Haydn Finbow, WWII Spitfire pilot and a man whose baby blues sparkled with humour, took his final ‘flight’ last month.
The Resthaven resident died on May 16, just 10 days after his 95th birthday. He has lived at the village for the past few years.
After sharing memories at his farewell, one of Haydn’s Resthaven buddies, Gary Blayney, slowly counted down the set of 15 instructions his mate would have used hundreds of times as part of his ‘landing cockpit drill’. Then, a crew of six family members and friends escorted Haydn to the waiting hearse through a guard of raised snooker cues.
Both of those final elements in this farewell were particularly apt. For although best known for his WWII exploits and close shaves, Haydn was also a deft woodworker and painter, and could more than hold his own at snooker, bowls and darts. His hand, it seems, was also the first to go up to help a friend in need.
Cambridge first read of Haydn’s wartime exploits last year when he told his story of enlisting with the RAF in Britain at 17, then training as a pilot in the UK, Canada and the US. Once back in Britain, he transferred to Spitfires and entered the war on active duty, seeing many hours of combat, notching up patrols over Europe and escorting bombing missions. His aircraft was hit many times, and he was shot down in Belgium, escaping capture by German forces and ending up in a Belgian hospital.
He told of his love of Spitfires – “it was like putting on wings” – but said the fear and horror of war remained etched in his memory. Once back home, he never flew again. He married Pat, the girl next door and the couple migrated to New Zealand in 1974. Pat died 13 years ago.
Janine Stewart told those at Haydn’s farewell that he had become a very special neighbour and friend to her family. “He brought Wayne and me a housewarming gift he had made himself, and later he was up painting our roof when we got married. I think he was 83 at the time! Two years later, he was helping Wayne mix concrete in a wheelbarrow.
“He was a most remarkable man, kind, thoughtful and generous. He and I were the best of friends, even though there were 60 years between us.”
Grandson Gary Davies remembered his grandfather as a generous host, always interested in what the grandkids were up to and prone to musing on life’s deeper mysteries – things like quantum physics, deep space, and how on earth people could drink water by itself.
Another Resthaven friend, Jack Kildare, spoke of a pact to get Haydn to his 95th, plagued as he was by illness in recent months. They bantered and cajoled, and many a time were told to just “sod off”, he said, but on that special birthday, “his grumpy face became a beaming face”.
“Haydn was a man who loved life to the full … a hell of a good guy,” he said.