A group of tired looking 617 Squadron officers gather outside their mess for an official photograph, the morning after the Dams Raid. Most had been drinking for a number of hours by this stage. Sydney Hobday is in the back row, fifth from the right hand side. Edward Johnson is also in the back row, third from the right, and Les Knight is in the front row, second from the right. [pic: IWM HU91948]
Flg Off H S Hobday
Lancaster serial number: ED912/G
Call sign: AJ-N
First wave. Third aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine dropped accurately causing final breach.
Harold Sydney Hobday (known as Sydney by his family and friends) was born in Croydon, Surrey, on 28 January 1912. After leaving school, he worked for Lloyd’s, the insurance business, in the aviation department. After joining the RAF in 1940, he underwent part of his training in South Africa before qualifying as a navigator in early 1942, and then being commissioned. In the summer of 1942, he crewed up with Les Knight and the others who would form his Dams Raid crew and they joined 50 Squadron in September 1942.
Although some eight years older than his young Australian skipper (still then a Sergeant pilot) they obviously bonded well and flew on some 25 operations together up until March 1943, when the whole crew volunteered to be transferred to the new unnamed squadron at Scampton for the secret mission.
One of the reasons the crew worked so well together may well have been its disparate nature. There were the two slightly older Englishmen, Hobday and bomb aimer Edward Johnson. Ray Grayston was also English but Bob Kellow, the wireless operator, was Australian and both the gunners, Fred Sutherland and Harry O’Brien were Canadians. All of them shared the highest regard for their young pilot.
As one of the most competent crews it was no surprise that they they were chosen for the first wave on the raid, and they made their mark with the outstanding airmanship needed to deliver the final breach of the Eder Dam.
On their return to Scampton, Hobday took part in the celebrations with a fair degree of gusto. He was in the group photographed outside the Officers Mess around breakfast time on the morning after the raid, but fell asleep sometime later and regained consciousness at 1300, slumped in an armchair.
He was awarded the DFC for his work on the raid and attended the investiture at Buckingham Palace and the party at the Hungaria Restaurant the same evening.
On the night of 16 September 1943, when Knight ordered the crew to bale out after the aircraft was badly damaged over the Dortmund Ems canal, Hobday managed to evade capture.
Within a few hours he had made contact with Dutch resistance supporters. He was taken to a woodland shack near Baarn and reunited with his colleague, Fred Sutherland. The pair were then fed into the escape network, and smuggled the whole way through France to the Pyrenees, then onward through Spain to Gibraltar, and then returned to the UK.
After the war, Hobday returned to Lloyd’s and eventually became head of its aviation department. He died on 24 February 2000.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, The Dambusters, Time Warner 2003