1914-2014: Abergele & District Commemorations: Allen Davies

Private 10936 Allen Davies, 1st Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 22nd Brigade, 7th Division. Killed in Action 30 October 1914, First Battle of Ypres, aged 22.

Son of John and Alice Davies, of 1, Fron Hyfryd, Groes Lwyd, Abergele. Born Birkenhead, enlisted Wrexham, lived Ty Gobaith, Old Colwyn. A professional Soldier. In 1911 he had been a Labourer at Tyn y Caeau Farm, Betws yn Rhos. Brother of John Davies, 2nd Cheshire, who would die of wounds, 2 May 1915. Plot IXA. L. 10., Hooge Crater Cemetery, Hooge, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. Abergele War Memorial. Abergele Town War Memorial. Rhyl War Memorial.

The 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 22nd Brigade, 7th Division, arrived in Zeebrugge, Belgium, on 7 October 1914 on board the troopship Winifredian. Within two weeks the battalion would all but cease to exist, and over 900 of the nearly 1,000 men on the Winifredian would be dead, wounded or missing.

They were to assist in the defence of Antwerp but the war of movement in this early part of the war was quite fluid and for the next week 7th Division was constantly marching to new positions in support of French and Belgian troops. On 14 October they arrived at the Belgian town of Ypres and were ordered into the line at Zonnebeke before moving forwards to Dadizele on 19 October and engaging the Germans for the first time in what is known as the First Battle of Ypres. The next days would be awful.

Between 19 and 21 October the battalion lost 87 men dead with many more wounded and missing. The battalion was withdrawn from action into a reserve role and a roll call on the 22nd counted just 6 officers and 206 men, with as many as 213 men listed as missing. Despite the reserve role, pressure from the Germans was still intense and another 15 casualties were recorded up to 24 October when the depleted battalion found itself at Veldhoek, north of Ypres. It was here that, in a rare moment of humour, the battalion adjutant recorded in the war diary that, in addition to the regimental goat, three further goats had attached themselves to the battalion and refused to leave. On the 26th a party of 90 reinforcements joined and the battalion, desperate for rest, moved a few miles south to Zillebeke on the 27th, suffering a further 20 casualties.

On 29 October 7th Division found itself under another strong German assault. 22nd Brigade and 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers were in reserve and avoided the worst of the attack, but once again they had to move and dig-in in a new location as the Division was pushed back 500 yards.

“This meant that the work of the previous days had to be begun all over again….the strain was telling heavily now on officers and men. They had been fighting almost continuously for ten days: they had been far from fresh when they started fighting; they were now shorter of sleep than ever, few had had the chance of a wash or a shave, meals had been scanty and irregular….” . [‘The 7th Division 1914-1918’, C. T. Atkinson, 1926, p.79.]

A new divisional line was established, with its right held by the 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers slightly east of Zandvoorde, a village on a slight rise held by the Household Cavalry. As dawn broke on 30 October the Germans;

“…were at it again, shelling the whole line with renewed fury and devoting special attention to Zandvoorde and the ridge upon which it stands. This was held by the Household Cavalry, and it was on them that the brunt of the bombardment fell….the Household Cavalry hung on valiantly , but their trenches were practically obliterated by the bombardment, and when at length the German infantry pressed forward to the assault there were but few defenders left to meet it. The ridge and village appear to have passed into German hands rather after 8 a.m., and almost immediately the Welch Fusiliers, already well employed in keeping off the German infantry in their front, found themselves enfiladed from the right. They still held on stubbornly, but the Germans brought a battery right forward which came into action on the Zandvoorde ridge itself and did terrible execution among the Fusiliers, whose trenches had already been badly mauled by the storm of shells which descended upon them.” [‘The 7th Division 1914-1918’, C. T. Atkinson, 1926, p.81-82.]

The events of the day as they affected 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers directly are very unclear. The war diary is torn with a chunk missing and all that can be read is, “The enemy attacked the trenches of….the battalion at daybreak, and….cavalry on the right giving way…” [War Diary, 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, WO 95/1665]  The Adjutant, Captain Dooner, had kept a very detailed diary until this point and was obviously writing these words in a shell-blasted trench as the disaster was unfolding about him. What we do know is that the battalion, already a shadow of its original self, was effectively surrounded and decimated. The war diary, now written in a different hand some time later, picked up the story:

“The exact nature of the casualties that day are unknown, but the following officers [12 are listed] and 320 NCO’s and men were found to be missing that day. No accurate information is available regarding this action…” . [War Diary, 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, WO 95/1665]

The fighting around Zandvoorde was brutal and continued for many hours more but;

“….before this, however, the Welch Fusiliers gallant resistance had come to an end. They had fought stubbornly on, the hopelessness of their position notwithstanding, and had thereby greatly delayed the German advance. But, taken in flank and rear, enfiladed and hard pressed in front, their destruction was only a question of time. Of the 12 officers and rather over 400 men to which the battalion had been brought up, only 86 men were present at the end of the day. Colonel Cadogan, his Adjutant, Captain Dooner , and the great majority of the officers and men were killed, only four officers and about fifty men being reported later on as prisoners, and most of them wounded.” [‘The 7th Division 1914-1918’, C. T. Atkinson, 1926, p.84.]

Amongst the casualties were two Abergele men, Allen Davies and Isaac Jones (see above). Allen’s death was not confirmed for some time and, when news came through to his parents that their other son, John Davies of the 2nd Cheshires, had died in May 1915, Allen was still officially listed as missing in action. The precise details of Allen’s death may never be discovered and even the date is suspect: as his medal index card records, the date was merely ‘accepted’ at a later stage.

His body was recovered after the war and identified by means of his identification disc. He was exhumed and reburied at Hooge Crater Cemetery on 21 May 1919. Also exhumed at his location, and now buried adjacent to him in Hooge, were the aforementioned Lieutenant Colonel Cadogan and Captain Dooner.

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