Sister May Hayman

Our St John's community has a connection to martyrdom through the powerful witness of Sister May Hayman who was one of ten Australian Anglican missionaries who were killed by Japanese soldiers in World War II.

Sister May was on the staff at Canberra Hospital. She was a parishioner at St John’s before going to New Guinea in 1937 as a missionary nurse.

As the hostilities of war moved closer and closer to New Guinea, the Christian missionaries must have become increasingly fearful and anxious about their future. There is no doubt they could have fled back to the safety of Australia. However, they decided to remain. They were convinced that it was God’s will that they should not desert their people in their hour of danger.

Sister May thought of her patients. She said to her Bishop, “What will the sick do if I move from here?” She stayed at her post in Gona, along with Fr James Benson and Mavis Parkinson, until the very moment Japanese soldiers landed on their beach.

During September 1942, St John’s parishioners were saddened as news filtered through of Sister May’s martyrdom, at the hands of the Japanese invaders.

Bamboo cross draws Japanese bishop to Canberra

Bamboo Cross Japanese

Bamboo cross with the inscription Reconciliation and Repentance

Sister May Hayman

The window in the southeast corner of the Sanctuary in memory of Sister May Hayman was dedicated by Bishop Burgmann in 1949.

In September 2014, Bishop Andrew Yatuka Nakamura, the Bishop of Kobe, and his wife visited Canberra and attended a service at St John’s to give thanks for the relationship that now exists between the people of Japan and Australia.


Bishop Andrew followed in the steps of Bishop Michael Yashiro. On 10 June 1950, he came to St John’s and presented a small bamboo cross with the inscription Reconciliation and Repentance at a service.


The cross, in the side chapel, is a memorial to Sister May Hayman who was on the staff of the Canberra Hospital and was a regular parishioner at St John’s before joining the Anglican New Guinea Mission in 1936. She was martyred in New Guinea during the Second World War.


This is what was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 10 June 1950:

“Bishop Michael Yashiro of Kobe, presiding Bishop of the Japanese Anglican Church dedicated a memorial bamboo cross to Sister May Hayman, a Canberra missionary, killed in New Guinea by Japanese troops during the war.

Bishop Yashiro, the first Japanese to enter Australia since the war, performed the dedication ceremony in the historic church of St John the Baptist.

Beside him sat Padre H.F. Bashford, chaplain of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, who witnessed the execution of eight Australian soldiers whose deaths are now the subject of the Manus Island trials.

Two police, from behind the cover of a clump of pine trees, screened all people entering the church.

Bishop Yashiro, in slow, halting but correct English, expressed to a congregation of 70 his ‘sincere regret’ for his countries participation in the Second World War.

‘We have had a terrible experience in the last ten years,’ he said. ‘It is dangerous to be governed by politicians who are not guided by the Holy Spirit.’

‘Why can I stand on this pulpit in such a miserable condition of mind?’ Bishop Yashiro asked. ‘It is simply because I have deep within me a wonderful power of Christian faith.’

Before he had left Japan for Australia he ordered all of the churches to observe September 18 as a day of remembrance for Sister May Hayman.”

In the southeast corner of the sanctuary at St John’s a stained glass window depicts Sister May Hayman who was a parishioner at St John's and a nurse from the Canberra Hospital. She went to New Guinea as an ABM missionary in 1936 and was killed by the Japanese in 1942.

Sister May Hayman - Canberra Times 15 March 1943

"News of the death of Sister May Hayman, has been brought to Canberra by the Bishop of New Guinea (the Right Reverend Bishop Strong).

Sister May Hayman worked at the Canberra Community Hospital for many years and was well-known for her kindness and efficiency.

In 1932 she resigned from that position and offered her services for Anglican mission work. She was accepted and, after preliminary training at the Mission Hospital, Sydney, was sent to work in the Anglican area of New Guinea.

Her record for conscientious work continued in the new sphere and it was not long before she earned further reputation for her courage and initiative in the dangers which confronted missionaries in New Guinea.

On many occasions she had to perform the work of a doctor either by operating or setting broken limbs.

She was attached to the Gona Anglican Mission when the Japanese landed there on July 22 and is believed to have elected to remain behind with three other members of the staff, the Revs. Henry Matthews and James Benson and Miss Parkinson.

A letter has been received indicating the belief that all four had since lost their lives although tho circumstances of their deaths are not yet known."

Kokoda Campaign - Sister May Hayman


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. 

ACT Government Libraries - contributed by Michael Hall

Visit to Gona


In June 2018, Bishop Jeffrey Driver, former Archbishop of Adelaide, visited Gona where the Anglican Mission once had stood. "An elderly local guide pointed out the hospital where Sister May Hayman, worked, and in the opposite direction, to the school where Mavis Parkinson taught. Nearly all the old mission site had returned to bush and, apart from the simple memorials, there were few physical signs of love and blood that had flowed." Read Bishop Driver's visit to Gona here.