Kokoda Campaign - Sister May Hayman

Contributed by Michael Hall

May Hayman was originally from Adelaide. She came to Canberra with her mother in the early 1920s and went to work in her brother-in-law’s office in the Department of Interior at Acton. May found office work dull, and went back to Adelaide to train as a nurse. She returned to Canberra in the 1930s after qualifying and worked at the Canberra Community Hospital. She was remembered by Sr. Clarice Cavanagh as being “small and sprightly with a very bubbly personality” which earned her the nickname of ‘Merry’.

A gregarious woman, May also had a desire to serve as a missionary with the Anglican Church. In 1936 went to Gona on the north coast of Papua, where she nursed in the hospital. Her links to Canberra were still strong and the local Anglican community held regular fundraisers for May’s missionary work. While at Gona she became engaged to be married to the Reverend Vivian Redlich, the Anglican priest in charge of the nearby Sangara mission.

After the Japanese landed at Gona on 21 July 1942 they established a beach head to support their attempt to capture Port Moresby by crossing the Kokoda Track. Sister Hayman and the others at the Gona mission escaped inland, aiming to cross the Owen Stanley Range to Port Moresby ahead of the Japanese. For two weeks they evaded capture; however they were betrayed by locals and ambushed by the Japanese near Popondetta.

May and another woman, the teacher at the mission Mavis Parkinson, were imprisoned in a coffee hut at Popondetta. Sometime between 13 and 16 August a native, warned off by the women from attempting a rescue, witnessed their murders by the Japanese. Both women were buried in a shallow grave just south of Popondetta. May's fiancée, Vivian Redlich, was beheaded at Buna a few days later. When Australian troops re-occupied Popondetta both women were re-interred at the old Sangara Mission. The five Papuan natives who betrayed them were hanged. 

In 1947 nursing staff of the Canberra Community Hospital began collecting funds for a memorial to Sister Hayman and Sister Mona Tait, who was killed after the fall of Singapore by the Japanese at Radji Beach (on Banka Island near Sumatra) on 16 February 1942. Enough funds were raised for an annual prize, the Mona Tait and May Hayman Memorial Prize, for the most successful candidates in the final nursing exams in the ACT. The remainder was used to erect a plaque in the main entrance hall to the hospital. When the hospital closed in 1991 the plaque was removed to the RSL Headquarters in Campbell. A memorial stained-glass window was dedicated to May Hayman's memory in St. John’s Church Reid in 1949 and remains there to this day. 

The Sister May Hayman Memorial Window at St. John the Baptist Church of England in Reid ACT.

Sources

Bill James, ‘Field Guide to the Kokoda Track’, 2008 (pp. 413-418).

Janet Newman and Jennie Warren, ‘Royal Canberra Hospital. An Anecdotal History of Nursing 1914-1991’, 1993 (pp.81-83).


Image

Sister May Hayman Memorial Window, St. John the Baptist Church of England, Reid ACT, image by Michael Hall, March 2014.