Private 5718 David Davies (known locally as Dai), A Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 22nd Brigade, 7th Division. Killed in action, 29 December 1914.
No known grave. Commemorated on Panel 5, Ploegsteert Memorial, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium. Abergele War Memorial. Abergele Town War Memorial
David Davies was born in Abergele in September 1883, the son of Hugh and Annie Davies, of 1, Nelson Terrace (formerly of 3, Water Street). By 1901 he was working as a milkman and soon joined 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, a precursor to the Territorial Force. By 1905 he had moved to Conwy and a son, David, was born to him and his future wife in November 1905. He married Ethel Roseborough in Abergele on New Year’s Day 1906. At about this time he and Ethel moved to St. Asaph and three further children were born there: John Hugh in 1906, Phillip Henry in 1907, and Robert Evan in 1909. By February 1911 he was back in Abergele when a fifth child, Annie Matilda Mary, was born. Two further children were to follow, one of which was born in September 1914 (see below).
By August 1914, David was one month short of his 31st birthday, employed as a Labourer, and living with his wife and children at 34, Peel Street, Abergele. He was one of many local men to attend the first recruiting event to be held in Abergele, in the area in front of the town hall (where HSBC now is).
“Private David Davies was the first local man to respond to Lord Kitchener’s call for recruits. It will be recollected that at the recruiting meeting held in the Town Hall on Saturday, August 15th, Davies was the leader of about a dozen young men who mounted the platform at the close of a striking speech by Major Priddle.”
[Abergele & Pensarn Visitor, 2 January 1915. This story is also confirmed in the 3 September 1914 edition of the Welsh Coast Pioneer, however, David’s service record, which survives, records an attestation date of 24 August 1914.]
He travelled to Wrexham on 27 August 1914 for his army medical. He was recorded as being by 5′ 6″ tall, weighing 9 stone 4 pounds, with blue eyes and dark hair and with a scar above his right eye. The medical form also noted that he was a Wesleyan. He was declared to be fit and duly joined the 3rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the regiment’s training battalion for new recruits: and reinforcements for the 1st Battalion were soon to be desperately needed.
Following the annihilation of the 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Zandvoorde on 30 October 1914 (see earlier posts on Isaac Jones and Allen Davies) , the remaining 80 or so men were combined with the remnants of 2nd Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, one of their sister battalions in 22nd Brigade, until such time as reinforcements could bring the battalion back to fighting strength. A draft of 109 men and one officer joined on 5 November but the battalion was not fully withdrawn from action until 9 November when they marched to Bailleul to be joined by more officers and 99 more men. The following day the battalion marched to billets in Merris and over the next two days more officers and 454 more men joined.
The battalion was now back to near full strength and the reorganisation of companies and commands began. The battalion then spent time in and out the trenches just south of a line between Bois-Grenier and Fleurbaix near Armentieres before returning to full combat strength with the arrival of one last draft of an officer and 96 men on 23 November. David Davies was with this final draft and he went immediately into the trenches. Another small draft arrived on 11 December, bringing with it another Abergele man, Joseph Davies.
The Bois-Grenier sector was much quieter than had been the case around Ypres in October, but nevertheless David’s initial experience of war was hardly gentle. Trench ‘attrition’, the daily grind of casualties to shell and sniper fire, was the routine in this sector, and in David’s first week 6 men were wounded, 1 was missing, 1 was killed and 2 more died of wounds. Despite brief periods in billets in reserve the battalion stayed in this sector throughout December, and hardly a day went by without one or two woundings and the occasional fatality.
In a letter home, written days before his death, David Davies had written, “Just a line. You know that I am quite well and have been in the trenches six days and nights. It was very wet, and we were up to our necks in clay, but we came out alright. I am still in the same spirit – as happy as a schoolboy, and as cheerful as the birds in May…I hope you are not fretting about me, as I am in grand health and in good condition. When I come home you will be surprised to see me drinking coffee, and that without sugar. You complain about foodstuffs being dear in Abergele. Sugar here is 1/8 a pound. We are getting plenty of tobacco and cigarettes in the trenches and out. So we are quite happy and comfortable.”
David would probably have written this letter on Christmas Day 1914, in billets at Rue de Bataille, as the battalion had been relieved from the trenches on Christmas Eve by the 1/8th Royal Scots. However, the rest period was short and on the night of 28 December the 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers relieved the 1/8th Royal Scots and went back into the line.
Nothing specific happened on the next day, the day that David died. The battalion was in the line and he became another victim of ‘trench attrition’. The battalion’s war diary records nothing more than the arrival of a new officer, a few reinforcements and “casualties other ranks, killed 2, wounded 3” .
On 2 January 1915, as yet still unaware of his death, David’s wife, Ethel, and parents proudly shared their recent communications with the Abergele & Pensarn Visitor. In a letter to his parents he had commented, “It is very wet out here and the trenches are very muddy. But things are not as bad as the papers at home make them.”
Within a few days Ethel Davies received a devastating letter from David’s Platoon Commander, 2nd Lieutenant Trevor Reece, dated 30 December. He wrote, “I regret to have to inform you that your husband was killed at 3.30 yesterday afternoon whilst doing his duty as sentry. He was shot through the head. His death is a great loss to the company, as he always did his duty well and cheerfully. Please accept my deepest sympathy in your bereavement.”
On 9 January the Abergele & Pensarn Visitor commented, “The sad news caused widespread sorrow in the district and a large number of influential residents called to sympathise with his widow and the seven little orphans. An Abergele soldier who was within a few yards of Davies when he was shot wrote that he met his death by a shot from an aeroplane.”
The newspaper went on to print a poetic eulogy penned by Ben Cybi Williams, ending with the words, “And what of his children? Oh, God do thou grant that the seven shall not suffer, that the wife shall not want”.
As a single casualty in his own trench lines, David Davies would have been buried by his comrades. Unfortunately, in an area that was fought over repeatedly for almost the duration of the war, the grave was subsequently lost and today he is one of 11,360 names inscribed on the Ploegsteert Memorial to the missing.
The news of David’s death hit his older brother Hugh particularly hard. Hugh had always wanted to be a soldier. He had been a member of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers at the time of the Boer War but was turned down three times to go to South Africa due to a defect with his left eye. He tried to join the regular army again in 1903 but was once more refused. Immediately upon the news of his brother’s death he vowed to try again, and before the end of January 1915 he had volunteered and been accepted to join the Royal Engineers.
A year after David’s death his sister Mary placed an ‘In Memoriam’ in the local newspaper: “Far and oft my thoughts do wander to a grave so far away, where they laid my loving brother just a year ago today”.
David’s youngest son was born in September 1914. It is unlikely that he saw him more than once or twice – immediately after the birth or during a final leave before embarking in November 1914. In the patriotic spirit of the day his son was named William Kitchener Davies. William would follow in his father’s footsteps and one day enlist into the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He was killed in Normandy, in the fight for Caen following D-Day on 21 July 1944, and is buried in Brouay Cemetery. Unlike his father, he is not commemorated on the Abergele War Memorial.