4 Jan 2023

Auckland-based World War II bomber veteran turns 100

9:29 pm on 4 January 2023
Ernest Davenport, now and then.

Ernest Davenport, then and now. Photo: NZ Bomber Command Association / Supplied / RNZ

Aucklander Ernest Davenport was just 20 when he had already survived 20 air missions over occupied Europe, before being captured as a prisoner of war.

The Bomber Command aircrews suffered high casualty rates in WWII, with 57,205 of a total of 125,000 losing their lives.

Today, there are just a dozen veterans from this crew still with us in New Zealand.

Davenport was a 16-year-old in Liverpool, England, when the war broke out, and his experience of the German blitz on Merseyside motivated him to volunteer for the Royal Air Force.

"It's probably the biggest event of my life," he recalled.

In 1943 his aircraft was shot down over Germany, and he parachuted to land in his narrow escape.

Davenport was subsequently captured by German troops as a prisoner of war - an experience still difficult for him to talk about.

"I'm sure the story's been told many times - it wasn't easy for anybody."

On Wednesday he was celebrating with his family at a rest home on Auckland's North Shore - a long way from his birth town of Cheshire, England - after a fruitful life of building a family and a career as an electrical engineer in New Zealand.

He said it was his love of sailing that pulled him to New Zealand in the 1950s.

"And before you know where you are, 100 years have gone," he said.

He has five children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Looking back on his century, Davenport said he has "no strong feelings" for celebration and considers the 100-year milestone as "just another day", but added that all his children are a great source of gratification to him.

As to the secret to longevity, his answer was a simple one.

"Get lots of exercise and presumably inherit good genes," he said.

His youngest daughter Catherine said he has always kept up with trying new things, including painting and technology.

"He's amazing, he's definitely an inspiration. He's had a really interesting life and he's just lived it really quietly … he's an amazing artist as well, he's done all sorts of things, 10 years ago he was making robots, he just tinkers away."

Although physical limitations have kept Davenport away from sailing for about two decades, he has kept busy with other hobbies such as philosophy.

"I spend my life thinking about philosophical things. Ask yourself what is consciousness? We have little control over what we think about, do we?"

He said he also ponders about what life is, and promised to report back to us once he's found the conclusions.

Asked about his thoughts on the war in Ukraine, he said people should be mindful of their own complicitness in the war.

"Politicians lead us into wars and the populace fight them, but we elected the politicians so we're all at fault."

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