Dambuster of the Day No. 59: Sydney Hobday

IWM HU91948

A group of tired looking 617 Squadron officers and pilots 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, the younger of the two sons of Howard and Alice Hobday. After leaving school, he worked in the aviation department of Lloyd’s, the insurance business. 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 during training 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 twenty-five operations together up until March 1943, when the whole crew volunteered to be transferred to the new squadron at Scampton for the secret mission.

One of the reasons the crew worked so well together may actually have been its disparate nature. There were the two slightly older Englishmen, Hobday and bomb aimer Edward Johnson, both married men. The flight engineer 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 Melbourne-born pilot.

On their return to Scampton after breaching the Eder Dam, 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. Knight, Hobday and Johnson were all decorated for their role in the Dams Raid, Knight getting the DSO and Johnson and Hobday the DFC, and were photographed together outside Buckingham Palace on the day of the investiture.

On the night of 16 September 1943, when Knight ordered the crew to bale out after the aircraft was badly damaged approaching 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. As he had evaded capture, he was not allowed to fly again over enemy territory and so he spent the rest of the war in training roles.

When he was finally demobilised, Hobday returned to Lloyd’s and eventually became head of the aviation department. He married Ethel Simpson in 1938, and after the war they had four children. The Hobdays were a musical family and his grandson is the well-known dancer and choreographer Adam Cooper.

Sydney Hobday died in Hindolveston, Norfolk, on 24 February 2000.

Survived war.

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

Further information about Sydney Hobday and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.

13 thoughts on “Dambuster of the Day No. 59: Sydney Hobday

  1. TERRYBigted@aol.com December 31, 2013 / 3:13 pm

    can you tell me of a Internet site so i can down pictures of the dams so i can build my model diorama

  2. Colin Booth July 20, 2014 / 10:09 pm

    I had the pleasure of meeting Harold Hobday a few years before he died and feel privileged to have spoken to and shared a laugh or two with a very modest gentleman. He spoke of the raid as a routine operation, which was testament to thier training. He navigated AJ-N to the Eder Dam and back home with no error.
    He was much more interested in talking about his escape through France and Spain after his Lanc crashed over Holland and that he was the last member of the crew to see Les Knight as he kept the aircraft steady for him to bail out. His journey took several months and all that time his wife thought the worst.
    I met a hero from famous story and a very real man.

    • Janet Richards December 29, 2014 / 5:45 pm

      I remember Sidney Hobday from before the war and I well remember him showing us the piece of silk from his parachute when he landed in a tree and the tales of his epic journey back to UK. What a hero! He was so modest about it.

  3. Janet Richards December 29, 2014 / 5:49 pm

    I remember Sidney well. He was a friend of my parents and we had holidayed with him and his wife Ethel. I remember him coming home and rhe excitement.

  4. john sydney hobday February 18, 2015 / 8:43 pm

    Very nice to hear so many people have good memories of my father you all probably know more then me as my father never really told us much about the raids. If the Dambusters were ever mentioned he would tell me it was his job and I believe thats how he dealt with the war. He was a good man and I’m proud to be his son.

    • Peter Hobday May 18, 2015 / 10:50 am

      Good to see the comments about your father on the Dambuster blog. As a distant relation I have always been interested in his wartime experiences. Do you have any more details of his wartime operations with No.50 Sqdn. prior to the dambusters raid ?

    • Philip Johnson May 5, 2017 / 2:03 am

      My sentiments exactly! ‘Hobby’ and my father were proud of their efforts and good friends throughout and thereafter. Only in recent years have I begun to piece together the mass of wartime information left to me and inherited in trust for my family.

    • Richar Woolderink March 14, 2019 / 11:08 am

      Hello John. My name is Richard Woolderink, writer of the book Raalte during wartime 40-45. Your father is included in the book with the story that he got help in Raalte and pretended to be deaf and dumb. The first print was publishedd in the en of 1986 and the second eraly 2003. My e-mail is wolde313@planet.nl… Would like to get in touch.

    • rimasi March 14, 2019 / 11:13 am

      Hello John. My name is Richard Woolderink, writer of the book Raalte in oorlogstijd 40-45. First print published 1986, second in 2003. In the book I wrote a little about your father because I had a copy of a report that he passed from Hellenddoorn to Raalte and got here a train ticket to Baarn. Next year 2020 we celebrate 75 years of liberation / freedom. And from many media requests come in for stories and photographs. I would very much like to find traces in Raalte to find out who helped your father over here. The book in Dutch I can sent you as pdf-file. My mail is wole313@planet.nl I hope to get in touch. Thank you for tasking your time to reply to me.

    • Chris Burrage December 11, 2022 / 3:06 pm

      Hi John,
      I feel I should remember you but maybe not at that age. Your mum and dad were my godparents. My mum and dad , Jack and Kit Burrage were good friends of theirs, and although I do not remember a lot from that time I have always known that my godfather was a dam buster and given me a special interest in their heroics. It’s good to see there is still a great deal of interest in those men.

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