HERE we publish excerpts from the manuscript of a former soldier who served throughout World War Two, witnessing the evacuation of Dunkirk, the D-Day invasion of Europe and the terrors of Belsen concentration camp.

CAPTAIN John Hayward Davies is one of few men who can still recall serving as a soldier throughout the whole of the second world war. He is 98 now and living in Buckden near his daughter Ann.

John, who retired in 1977 as managing director of a textile company, has written down his experiences - Life & Times of John Hayward Davies - from being called up from his home in Manchester, aged 19, to his demob seven years later in1946.

He had joined the Territorial Army in early 1939 choosing the 42nd East Lancashire Royal Army Service Corps - chiefly concerned with transportation - having just passed his driving test.

It was the start of a life in the forces which saw him among the throng of troops dodging shells and bullets to escape death on the beaches of Dunkirk as the Alies retreated in 1940, joining the heavy fighting following the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944, where he was injured, and later he faced the harrowing job of being an observer at Belsen concentration camp.

John gives a vivid account of the retreat to Dunkirk - the sight of dead troops and civilians, the need to dodge shells and bombs by diving into ditches, the roads choked with terrified refugees.

He writes: "Naturally many of the vehicles and men were lost in the shelling and bombing which was increasing in intensity as we neared the coast. On may occasions we had to abandon the vehicles to avoid the dive bombers, taking shelter on the banks of the canals.

"By the time my vehicle reached Dunkirk many thousands were already there and the place was heaving with troops.

"Along with two comrades I dodged from place to place and witnessed our last shelter bombed before our eyes - we were very lucky. Chaos reigned but by degrees we eventually arrived on the main beaches. They were literally packed with troops although a great many were killed by the relentless attacks by dive bombers - again we were lucky to be alive.

"We had to keep moving to avoid the bombing but it was more by good fortune than strategy that we remained alive. By night time the beaches were lit up by burning oil tanks which blazed for days and nights."

They faced the ordeal for two days and then spotted an armada of ships appearing over the horizon coming to the rescue from the UK.

He recalls seeing many dead soldiers on the beaches during those "terrible days and nights" and he counted himself lucky to survive,

People were gathered into batches of 20 ready to join the rescue vessels but still many troops and civilians died, he recalls..

He admits he was lucky to be marshalled towards HMS Malcolm where he gingerly crossed a damaged jetty jumping onto the deck of the destroyer where everyone was ordered not to move for fear of it capsizing.

It was during this period back home, where he underwent more training, that he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the RASC, posted to Ireland and promoted to full lieutenant and then back to England for more training.

In 1943 during preparations for the second front and the invasion of Europe, he and Marjorie, who was in the Women's Land Army, were able to arrange their wedding for January 12, 1944. in Whalley Range, Manchester.

By June 11 of that year, John was among the troops heading for Gold Beach five days after D-Day where he disembarked from a landing craft.

He recalls the heavy fighting and slow progress coming to a halt five miles from Caen where they dug in as the bombardment crashed overhead. "Parking our vehicle was very like Russian roulette as many of the fields were heavily mined.

"One of my duties was to rendezvous at certain specific times on a daily basis with thirty vehicles loaded with 100 tons of ammunition to await the infantry and gunners.

"I also set up ammunition dumping programmes seeking out likely places to leave ammunition ahead of the guns so that when the artillery units leapfrogged forward they had the ammunition ready."

John was using a motor cycle at the time and it was on one of the journeys, in the dark, as shelling was taking place that he was injured. He is still not sure what happened.

"When I woke I was on a stretcher in a large tent with other wounded soldiers. I had bad concussion, with a cut forehead, a gashed knee and a badly crushed leg." He was later transported for treatment in Portsmouth and Liverpool, recover taking several weeks.

It was following this period that John became an observer with the Red Cross at Belsen which had just been liberated and he later attended the trials.

"This was a grim occasion, seeing the hundreds of dead and dying and the living skeletons crouching in groups," he writes

"To see the incinerators with metal stretchers for killing and burning in the ovens was a devastating sight and altogether a frightening experience." It was at this time, while staying in Uelzen in Germany, he learned of the birth of his daughter Ann.

John's demobilisation was delayed some time because his work was seen as "important" eventually departing his unit exactly seven years after he signed up in the Territorial Army in 1939.

The war over, he travelled the world with the textile company he worked, for taking early retirement aged 57 and eventually settling in Buckden.