee there were many comments on how well Haydon looked for someone who had recently celebrated his 90th birthday. He certainly was very dapper with such a straight back … many suggested he must be a swimmer. In fact he later revealed that he indeed was a swimmer and was school captain of the swimming team as well as winning his swimming club men’s championships on a couple of occasions. Note for all…. keep up the swimming folks!!!

Thanks are extended to Jackie for capturing the presentation on video for both Haydon and the BBC Archives.