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Ray recalls life as POW through his war diaries

RIGHT - Ray Davey with wife Kathleen looking at his book the War Diaries. US42-134AO Picture By: Aidan O'Reillly

DUNMURRY man, Ray Davey has many life experiences to recall, but most vivid are certainly his memories as prisoner of war during the Second World War, as are recounted in his new book `The War Diaries'.

Ray, 90, has spent his life making peace in a turbulent and divided world having formed the Corrymeela Community thirty years ago this week on October 30 1965.

Ray and Kathleen on their wedding day in 1946. US42-743SPTo coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Ray has released his war diaries, his account of events during the war, written as they happened, to give a unique view of life during the war and in particular, life as a prisoner of war in a German camp.

As the son of a Presbyterian minister, Ray was something of a pacifist, but having seen the suffering occurring in the war he joined the YMCA to help provide a canteen service to soldiers and also sent their messages home.

Originally bound for Egypt, Ray's journey began when a German bomber hit the ship he was sailing on as it was leaving port in October 1940. On his return to wait for another ship Ray was called to Cheltenham to wait for departure to the Middle East, which was to change his life completely.

Ray left behind his family and his sweetheart Kathleen as he set out for war and spent most of his time on his six-week journey to the Middle East writing letters home to them and writing in the diary he had brought with him.

Ray, looking gaunt during his time as a prisoner of war. US42-742SPOn New Years Eve 1940 Ray wrote "End of an old year...where will 1941 lead?" Seven days later he was off into the desert towards Tobruk, where eventually he was to be captured by German forces.

Before his capture, Ray spent his time in Tobruk as a driver for the soldiers and a canteen server. He also gave an address at a service called 'For me to live is Christ', as well as setting up a centre for all faiths to care for the soldiers' social, physical and spiritual need.

The fall of Tobruk came quickly. On the morning of Saturday June 20, Ray was awakened by shellfire. Ray said, "The shelling was heavy on the town, heavier than I had ever experienced before. We carried on much as usual...during the morning, Bentley of the brigadiers' Mess advised us to be ready to evacuate by boat in the evening."

By evening, however, Ray had become a prisoner of war.

Following his capture Ray was handed over to Italian forces and was taken firstly to the Tuscan town of Lucca, where he lived with some 3,000 prisoners in tents. He was then taken to Campo 70, approximately 10 miles from the coastal town of Porto San Giorgio.

Ray said, "Washing conditions were unimaginable and exercise in the very confined space was incredibly difficult.

"Food was another huge problem and we were never satisfied."

Germans eventually took over the camp again and Ray was soon transferred to Dresden in Germany, where he witnessed the Allied bombing of Dresden on January 16, 1945.

On that day Ray wrote, "The long-expected happened at last. Dresden was very heavily bombed, at midday and at night. The night raid was very heavy and lasted a considerable time. The noise shook the Burg here and flak guns (anti-aircraft fire) were clearly audible and flashes were visible across the sky."

On March 12 1945 Ray visited Dresden, where he said, "It looked as if some super-natural giant had taken up the town and shaken it and then set it on fire.

"I walked for a very long time without seeing a house fit for habitation. I had never seen such absolute devastation on such a wide scale."

Ray spent a great deal of his time thinking about Kathleen, whom he continued to exchange letters with and at times allowed himself to dream of their future together.

Despite VE day occurring on May 8 1945, Ray's camp was still not liberated.

Kathleen said, "VE day was May 8 but Ray's camp was sill not released. Russian troops where moving in from the East and British, American and French troops were moving in from the West and the guards simply left the camp.

"Ray had to walk back to the American lines, he left every-thing he had except the two volumes of letters we had exchanged and the eleven diaries he had written during the war. It was very difficult for him but he carried them all the way in his arms, it's very romantic.

"We had no news of Ray until a week after VE day and eventually word came he was free.

"I was working in Edinburgh and he came straight to me. I met him on May 18 1945 at Waverley Station at 7.55am. The train was five minutes late and it seemed like an eternity.

"I didn't see him but he saw me. We had five days together after being separated for five years before Ray returned to Northern Ireland to see his family."

Ray and Kathleen met at Queen's University, however he was a friend of her brothers and the pair had been on holidays to Ballycastle together, ironically where the Corrymeela Community was later based.

The pair married on January 2 1946 and they have three children together, sons Rob and Ian and daughter Alison. They also have nine grandchildren.

Ray was a keen sportsman playing rugby for Ulster and he was a substitute for Ireland before the war.

Kathleen said, Had it not been for the war Ray would have played for Ireland. He was part of the only team that the All Blacks didn't defeat on their tour of 1935. Ray played full back for Ulster and they drew with the All Blacks which really annoyed them since they had beaten everyone else."

On his return to Northern Ireland Ray became the first Presbyterian Chaplain at Queen's University. Through taking his students to centres throughout Europe, such as the Agape community in Italy which brought together people from different communities and backgrounds; that worked together with a sense of reconciliation, Ray decided to form the Corrymeela Community in 1965.

Kathleen said, "Even though it was four years before the troubles began there was anything but peace within. The young people who visited the centres throughout Europe saw how others could work together and they wanted to emulate that here, and so, Corrymeela was established and we are now celebrating its thirtieth anniversary."

Sixty years since the end of the Second World War, Ray still remembers those he met and the things he saw that changed his life forever, as if it were yesterday. Ray said, "Sometimes my mind goes back to my lowest moment of the war, after the fall of Tobruk.

"I was cooped up in the midst of a sandstorm, in the searing heat of the desert, with Italian and German forces flying overhead.

"I had to decide whether I should use my predicament as an excuse to go under and put in my time as a prisoner of war, or to see the situation as a challenge and make something positive of it. I opted for the latter."

Ray's book, 'The War Diaries', is available now priced £8.99 from Brehon Press.

Ulster Star