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Wing Commander Norman Hayes DFC

Wing Commander Norman Hayes D.F.C.
 Born: June 26th 1912 Walthamstow. Died: July 17th 2010 Age 98.

During the early morning hours of May 10 1940 reports reached London that German transport aircraft and paratroopers were descending on Dutch airfields. A strike against the key airfield at Waalhaven near Rotterdam was ordered but, as a result of a Cabinet ruling “to avoid possible casualties to Dutch soldiers or civilians”, bombers were not used.

Six Blenheim fighters of No 600 Squadron were sent instead. It was a disastrous decision: five of the Blenheims were shot down within minutes of machine-gunning the aircraft on the ground. 

Hayes was the pilot of the sixth. As he approached the airfield, Junkers Ju 52s were landing and Hayes and his gunner destroyed one on the ground. Then Luftwaffe fighters appeared on the scene and attacked the Blenheims. Hayes’s aircraft was hit and petrol started to flood into the cockpit, but he avoided further damage as his gunner directed him in evasive action.

As he escaped at very low level, another transport was seen preparing to land and Hayes attacked despite being harassed by the enemy fighters. The aircraft went down with one engine on fire.

Departing from the target area, Hayes saw three Heinkel bombers cross ahead of his aircraft and, despite the damage to his own aircraft, attacked them. Return fire forced him to dive away.

At the Dutch coast, Hayes coaxed his badly damaged aircraft to 15,000ft to give himself “some gliding space”. He skilfully nursed his aircraft back to his airfield at Manston in Kent, where he was met by the station commander. When asked to report, he commented simply: “I am the only one to return.” In due course he was awarded the DFC and his gunner received the DFM.

Thomas Norman Hayes was born on June 26 1912 at Walthamstow and was educated at Dulwich College. After school he joined Lloyds Underwriters and in July 1936 joined 600 (City of London) Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force, where he learned to fly Demon biplane fighters.

The Blenheim he flew in 1940

Together with all other Auxiliary Air Force personnel, he was called to full-time service in August 1939, by which time the squadron had received Blenheim fighters. During the Battle of Britain the role of the squadron was changed to night fighting, when the aircraft were fitted with the then top secret in-cockpit airborne interception radar. But it was a rudimentary piece of kit and little success was achieved in the early days.

After losses during intensive enemy air attacks , the squadron moved to Hornchuch in Essex. Hayes and his colleagues tried to intercept the German bombers during night attacks on London, but with such poor radar equipment success was elusive.

The squadron received the new and much superior Beaufighter in September before moving to Catterick. By the end of the year Hayes had been made a flight commander.

In April 1941 he intercepted a Heinkel bomber over the Pentland Hills and fire was exchanged but the enemy bomber got away. Later in the year he joined the Fighter Interception Unit to conduct further trials on the airborne interception radar and to develop night-fighting tactics, which rapidly improved.

Hayes went on to command a Beaufighter night fighter squadron before commanding the fighter airfield at West Malling in Kent. He was the deputy station commander of Biggin Hill before joining the staff of 85 Group to devise air plans for the invasion of Normandy. He returned to flying duties in August 1944 with a night fighter wing operating from forward airfields in France and Belgium. He was mentioned in despatches.

He left the RAF in 1946 and returned to civilian life but rejoined the Auxiliary Air Force and commanded 600 Squadron for two years when he flew Spitfires. He received the Air Efficiency Award.

In 1946, Hayes inherited his father’s furniture business, which was relocated to Hastings. Collins & Hayes became well known as upholstery manufacturers and boasted Harrods as their principal customers.

He was president of the Furnishing Trades Benevolent Association and in 1968 was elected Master of the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers Livery Company.

A courageous and honourable gentleman, Norman Hayes kept extremely fit playing squash until his late sixties, and golf and tennis into his eighties, when he also still managed to visit the ski slopes. At the age of 75 he bought a 750cc BMW motorbike.

Having done so he happily ignored the serious concerns of his family for his safety. When one of his sons inquired how he was getting on, he replied: “It’s bloody marvellous old boy, but the only trouble is I can’t hold the wretched thing upright when I have to stop at a junction.” So ended his riding career.

He was a staunch supporter of the No 600 Squadron Association and in November 1981 returned to the Netherlands to lay a wreath in honour of his colleagues lost on the May 1940 raid, whose remains had recently been recovered.

Norman Hayes died on July 17. He married Anna Powell in 1942 and she died in 1973. He married, secondly, Mary Sargent in 1975, and she survives him with three sons from his first marriage.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 02 July 2019, 13:06