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Living Legend: War vet Ray Dunn, who turned 100 in November, with his most-prized possession which he's gifting to Queentown's Returned and Services' Association

By PHILIP CHANDLER

A remarkable 100-year-old Northland-based war veteran’s revisiting Queenstown not only to attend Sunday’s Anzac Day dawn service but to present a special gift.

Ray Dunn, who served as a Wing Commander with the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II, is gifting a painting of a Liberator bomber he flew over the Pacific to the local branch of the Returned and Services’ Association.

The painting, which he calls his most-prized possession, is by local artist Spike Wademan, who donated it to him a few years ago.

Dunn says when living in Queenstown ‘‘I became very close to the group of returned people, it was sort of the centre of our entertainment’’.

He shifted here from Australia in 2008 ‘‘at an absolute low’’ after the death of both his wife of 60 years and his only daughter.

He first lived at Jack’s Point, when it was mainly open spaces, then at an old folks home.

When attending the local Senior Citizens’ Association’s weekly lunch, he met Colleen, who’d recently retired.

‘‘We immediately clicked,’’ he says.

‘‘The first thing I did was to teach her to drink good wine.’’

Perfect match: Former Queenstowners Ray and Colleen Dunn

They bought a caravan, toured New Zealand and finished at Kaitaia, in the Far North, where Colleen had lived before, then got married a few days later.

Ever since, they’ve driven back to Queenstown to attend the dawn service each year, though they flew this time.

Last time, in 2019 — there was no service last year due to Covid — he was asked if he wanted to be pushed in his wheelchair to lay his poppy.

According to the Otago Daily Times, his response rang out through the air: ‘‘No, I’ll walk.’’

Seventy-six years on from WWII, Dunn says unlike some vets who ‘‘just like to sit and talk
about the war, that’s something I don’t do’’.

His memories are tinged with a lot of sadness as all nine of his airforce classmates were killed.

 

He’d been due to sail with them to Britain, where they flew Lancasters, but the night before he was redeployed to fly Beauforts for the Aussie airforce.

Not that he didn’t have a few brushes with death during a war career that included acting as a pathfinder for the United States Fifth Air Force.

During the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1943, he ditched his plane in the ocean after being shot down by enemy fire.

He and three crew tied their one-man dinghies together before being rescued six hours later by New Guineans responding to their emergency beacon.

Ask Dunn, who became a distinguished engineer after the war, the secret to his long life, and he points to his wife.

‘‘I never heard of any other lady who would take a 90-year-old veteran and then sort of nurse him for the rest of his life.

‘‘She knew my health was not the best yet she gave up all her life just to look after me.’’

Colleen chips in: ‘‘You’re sort of worth it.’’

scoop@scene.co.nz