3 Squadron LIFETIMES
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The Right Reverend Robert
Edward Davies CBE, MA, ThD.
Bari, Italy. September 1943. Squadron Leader R. Davies, RAAF Padre,
conducting a service to commemorate the third anniversary of the Battle of Britain,
for an advanced Kittyhawk fighter-bomber wing (No. 239 Wing RAF). [Photo: AWM MEC2429]
On 17th May 2002, a sudden heart attack brought an end to the life of Bob Davies and a lifetime of service to his fellow man involving his service to Tasmania as its Anglican Bishop from 1963 to 1981.
He was the last of the Three Padres, who originally served the fighting RAAF Squadrons in the Western deserts of Egypt, Lybia and Tunisia, through Sicily across the Straits of Messina to the length of Italy; their active duty finished in the north east of that tortured land with the armistice of May 1945.
Bob was born at Birkenhead in England in July 1913. His parents moved to Australia in 1925, and at about 20 years of age, he decided to enter the Ministry. He was accepted for training by the Bishop of Newcastle, was made a Deacon in 1937, and then a priest in 1938 with an appointment to the staff of Newcastle Cathedral.
In 1941, he was sent as a Chaplin, Toc H, to Palestine, where he ministered to the needs of all who visited him. At the end of 1941, with the increase of Australian Squadrons in the Middle East, the RAAF decided to appoint Chaplains and Bob Davies, Anglican, Johnny McNamara, Roman Catholic and Fred McKay, Presbyterian, were selected.
Bob with his two friends, tended the RAAF Desert Air Force Squadrons as a team, often disregarding each persons' individual religious preferences when it meant providing a person comfort and spiritual help. All three Chaplains are reverently remembered to this day by the survivors of those squadrons.
After the war, he was appointed Vice Warden at St John's College in Queensland. Later he became Rector of St John's in Canberra before moving to St John's at Wagga Wagga. He married Helen Bowcher at St John's in Canberra on 17 October 1953. A transfer to the Diocese of Newcastle followed next and he became Warden of St John's College at Morpeth; whilst there, he was consecrated as the Assistant Bishop of Newcastle.
On 24 May 1963, he was enthroned as Bishop of Tasmania … an appointment which he filled with distinction until his retirement from that position in 1981.
He had graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in 1948 and completed his Master of Arts in 1952 before being granted Doctor of Divinity when he became Bishop of Tasmania. He was honoured by the Queen with a CBE at a later date.
He was deeply saddened by the loss of his wife in June 1979.
A Requiem Euchariat funeral service was held on the morning of 23 May 2002, in the Cathedral in which he had officiated for so many years and at which readings were delivered by his grand-daughters, Annika and Emily together with an Eulogy by his grand-son, Ben.
That same afternoon, a Service of Thanksgiving for his life was held. Readings were delivered by his daughters, Elizabeth and Margie. Eulogies were also given by Doone Kennedy, ex-Mayoress of Hobart, her son John, and on behalf of the Desert Air Force members, ex-Wing Commander Bobbie Gibbes, DSO, DFC and Bar, 3 Squadron Commanding Officer from 26 February 1942 until his posting to England from Tunisia on 19 April 1943. (Other than for odd periods when he was recovering from enemy-induced disabilities!)
Thus ended the Celebration of the Life of Bishop Bob Davies, great humanitarian, lover of humanity and servant to his fellow man.
When thinking of him, the words of Jesus in His sermon on the Mount come readily to mind:
"Blessed be the pure of heart, for they shall see God"
BOBBY GIBBES' EULOGY, TO WHICH ERIC CANNING HAS REFERRED ABOVE, NOW FOLLOWS...
It is a great honour that my dear friend Bob Davies left a message asking that I should say a few words at this service. Despite many years of friendship he never realized that I was a woeful speaker. However, I will do my best.
Bob was a wonderful man and was always happy and enjoying life. I admired and respected him during and after the war. He served as one of three RAAF Padres in North Africa and was highly regarded by all members of the Australian squadrons serving in the Desert. One Padre was a Presbyterian, one a Catholic and Bob an Anglican. The three were great friends and got on wonderfully well together and became known as the "Terrible Three". Their friendship was very deep and real. Bob recently told my wife Jean that when John McNamara was being honoured at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne for 50 years of service to the church, he asked Bob if he would participate in the service with him and said, "bring all your robes with you, won't you Bob." He did. Sadly all three of the "Terrible Three" have now departed this earth. Bob is the last of the three.
During the war in North Africa, the RAAF Squadrons suffered heavy losses and religion became very precious to all of us; our Padres paid a very big part in retaining our morale. On the morning of the 22nd of February, 1943 the squadron was escorting Blenheim bombers on a bombing mission. We were heavily attacked by Messerschmitts and in defending the bombers, three of our pilots were killed but we got the bombers back safely. That afternoon when on a fighter sweep we encountered 20+ Messerschmitts and in one hour and five minutes of vicious combat, two pilots from our squadron were killed and two became Prisoners of War. In all that day I had experienced 1½ hours of combat and my morale was down to zero. My religious revival helped me to carry on.
Most of us were not overly religious, but such was our respect for our Padres that church attendance in our large EPIP Mess tents were always well attended. On one occasion all three Padres happened to be attending some function away from our Fighter Wing and an unknown RAF Padre had offered to hold the Sunday Service. This was a rare happening and I was alarmed that perhaps as a result, not knowing the RAF Padre, attendance might be down. Good fortune favored me however, for as it happened we were to get a rare "Rum Issue". This solved my problem. I decided that only those who attended the service would get a rum issue. The attendance was terrific and after the service the English Padre emerged smiling delightedly. Perhaps this should not have been mentioned in this Cathedral.
As I had to fly that morning, I left my rum in an enamel mug for the day. That evening I downed my rum but then noticed that it had removed half an inch of enamel from the bottom of the mug. I did not suffer any ill effects.
Humility was one of Bob's great traits. He felt deeply for all the traumas the troops were enduring and wanted to experience their difficulties himself and to know how they coped. He would take an interest in all aspects of the work being carried out and I believe that he would have known how to fold a parachute, know how the guns were loaded, bombs were attached, in fact most of the operations necessary in the squadron.
We had acquired a little Italian aircraft similar to a Tiger Moth but rather superior as it was fitted with flaps. It had been slightly damaged and abandoned during one of the retreats, but our fitters soon repaired it and it became a very useful adjunct to the squadron. I offered to give Bob some flying lessons and on the 4th April 1943 we were sitting in the little aircraft waiting for the engine to warm up. I suddenly saw people running madly from the tarmac and looking up saw some FW190s and Messerschmitts dive bombing and strafing. I stopped the engine, leapt from the cockpit and joined them in their flight leaving Bob in the cockpit. I thought that I had gone back to alert Bob, but when I mentioned this some years later he assured me that I hadn't done this. As he was a man of the cloth I couldn't argue.
Bob was a very friendly and caring man; although later ordained as the Bishop of Tasmania, he did not let distance deter him and always flew up to join our Anzac and Squadron celebrations. On the last occasion our daughter Julie, whom he had christened many years before, spent time in the morning chatting with him and they agreed to sit together for dinner and to share a bottle of wine. This was the highlight of the day for Julie.
He was loved by all those who knew him and particularly by all members of my old squadron, No.3 Squadron of the RAAF with whom he kept close ties. Our daughters Julie and Robyn, who Bob had christened 40 years earlier, have asked me to express their sorrow. Rest in Peace my dear old friend.
Grottaglie, Italy. 1943. Squadron Leader R. Davies, RAAF Padre with the squadrons now operating in Italy, holds a church service for pilots and ground
crews in an aircraft dispersal area on the edge of the airfield. [AWM MEA0695]
[See also our earlier illustrated article "A Toast to Bob Davies".]
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