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24 September 2014
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Blinded by her faith?

A new BBC Wales documentary is set to cause debate over its portrayal of Christian heroine Gladys Aylward.

Aylward was immortalized in the Hollywood film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness where she was portrayed by Ingrid Bergman as a heroine whose actions saved the lives of tens of Chinese children during the bloody war between China and Japan.

But Adar Drycin (storm birds), shown on S4C tomorrow (Tuesday 24 February) at 9.00pm, asks whether her actions led to the torture and imprisonment of innocent people by the Japanese, including Cardiff-born David Davies, who was one of Aylward's closest friends and allies in China.

The programme also includes an interview with Murray Davies, David Davies' son.

The Adar Drycin series, produced by Swansea-based Antena TV company, is no stranger to controversy following the first programme of the series which told the life story of Winifred Wagner, the woman of Welsh roots who nearly married Hitler.

Gladyr Aylward was born in Edmonton in 1922. She was working in London as a parlour maid when she had a profound experience that changed her life.

"I was pulled into a church one night by a group of young people... and they were so happy they thought they got everything in Jesus Christ," she says in a recording featured on the programme.

"They were determined everybody else was going to find him too, and I that night sat in there and for the first time in my life realised that Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, had died for Gladys Aylward. It shook me, it moved me, and it was going to alter my whole life."

Aylward joined an evangelical church and studied at the Bible College in Swansea where she spent her time in the rough docklands area trying to 'save' young women from becoming prostitutes.

She also came to believe that God was calling on her to spread his word in China but, not being the most academic of people, failed the Chinese Missionary Centre's exams.

Determined to fulfil her 'calling' she found another way - helping an elderly woman called Jeannie Lawson with her missionary work in remote northern China.

In Yangcheng they founded the infamous Inn of the Sixth Happiness and, on Lawson's death, Aylward continued to run the Inn, continuing with the work of spreading Christianity but gradually turning it into a home for orphaned children.

It was in 1935 that Aylward met Christian missionary David Davies, wife Jean and young son Murray, who now lives in Swansea. They became great friends and colleagues.

As the war raged, Yangchen was taken over by the Japanese. Aylward hated the Japanese and their attacking of her beloved adopted country and agreed to become a spy for China.

Speaking on the programme, Murray Davies tells of his father's worry over this.

"My father took her to task over this and said, 'look, you know it's not the right thing to do'... 'I appreciate your position but it's not the right thing to do, we must remain absolutely neutral in this' and he said, I think, words to the effect that if it did come out in the open, heads would roll, literally."

But the Japanese discovered that Aylward was a spy and made her a wanted woman, offering $100 for information that would lead them to her.

Realising that the children's lives were in danger, David Davies and Aylward planned the infamous escape where Aylward led nearly a hundred children on a long and dangerous journey over the mountains to the safety of the Shensi province.

Davies, having stayed behind, was captured and accused of being a spy like Aylward.

"He was captured and thrown into this 2,000 year old prison in Taiwan, and sentenced to five years," remembers Murray Davies.

"He had horrific treatment and he was tortured, and in a room, a cell, nine by twelve something, and kept awake at night, and the screams of other Chinese being tortured, the brutal treatment meted out by the Japanese...

"They tried to get him to sign that he was a spy, but he wouldn't.

"They got two of his converts which were thrown into prison as well, and they chopped one's head off in front of him - the chap wouldn't denounce my father - and another one who was an oil worker that became one of his converts, they crucified him, and this chap went through crucifixion rather than denounce my father."

David Davies finally returned to his roots and spent his last years in south Wales.

"He never held it against Gladys Aylward at all," says Murray Davies. "As a Christian, he supported her, apart from that fact, he supported her all along, but no grudges or anything against her."



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