Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Telegraph appeal helps trace relatives of Belfast-born Battle of Britain hero ahead of commemoration

John Keating Haire
John Keating Haire
John Keatinge Haire's relatives, brother and sister John Robinson and Yvonne Russell
A Hurricane like the one John flew
John’s medals: his 1939/45 Star with Battle of Britain bar, his Air Crew Europe Star and his War Medal
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Relatives of an east Belfast pilot who fought in the Battle of Britain have said they will be delighted to attend a commemoration event for him this week after they were traced following months of searching.

Sergeant John Keatinge Haire (20) grew up on Earlswood Road in Belfast and was shot down over the Isle of Wight on November 6, 1940.

This Thursday the Battle of Britain Historical Society will unveil a memorial stone at the crash site ahead of a flyover of vintage aircraft.

After issuing an appeal through the Belfast Telegraph to find any family members, two surviving relatives were eventually found in Dublin.

Yvonne Russell (77) and her brother John Robinson (76) will lay a memorial wreath as part of the service.

Their mother Elizabeth Francis Keatinge was Sgt Haire's cousin.

"I'm so delighted we're able to go. I loved seeing the photographs of him when he was alive, he just looks like a cheeky boy and it's just so sad he died so young," Ms Russell said.

"To go and join the RAF at only 18 years of age, it makes me think of my own father who was in the Mercantile Navy at the time."

Although born in Belfast, Ms Russell moved to Dublin in 1955 but remembers one visit to the Haire family where they learned that two of their sons had died in the war.

Sgt Haire's older brother, Major Sidney Sedgewick Haire, was 28 when he was killed in action in Egypt on July 23, 1942.

"It's made me think that I really would encourage younger people to take the time to talk to their older relatives about their life while they still can," said Ms Russell.

On the day Sgt Haire's plane was shot down he had been sent with the RAF's 145 Squadron to stop a German air raid headed for Southampton.

It's reported his Hawker Hurricane was most likely shot down by a Messerschmitt flown by Germany's top fighter pilot at the time, Major Helmut Wick. Sgt Haire managed to steer the burning aircraft away from the village of Arreton, saving countless lives in the process.

Although he managed to climb on to a wing, it proved too late for his parachute to deploy.

A local farmer, George Moody, witnessed the crash and wrote to his parents. "Several planes were fighting overhead and one came circling down out of a clear blue sky over the farm.

"Smoke seemed to be coming from one side of the machine and the pilot, after going round twice, turned into the wind as if to land," he wrote.

"Almost at once, however, flames poured out from the front of the plane and it made a dive to earth, the pilot baling out at once. I dashed in my car to the field, but unfortunately could do nothing."

He added: "The plane was blazing and the ammunition going off, while a short distance away lay the pilot. I took his helmet off but could do nothing for him.

"I was very struck by the peaceful and calm expression on the face of the gallant boy." The Battle of Britain was fought between July 10 and October 31, 1940. During this time Sgt Haire, who was buried in Dundonald, flew several patrols, including on one occasion weeks before his death when he opened fire on a Luftwaffe JU88 twin-engined bomber, which later crashed in France.

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