Tuesday, 21 April 2009


We wrote this story 15 years ago. This week, as we we researching our scrap books for another story , we found the sad, sad tale of John (Boy) Haberfield from Bluff, pilot and war hero. His dark eyes seem to hold such promise even now. ---->
<-----His sister Koa Murdoch spent years researching her brothers death before she pieced together all the ugly details of his murder. As we go into the weekend planning to commemorate ANZAC Day in Tinui, we thought that it was time for the story to get another airing. We also googled Boy Haberfield and found some more background here about the fate of the men who were known as the Palembang Nine

The nine men were herded off the truck and marched down the track towards the a small beach near Changi Singapore,blindfolds wound tightly around their heads pressed hard into their eyes, forcing involuntary tears to flow.

Coarse ropes bound their hands, cutting wounds into emaciated wrists. The hard packed earth of the track gave way to deep sand. They stumbled and some fell- proud they got back up only to feel the deathly prod of bayonets pierce the thin skin on their backs.
Perhaps the men thought of home.

Boy Haberfield might have cast his mind back to the happy times he spent growing up in Bluff. Maybe he thought of his mother and the smiling face of his pretty sister Koa.

Major Toshio Kataoko, Captain Tateki Ikede and Lieutenant Miyashita pushed the men to their knees.
Some prayed. The sun glinted off the swords as they came down on the necks of the men slicing off their heads.In a matter of seconds nine brave airmen, including Lt John Haberfield , Pilot from the 1839 fighter Squadron ( HMS Indomitable ) lay dead.The captors threw the heads and the bodies into a boat, tied rocks around them and paddled out to sea. The remains of the nine men were cast into the shark infested waters.

The murder of the nine men happened sometime between August 18 and 20 1945.
Just another way story?

No, instead it was the vindictive act of three soldiers who decided to dispense their own vile justice despite the Japanese surrender only days earlier on August 15.The three Japanese soldiers who took the lives of their prisoners knew full well the rest of their countrymen had laid down their arms.

It took nearly 50 years with painstaking research for relatives of the men to discover their loved ones were executed after V day. For Koa Murduch, sister of Boy, the images of what she believed would have happened on that beach haunt her.The fact the captors later committed suicide to atone for their crime did not ease the pain for Koa.

Only when the crime was made public did one of the executioners write , " Now that the responsibility must be borne out publicly, I hereby pay for my deeds with suicide."

The story of the Palembang nine is a grim tale. They were shot down near Palembang in January 1945 during an air raid on some nearby oil refineries, captured and sent to the Outram Road jail in Singapore.

For seven days and seven nights Boy was interrogated, his requests for food and water denied. His face was plastered on the front page of the local newspaper by gloating Japanese quick to capitalise on the capture of the airmen.

Along with his comrades, Boy languished in jail until days after the surrender when they were executed at the small beach near Changi.

Koa remembers her mothers anguish well and the soft tears she often shed for her much loved son.She finds it hard to forgive.

In 1995 Koa and her husband visited England to meet with some of Boys comrades at the Fleet Air Arm reunion in Portsmouth. She had been to other reunions before in NZ and picked up little snippets about her brother, the pilot who flew in the 1839 Hellcat squadron. Sshe knows he was loved and admired as much by his comrades on the aircraft carrier as he was by his big Bluff family.

" They tell such wonderful stories about him."

Born in 1919, Boy grew up in Greenhills near Bluff part of a big happy family. He was one of the muttonbirders, a resourceful breed of Maori. When he was executed he was just 26.

Koa still remembers his smiling face, the best man at her wedding, her friend and confidante.
The memory of his death is so ugly that Koa lives for the few times she can talk to Boy's fellow airmen.In Portsmouth her memory was filled to brimming with tales and exploits of Boy - her brother, her friend, her hero.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for highlighting this war crime.

My Uncle was Flight Lieutenant Evan Baxter who was shot down on the same raid over the Palembang refinery as was John Haberfield.

He was executed as part of the group of nine by the Japanese.

My Father Neil Baxter , his younger brother, will be attending the RNZN ANZAC Service at the Memorial Wall Devonport NAVAL base on Saturday to acknowledge the sacrifice that his brother and many other fine young men and women made so that we can live the life of freedom that we all now enjoy.