Robert C Davison MAGI

When my Mother died in 2017 she left me a large brown envelope containing my late Father’s army documents. Dad (Christy to one and all) had been born in Belfast in 1922 and was 17 in 1939 when Europe was about to be engulfed in the Second World War. He enlisted in the 8th. Belfast Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery and became part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) posted to France in what became known as the ‘phoney war’ period, before things really hotted up!

When it became obvious that the Allied troops were not going to be able to halt the advancing German army as it invaded Belgium ,then France, the BEF were evacuated from Dunkirk with the exception of the 8th. Belfast! Our heroes ‘missed the boat’ (literally) and eventually ended up in Cherbourg where they were transported to England. I doubt they were able to take their guns with them but Dad never spoke of this and I didn’t ask! However, in England they were just in time to do their bit in defending London in the ‘Blitz’ as Anti-Aircraft gunners and then went on to Coventry to do the same. Here, Mum and Dad met and clicked! With the easing off of the Blitz, that Army had big plans for Dad and his mates in the Far East.

At this time, the only way to move troops, along with all their kit and weapons was by troopship. For those whose ultimate destination was India, it involved a southerly voyage around Africa and then north up the Indian Ocean. The ceremony of ‘crossing the line’ relates to ships crossing the Equator on their voyage eastwards or westwards and crew members or passengers who were making their first crossing being initiated into the Court of King Neptune. This is a bit of fun, probably originally designed to relieve the boredom of a long sea voyage, and where there is dressing up (King Neptune and his Courtiers) involving the ship’s crew and a good dunking for the victim/s in a water tank on board the vessel. Its origins are ‘lost in the mists of time’ but there has been a ceremony of sorts since the 18th. century. Merchant ships, passenger liners and naval vessels have all participated. Survivors of the ordeal are presented with a certificate like this one, which turned up in my Dad’s documents. So, there is physical evidence that on 21 June 1942, Gunner Davison C. was on a troopship bound for Capetown, then to India.

Gunner Davison’s ‘Crossing the Line’ certificate

He had never spoken about this, and like a lot of veterans of the Second World War, he didn’t say much about his experiences. However, and perhaps rather surprising for the times, he also brought back a lot of photographs of the time in India when the Regiment were training prior to moving to Burma to fight the Japanese. In Burma, the 8th. Belfast became known as the ’12 mile snipers’ because they lowered the gun sights and used their Anti-Aircraft guns as heavy artillery. Dad’s time in Burma appears to have been rather uneventful but it ended on an unfortunate note. After the Japanese surrender, the 8th. Belfast were shipped home but without Gunner Davison! He’d caught some horrible tropical disease and was hospitalised, so missed out on the big parade in Belfast to welcome his comrades back. All’s well that ends well though because after recuperation, repatriation and demobilisation, Dad returned to the love of his life in Coventry, and the rest is history!