John Kerle Tipaho Haberfield joined the Fleet Air Arm as part of the Scheme F recruitment programme.
He was sent to Britain and underwent training as a naval aviator.
In 1945 John was serving as a Temporary Sub-Lieutenant (A) with the British Pacific Fleet . He was flying a Hellcat II fighter off the fleet carrier HMS Indomitable with 1839 Squadron.
John was shot down on 24 January 1945 during Operation Merdian I and successfully bailed out.
He was captured upon landing on Sumatra. Along with Sub-Lieutenant Evan Baxter he was taken to Palembang prison on 1 February 1945. John was transferred shortly after to Outram Gaol in Singapore, with seven other captured Fleet Air Arm pilots.
Information was received that he was missing in action on 12 February 1945 and he was listed as missing presumed killed.
John Haberfield’s status as a POW was never confirmed. It is understood that he and eight other FAA pilots were murdered on Changi Beach in Singapore and their bodies dumped at sea.
According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website his date of death is officially recorded as 31 July 1945, but this is not certain.
It is possible that these men may have been killed as a result of the midget submarine raid on the cruiser HIJMS TAKAO at Singapore in July known as Operation Struggle.
It wasn’t until 15 February 1946 that John was officially listed as presumed dead. On 16 July 1946, the Minister of Defence confirmed that John along with Evan Baxter had been executed in Singapore. Apparently, the Japanese gave a false story he had been killed at sea when a POW ship taking him to Japan was sunk.
It is believed that 32 FAA pilots were executed by the Japanese between 1944 and the end of the war.
Temporary Sub-Lieutenant (A) John Kerle Tipaho Haberfield is remembered on the Royal New Zealand Navy Second World War Memorial at HMNZS Philomel.