1946 – Portglenone Rectory’s Undelivered Polish War Letter

It’s always nice to get correspondence.  I was contacted several months ago by Iben Olsen, a stamp collector from Denmark.  

reverend davey of innisrush portglenone

He had a fascinating old envelope in his possession, sent by the Reverend Davey, the preacher in Tamlaght Lower, in June 1946, to a man in Poland.  Iben says:

I am a Danish stamp collector with a special interest in Irish stamps, letters and history.

One day I found a registered envelope (without any content inside). It was sent on the 11th June 1946, by the Reverend W. E. Davey, of Glenone Rectory, Portglenone, Co. Antrim, Ireland.

The envelope had been sent to Andreyej Semkowiez, Baclawicka 10, LWOW, in Poland.

The letter never reached Andreyej Semkowiez and was returned to the sender after a journey via CCCP (Russia), Zone Post Office 21 (in June 1946), then onto a sorting office at Krakow 28 (also during June 1946), and then returned to Ballymena.

With the knowledge that we have today, with the sad history of the area when Lwow (now Lviv – Lemberg), one imagines that the envelope today possibly indicates a sad story for the family Semkowiez – or perhaps it was just indicative of  normal difficulty in delivering post in the area after the Second World War.

The postal history and the possibility that the envelope may hold a story, gave me an idea to write an article for our Stamp Journal.Iben Olsen

Some Background on Reverend Davey

William Edwin Davey preached in Tamlaght Lower (Innisrush) church between 1944 and 1948.

He was installed at the church in March 1944.  Many fellow clergymen from various parts of County Derry and neighbouring parishes, attended a large inauguration service on Friday 31st March 1944, in the church at Innisrush. 

He spent just over four years at Innisrush and preached his final service on Sunday 31st May 1948.  He took up a new appointment as rector of Culmore and Muff. During his four years in Innisrush “all the church property had been repaired at a cost of 1200 pounds.”

By the late 1950s, Edwin Davey was the Rector  of Sion Mills and Urney, which is in County Tyrone. By 1960 he was also Vice President of Belfast Y.M.C.A. Radio Club.

Reverend Davey
Reverend Davey




The more I thought about the returned letter (note, we don’t have the letter itself, merely the envelope), the more questions Iben and myself came up with.

  • What prompted the Reverend Davey to write to this person in Poland?
  • Where did he get the person’s name and address?
  • Was this a one-off letter, or one letter in an ongoing dialog with this Polish man?
  • Was it part of a post-war Church of Ireland venture?
  • Perhaps this was a personal project of the Reverend Davey.
  • Once returned to sender, how did the envelope make it’s way into the public domain again?

Given how long ago this was, and the fact that everyone is now long since dead, we can only speculate as to the answers to these questions.

Lwow Bombed – It was announced in Moscow last night that Russian aircraft raided Lwow (Poland) railway junction on Sunday night. Many fires were started and explosions seen. All the aircraft returned. Reuters. Belfast News Letter, 12th April 1944

Polish population transfers (1944–1946)

The Reverend Davey, like everyone else, would have been aware via the newspapers of the day, of the terribe events in the aftermath of the war.

At the end of the Second World War, and in the subsequent years, there was much ongoing turmoil, especially across Eastern Europe.

There were large transfers of Polish people between 1944 and 1946, from the eastern part, of what had been pre-war Poland. Poles were expelled from their homes, villages and towns. This forced migration was brought on by Russian policy, and was agreed to by the Allies.

More than one million Polish people were forced to move. They were moved in stages out of the Polish areas that had been annexed by the Russian army.

The Polish forced migrations were among the biggest of several post World War Two expulsions in Central and Eastern Europe. In total some 20 million people were displaced during this period.

Recipient’s Name

A clue is perhaps in the recipient’s name. 

Andreyej Semkowiez – Andreyej is a male christian name.  It has Greek and Polish origins. In the west, it is the equivalent of Andrew.  In Poland and Greece, the name means ‘man’ or ‘warrior’.   The name is used mostly in Polish speaking countries.

Semkowiez – the surname is not so common.  I couldn’t find anything directly on the name.  It seems linked to other similar names like Semkow and Senkowitz, and appears in Poland, as well as in the Eastern part of Germany.  It is most likely a Jewish name.

Persecution of the Jews

From the newspapers of the time, we see that the churches across Britain and Ireland were well aware of the terrible suffering in Poland both during, and after, the second world war.  They had been doing their best to send aid to those in need. 

The protestant churches across Britain, and the North of Ireland, essentially had a joint aid program to help the Poles.  The catholic churches across Ireland had their own independent aid program.  Poland is predominantly a catholic country (93% of the population in 2015 were catholic).  

There were Jewish societies across the UK during the war.  Indeed the Church of Ireland (which was Mr Davey’s religious denomination) had their own society.

Here’s an advertisement I discovered from 1946, promoting a meeting in Belfast.  You will note that the speaker at the meeting is a Polish Jewish reverend. 


Down & Connor & Dromore Auxiliary.

ANNUAL MEETING. 3-30 p.m., MONDAY. May 13th, 1946


Speaker — Rev. Dr. J. Joez, D.Ph. (formerly Poland).

In the Chair, The Lord Bishop of Connor. Special Offerings: Tea.

Source: Belfast News Letter, Saturday 11th May 1946

The Reverend Davey was familiar with going to events in Belfast.  I wonder if he personally attended this and similar meetings. 

It’s most likely that the preacher’s undelivered letter to Andreyej Semkowiez, in the summer of 1946, was part of the church’s campaign to help the persecuted and fleeing Polish Jews in Lwow. 

We can only guess that the church got the address from one of these Jewish Society talks.  Whether this particular correspondence, between the Reverend Davey and Andreyej Semkowiez, was part of an ongoing dialog, we will never know.

One would fairly presume that Andreyej was some type of representative in the area. We will never know exactly why it was undeliverable – had the mail service broken down by this point, or perhaps Andreyej was already gone from the address.

Many thanks Iben for writing to me, with this story.

Technology of the Times

Before I close, a couple of further points of note.  It was interesting to see that the Reverend Davey had a personal stamp at the rectory to quickly add his name and address to his envelopes. This possibly indicates that he wrote lots of letters.

But it was surprising (for me anyway) to discover that, here in the mid 1940s, the reverend had a telephone at the rectory.  

For some perspective, the Mulhollands at Eden didn’t get a telephone til the mid or late 1960s. 

Another indication of how few people had telephones in the area, was the Rectory’s phone number was 207.   Some twenty years later, when the Mulholland’s got their number, it was in the 270’s.  So in the local area, there were only some 70 new numbers handed out in the intervening two decades.  This illustrates that very few homes had a phone. 

UPDATE – 23rd May 2021

A very kind reader of this website, John, contacted this website recently, with some new information.  He tells me that: “Although the illustrations on your website do not show all of the front of the registered letter envelope, it has on it the two stamps of the Victory set of stamps from 1946 (also sometimes known by the alternative name of the Peace set). This set was issued on 11th June 1946, which – significantly – is the date the item was posted in Ballymena. It’s what collectors call a first day cover.”

John goes on to say that: “Edwin Davey was indeed a stamp collector/philatelist/postal historian of some renown. He held the office of President of the Irish Philatelic Circle (IPC) at one time and was a signatory of the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists of Ireland. The following obituary is from the March 1997 issue of Irish Philately, the Journal of the IPC.”

Reverend Edwin Davey Obituary

It was in the late 1940′ s that I first met the Reverend Edwin Davey and we had a most wonderful fifty years as friends.

On February 1st, 1997, I had a telephone call telling me that Edwin had passed away on January 29th.

For me that was the saddest night I ever spent in my 88 years of life.

Edwin was a most wonderful person and a real fountain of knowledge when it came to Irish Postal History. Everyone I know has always praised his kindness in imparting that knowledge.

While he was interested in this subject from the early 1950’s, it was not until 1984 that he was elected Vice President of the Irish Philatelic Circle. He was then elected President in 1987. Following this Presidency, he was called by the Federation of Philatelic Societies of Ireland   to sign the roll of Distinguished Philatelists of Ireland. This was an honour that he was particularly proud of.

Everyone praised his booklet An Introduction to Irish Mileage Marks, published in 1989, which is the standard text on the subject.
His health was not so good in 1996, and it was from March of that year that he had four operations.

He worked in various parishes in Northern Ireland and England and made countless friends.

His wonderful wife helped him all the time, as parishioners in Culmore will tell you, being there from 1948 until 1953.

I will end with this short epitaph –

‘Remember me is all I ask, but should it prove too great a task…forget!’
By Percy French, from the ‘Visitors’ Book’, Glenveagh Castle, County Donegal, 1909

By Bill Kane

Any donations in Edwin’s memory should be sent to Salisbury Hospice Care, Oldstock Hospital, Salisbury.

Irish Philately, March 1997



"I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

17 thoughts on “1946 – Portglenone Rectory’s Undelivered Polish War Letter

  1. Very interesting! Maybe the preacher was in touch with Jewish refugees from Lemberg and wanted to contact their families. Have you heard of the Millisle Farm in County Down where Jewish children found shelter?

    1. Interesting. I was unaware of the Millisle Farm. Thanks for alerting me to it.

      I was focussed on the preacher/church sending aid. But you have raised another possibility i.e. one of offering somewhere to flee to.

  2. Absolutely fantastic work and story…and all from an envelope.

    More than I could expect and it gave the envelope new life.

    I can see, that a reader already have add some more interesting historie.

    Thaks again from Denmark.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Iben.

      Thank YOU for writing to me last year. Sorry it took so long for me to get back to you and to get the research done and article written.

      Fascinating story of a letter from 75 years ago. When I see such things, from way back, it makes history much more real.

      Thank you so much.

  3. Yes , consenting to the forced migration of the poles after the war by the allies was “not their finest hour”

    However, a lot of civilians tried to help the displaced as good as they could .

    1. yes, the West and Russia did a carve-up of Europe, when the war was over.

      the allies have much to be criticised for.

  4. Maybe I could provide some additional information to help with your research.

    The Reverend William Edwin Davey was my grandfather and was also a prominent Irish stamp collector. I have several documents about his stamp collections and have reached out to my father and uncle to find out if they know any more about this particular letter.

    One thing I can confirm is that he was a prolific writer of letters!

    1. Hello Peter. Wow! Thanks so much for your message.

      Yes, adding the clues together, especially seeing he had his own ink-stamps to add his address at the rectory, onto his envelopes, made me think he wrote a fair bit.

      Thanks for asking your father and uncle re this Polish letter.

      Interesting to hear that he was a stamp collector.

      It’s amazing to discover what an old 1947 undelivered envelope can now bring to light.

  5. Thanks to Peter here from Denmark.

    It’s wonderful to hear more about the history of the envelope – if the letter could be found – well – might be to find a needle in a haystack !!

      1. I have as mentioned collected Irish stamps for a long time and over the years I have bought some lots on auctions in Ireland. I think the envelope has been in a mixed lot .

  6. Det var så lidt.

    I have spoken to my father today who is aware of a potential connection between my grandparents and Poland. He is just gathering some information and his thoughts before getting back to me. I am also quite optimistic about my uncle’s contributions, as he has kept a reasonable amount of communications between himself and my grandfather.

    I will be in touch again soon.

  7. Hello,
    I have now gathered some information and hope the following comments from my father and uncle may assist your investigations.

    1. The wife of Rev W.E.Davey (Frances Davey) had a Polish friend from her nursing training in Stoke on Trent prior to WW2. They kept in contact for many years up until the 1990’s.
    2. The Rev W.E.Davey was a prominent Irish Philatelist and it was common for fellow international philatelists to assist each other by sending and receiving special stamps or postmarks. My Uncle in Australia has received many envelopes containing instructions from my grandfather about which postmarks he would like the envelope to be stamped with before returning them to Ireland.
    3. The Rev W.E.Davey was a radio ham and communicated with numerous people overseas using morse code. It is possible that he may have made contact with someone in Poland and then sent a letter or postcard as a record of the contact.

    My father and Uncle have also confirmed that the clergy in N.Ireland were privileged enough at the time to have telephones installed at the rectory.

    Rev W.E.Davey’s great grandson (Freddie – 11) has been helping me with the research into this matter and has greatly enjoyed finding our more about his great grandfather!

    Good luck with your research.

    Warn Regards,

    Peter and Freddie

    1. Hello Peter and Freddie.

      As with Iben, I want to say a big thank you.

      This is wonderful new information. It’s fascinating to learn that the Reverend Davey’s wife had a Polish nursing friend from before the war, and kept in touch til the 1990s. This could well be the key to the letter sending to Poland.

      Interesting re the philatelist aspect. Yes, re the radio ham aspect, I did find in old newspapers, his link to the Belfast club. That is interesting to learn that he also was into morse code.

      This is invauable info. If it is okay with you, I will augment the original article with your quotes.

      Thank you so much! All my best to you both, and the family.

  8. Hi Peter, Freddie and family. Thank you for your research and the wonderful supplement to the story. Glad to hear, that Freddie has found inspiration to dig in the family history. If he or you should find more, I will be glad to hear. Until now, thank you. Iben, Denmark

  9. Hi,
    The letter from Poland etc was probably related to his radio amateur/ham days.
    As a radio ham myself I when I was active in the hobby received such letters from all around the world. Fairly sure this is reason. No great mystery really!
    Trust this helps
    Best wishes
    Aemar Higgins Callsign GI3YMT.

  10. Thanks for the input.

    Yes, it is possible, but strange that the letter has not reach Androyoj if a radio-contact had been from a short time before?


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