'GENTLEMAN OF GREAT COURAGE' PASSES AWAY AT 91
Billy Harbinson was sent to Colditz, said to be Germany's most impenetrable prisoner of war camp, after escaping from another POW camp.
But even those nearest and dearest to him never knew the full extent of his courage, as he made life a nightmare for his German captors.
Billy passed away just three days before his 92nd birthday. As a mark of honour for this great `gentleman' of the army, the Royal Ulster Rifles gave Billy a military funeral complete with pipes and bugles, to remember this quiet, brave man who never let his captors hold him in one place for too long.
In December 1929, Billy enlisted in the Royal Ulster Rifles and he served in Egypt, Palestine and Hong Kong. In 1938 he re-enlisted in the Welsh Regiment and served again in Egypt and Palestine. However, when he was stationed in Crete he was wounded, captured and imprisoned in various prisoner of war camps throughout Germany, including one in Berlin.
After being held in seven POW camps, Billy was transferred to Colditz, Germany's high security camp near Leipzig, where he spent almost a year before coming home in 1946 at the end of the war.
Billy was a modest man, who rarely spoke of his time during the war. When pressed by his family for reasons for his incarceration in Colditz, Billy simply said: "They didn't like what I did to their railway lines."
However, that in itself was not a reason for '' being sent to Colditz, which was reserved for high ranking officers and serial escapists. Indeed, a close friend of Billy's has only just revealed the real reason for his incarceration - that no other camp could hold the Dunmurry man.
Since his capture in - 1941, Billy was sent to various camps, making consistent efforts to escape. When he eventually succeeded in his escape attempts, he was recaptured and sent to Colditz where, rumour had it, he continued to cause trouble for his guards until his release at the end of the war.
Speaking about her father Pat Kerr, Billy's only daughter, said: "He was a lovely quiet man and he hardly ever spoke about his incarceration. He would never discuss his time during the war, he wouldn't watch anything about it on TV or read any books about it."
When Billy returned to Dunmurry, he spent five years in the Territorial Army before going on to become a tram driver in Belfast and working in the Tabulators on the Castlereagh Road.
Billy was a member of the Orange Order for more than 60 years and of the Masonic Lodge for over 50 years. He remained a very active man, bowling for Kilmakee Presbyterian Church until he was 91 and attending church every Sunday.
"He was a very fit man," said Pat. "Everyday he marched like a guardsman to the shop to buy the newspaper. One day he fell and broke both his shoulders and ended up in hospital, where he got a chest infection but before that he was as fit as a fiddle."
Billy sadly passed away in hospital in July this year and was the last survivor of Colditz in Northern Ireland.
He was liked by all who knew him and was always referred to as a gentleman. As one of his closest friends said: "He was a gentleman of great courage."
Letter home from Colditz
In his first letter from Colditz, Billy spoke of his first impressions of the world's most famous POW camp. "Once more my travels take me to another camp. The whys and wherefores have been concealed. This is just another stepping stone nearer my goal" he wrote.
"The most unfortunate part of my extensive travelling us that my letters take such a long time reaching me and in regards to parcels `least said soonest mended'.
"This camp is quite out of the running from any other that I - have been to. It is an old castle situated on the side of an old world country village which always appears to be asleep. At least that's the view presented to me from the window of my room. "There are quite a few well-known personalities here and no doubt you would be surprised if I disclosed their names but far the present their anonymity must remain complete.
"I still love you as much as ever my darling and am hoping to see you soon."