Belfast Telegraph

Search on for Northern Ireland Battle of Britain hero's relatives as memorial to be unveiled

A Hawker Hurricane plane like the one flown by John Keatinge Haire
A Hawker Hurricane plane like the one flown by John Keatinge Haire
John Keatinge Haire
John Keatinge Haire 's 1939/45 Star, Battle of Britain bar, his Air Crew Europe Star, and his War Medal
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A pilot from Northern Ireland who fought in the Battle of Britain is to receive a major posthumous honour this year.

John Keatinge Haire from east Belfast was just 20 when he was shot down over the Isle of Wight on November 6, 1940.

The Battle of Britain Historical Society is seeking any of his direct relatives before unveiling a memorial to the flyer on the island this September.

On the day he died Sgt Haire was deployed with the RAF's 145 Squadron to fend off a German air raid headed for Southampton.

It's reported his Hurricane aircraft was probably shot down by a Messerschmitt flown by Germany's leading fighter ace at the time, Major Helmut Wick.

The Hurricane burst into flames as it dived towards the village of Arreton.

"He actually managed to steer his aircraft away, so he saved a lot of lives," said John Pulfer of the Battle of Britain Historical Society.

Sgt Haire managed to climb on to a wing, but it was too late for his parachute to deploy.

Local farmer George Moody witnessed the crash and later wrote to Sgt Haire's parents Sidney and Nora, who lived on Earlswood Road.

"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 said.

"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."

It was the second time Sgt Haire had been shot down.

He had managed to safely crash land just off the coast of Bembridge, on the easternmost point of the Isle of Wight, on October 17.

Jennifer Bolt's father David Rowe, now aged 87, and her coastguard grandfather Leonard Rowe came to his aid that time.

"My dad was only nine and saw the Hurricane coming down," she said.

"My grandfather was in the bath so he jumped out and ran down to the coast. My dad said that at the time his reaction, quite honestly, was excitement that something was happening.

"Weeks later he succeeded in not crashing into Arreton, but paid the ultimate price.

"I think it's hugely important we get the memorial to show our respect."

Leonard also wrote to the Belfast pilot's parents to express his condolences and his own shock at the death of the young man who had stayed with him after the first crash.

Sgt Haire was laid to rest in Dundonald Cemetery.

Surviving relatives are encouraged to contact John Pulfer by calling 01424 814 866 or by email on johnatbobhs@gmail.com

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