3 Squadron Stories
Lord Mayor and friends of Bob, may I first express my appreciation for the opportunity to join with you in wishing your Chaplain, Bishop Davies, Happy Birthday on this his 80th birthday. It is an important day indeed.
I was eighty once; I did some reading about it. I got as far as the 90th Psalm of King David, verse 10, he said:
"the days of our years are three score and ten".
I'd heard that before, and he went on to say, which I didn't know, that
"if by reason of strength they be four score years, then is there strength, labour and sorrow, for it will cut off and we fly away."
They're not very comforting words on your 80th birthday, Bob, but if you look around you, you will see Tom Stanier there and you will see others of us who have passed our four score years. Life mightn't be all you would like it to be, but it is all you have got, and you can see there is a good life beyond four score years.
I was honoured indeed, when asked to say a few short words on the occasion. As I looked into Bob's life, the more I realised there was more I would have to leave out than I have put in, but there is one thing when you get to four score years you will find that you have to refer to your notes more often, and if you bear with me, I will refer to mine.
Bob was born at Birkenhead on the Mersey in England, on this day in 1913. That, as you will know, is Beatle country. He arrived in Australia in 1925. He was educated at Cessnock High School and trained for the ministry at St. John's Theological College, Melbourne. His family moved into this area, as Bob's mother's family had business interests there.
I asked Bob what called him to the ministry, he told me that he had applied for a job with Burns Philp, he had some accountancy background, and he had in mind a job in the island trading business. One of the requirements for the job was a reference from his rector. He asked the rector for this reference and the rector said, "I will give it to you on the one condition, and that is that you will consider joining me in the ministry rather than taking this job with Burns Philp". He said there was a great need for people in this ministry and, "I would like you to think about it." Bob thought about it and he prayed for guidance and he followed the course eventually to where he is today.
He was made a deacon in 1931 and a priest in 1938. He served as a curate at Christchurch Cathedral, Newcastle until 1941, when he was accepted for chaplaincy duties, first with Toc H and then with theR.A.A.F.
In the publication "Sky Pilot - A History of Chaplaincy in the R.A.A.F. 1926 - 1990", it is recorded: -
"Affectionately known as the 'Terrible Three', the chaplains who served in the Middle East were probably the first to develop the potential of practical high level R.A.A.F. chaplaincy. Bob Davies (Anglican), John McNamara (Catholic), and Fred McKay (Presbyterian) were early in the new sphere of R.A.A.F. Chaplaincy in the battlefield. Three things marked their ministry, they showed how to care simultaneously for the spiritual, physical, emotional and social needs of the men. They sought out those with whom they had a responsibility, and included the men's families in their ministry, and they were pioneers in a style that was completely Ecumenical. They were demonstrating Christianity with its sleeves rolled up. Still today, many men who were touched by these men's ministry nearly half a century ago, have spoken to the author of their profound appreciation of that ministry and their affection for those who offered it."
Naples, Italy. c. May 1944. Three Australian padres (known as the Terrible Three and greatly loved) meet in Naples after visiting RAAF personnel throughout the Italian theatre of war. They are: Squadron Leader (Sqn Ldr) Bob Davies of Newcastle, NSW (Church of England) (top); Sqn Ldr J. McNamara of Brunswick, Vic, (Catholic) (centre), and Sqn Ldr Fred McKay of Qld (Presbyterian).
Last Wednesday, Bob showed me a letter which had just arrived expressing these feelings from one of those men - he was a Catholic. Last Saturday, Noel Creswell, who is here with us, gave me a lift with my vegetables up the hill from Salamanca Market; I appreciated that very much. Noel told me how, on going through his mother's papers, he found a letter from Bob Davies, comforting her with a message, that Noel, who was heavily engaged in flying Spitfires, was safe and well.
During his time in the Holy Land, Bob developed a great interest in this cradle of Christianity. He got so knowledgeable, that on several occasions, he conducted several guided tours of the area. I remember once he told me how he'd seen the well of the Magi - this is the well in the biblical story where the three wise men lost track of the guiding star. I don't know what the reason was quite, but later they were looking down into this well and there reflected in the water in the bottom was the Star, and then they took up the track again, arriving as they did in the Manger at Bethlehem.
Jerusalem, Palestine. 24 December 1943. Squadron Leader Bob Davies, RAAF Padre, conducts a service in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem, on Christmas Eve. Many RAAF members attended the service.
On his return to Australia in 1946, he was to undertake further academic studies. The post of Vice-Warden at St. John's College within the University of Queensland, promised an opportunity, and some three years there enabled him to take his B.A. and later his M.A. in 1951. In 1949, he was appointed Rector of St. John's Church, Canberra, where he remained for four years. In 1953, he was appointed Archdeacon of Wagga Wagga and taking up this appointment, he married Helen Boucher of Boorowa. In 1960, Bob was appointed Warden of St. John's College, Morpeth, the scene of his early theological training. He was also appointed Assistant Bishop of Newcastle.
Bob speaks with pride of those years at Morpeth; under his leadership, it became one of the largest and most important theological colleges in Australia, representing the solid central tradition of Anglicism. He takes pride in the number of Anglican Bishops who trained at Morpeth in his time. Last month he attended the installation of Bishop George Browning, Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn. Bishop Browning is one of his "boys".
In 1963 with his wife, Helen, and his two daughters, Elizabeth aged eight and Margaret, aged six, Bob moved to Hobart, to become Bishop of Tasmania, and all of them moved into the affection of all those who came to know them. Sadly, Helen died in 1979, Elizabeth and Margaret grew into those two attractive young ladies who are here with us today and who with their families, are such a source of joy for Bob.
His ministry in Tasmania, has been characterised by the same guiding principles as his Christianity "with its sleeves rolled up", so successful in the R.A.A.F. suitably modified to the circumstances and with the same Ecumenism. His adherence to, and the promotion of Christian principles, his unshakeable faith, his warmth and his care, have touched most of us personally in one way or another. He has increased the respect in the community, for the Christianity which he so proudly promotes - and it is all done with such wonderful good humour. His stories are boundless and being told by a Bishop, of course, they must all be true!
We all try to remember his graces - he enjoys enormously his bowls, largely for the fellowship which it brings. He is, from today, a super veteran in the fellowhood of bowlers.
Bob was awarded the C.B.E. in 1981 for the citation "for his services to religion". Bob was disappointed that it was not his service to people that was recognised. To Bob the purpose of the Christian religion is to be of service to people. You can be assured Bob that it is your service to people for which you will be remembered by us.
Bob retired as Bishop of Tasmania in 1981. When asked about his retirement, Bob's partner in the "Terrible Three", Fred McKay, declared that you never retire from being a Christian. Bob is not retired, he soldiers on with his love affair for people and for serving them.
We thank you Bob for your time with us, and what you've brought to us and we hope that you may have many more happy birthdays before, in the words of the Psalm: "you fly away". A Happy Birthday dear Bob.
RAAF padre at the grave of a fighter-bomber pilot. Oil painting by Alan Moore. Italy, 1944. [AWM ART24352]
[See also our 2002 Memorial Tribute to Bob Davies.]
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