1916-2016: Abergele & District Commemorations: John Robert Davies

Private 15470, John Robert Davies, 10th Battalion, 76th Brigade, 3rd Division. Died of Wounds, 20 February 1916, aged 23. Buried Plot IV. D. 13A. Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium. Not commemorated in the Abergele district, but commemorated on the Llanfairfechan War Memorial. The inscription on his headstone reads: Y peth yr wif fi yn ei wneuthur ni wyddost ti yr awrhon, Ioan XIII.7 (You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand).

Born in Llanddulas, the son of John and Ann Davies who both died whilst he was young. In 1901 he was living with his grandparents at 17, New Street Abergele. By 1911 he had become the adopted son of his Aunt, Sarah Jones, of Washington House, Llanfairfechan.

As an original volunteer member of the 10th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, John had arrived in France, at Boulogne, 27 September 1915. Until December 1915 the battalion’s experience had been one of routine periods in the front line trenches, south of Ypres, and periods of rest in rear area billets. It was during the battalion’s third stretch in the trenches that Richard Maurice Evans, the battalions first Abergele casualty, had been killed.

The battalion returned to the trenches 17 December 1915 until Christmas Eve and, as before, daily casualties from occasional shelling and the ever-present German snipers were incurred. That stint cost 4 men killed, 14 wounded and a further 4 who died of wounds. The steady erosion of the battalion through the attrition of trench warfare led to the battalion receiving it’s first batch of reinforcements from the 3rd (Reserve) RWF battalion at this time.

On New Year’s Eve, 10th RWF returned to the trenches. Over the next few weeks the usual rotation between being in and out of the trenches continued, and the usual casualties were incurred. January saw 4 men killed, 18 wounded, a further 3 who died of their wounds and 1 sent home as physically unable to continue.

The start of February saw the battalion less frequently in the line as a period of movement and relocation followed. However, by 15 February they were in Poperinge, Belgium, and the following day returned to the trenches. Sadly, a new Adjutant’s hand had taken to the writing of the battalion war diary. Whereas before it had been very detailed, the entries now become rather vague. All that is noted for 17 February, the day that John was fatally wounded, is that the battalion experienced it’s first major trauma above and beyond the routine casualties of trench warfare, and yet the diary merely names the deaths of two officers, the wounding of 3 others and then blandly states “other ranks – 18 killed and 35 wounded” . The following day is little different: “casualties – other ranks 6 killed and 6 wounded” . The following day, 19 February 1915, the battalion were relieved from the trenches.

What exactly had happened? Following a period of rest the 10th Royal Welsh Fusiliers re-entered the front line trenches north-east of St. Eloi, Belgium, on 16 February 1916. The trenches they inherited were old and in poor condition. At 5.30 a.m. on the 17th a furious German artillery bombardment began falling on the battalion’s part of the front line. Over the next half an hour there was little that the men could do other than ride the storm and hope for the best. Casualties were heavy. Eighteen men were killed and 35 wounded. Amongst the wounded were two local men, John Robert Davies, who died three days later 20 February 1916, and Hugh Thomas Davies. The two Abergele and district men are buried in the same grave.