1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: Joseph Davies

Private 11069 Joseph Davies, 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 22nd Brigade, 7th Division. Killed in action 16 May 1915, Battle of Festubert, aged 27. No known grave, Panel 13 and 14, Le Touret Memorial, Le Touret Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. Commemorated on Abergele War Memorial, Abergele Town War Memorial and Rhyl War Memorial.

Son of Walter and Alice Davies, of 5, Rhuddlan Rd., Abergele. Born Llanrhaeadr, lived in Abergele, and enlisted in Rhyl. Joseph was a noted long distance runner having won many prizes in competitions before the war. The family had moved to Abergele c.1893. They had 14 children, of whom 11 were still living by 1911. From the 1911 Census they were (with ages of 1911): Walter (25), Joseph (23), Charles (21), John (19), Margaret Elizabeth (17), Eliza Emma (15), Sophia (11), Robert (9), William Edward (6), Ivor (3). The missing name is that of Isaac Morris Davies, a professional soldier who was serving in India in 1911, age unknown, and who lived at 33, Peel Street. Isaac and the 4 oldest boys, Walter, Joseph, Charles and John, all served. Charles and John would both become Prisoners of War, with John becoming famous for escaping from his German prison camp in December 1916 and making it home to a hero’s welcome (the subject of a future article).

Joseph had formerly served as a professional soldier and was called up from the reserve when war broke out. He arrived in France 11 December 1914 as a 1st Battalion reinforcement and was soon followed by three of his brothers, all of whom were serving by January 1915 when Joseph was reported to be temporarily ill in a hospital at Le Havre. Official notification of Joseph’s death was received by his father in the first week of June 1915.

The account below, of the events of the day that Joseph died at Festubert, is written by my friend the Reverend Clive Hughes and reproduced with his kind permission.

The unit mustered 25 Officers 806 men in the trenches that morning, Following a half-hour bombardment the unit attacked just after it ended at 3:16am, going over the top in successive order of the 4 companies, 2 waves of men per company. Their aim (within the larger battle) was to take 2 lines of enemy trenches then hold a defensive position. It met heavy shell and machine-gun fire even as it left the trenches and tried to cross No Mans Land. They got beyond the two enemy lines but came under fire from their left, and part of the battalion (A & part of B companies) was mixed up with the 2nd Scots Guards on that flank. The rear two companies (C & D) also suffered badly in crossing to the German lines. As some men pressed on further they were hit by “friendly” shellfire and halted.

By 1pm contact was made with the Royal Warwicks Regiment on the right and The Queen’s Regiment came up in support. The battalion found itself holding an exposed position facing an orchard, open to enemy sniping from front and rear. At 2pm the enemy began shelling the trench they were in, which offered little cover. Reinforcements from the 7th London regiment came up and attacked the orchard covered by fire from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (RWF), but had to fall back under machine-gun fire. The shelling meantime wrecked the trench and cut the RWF off from other units. Darkness was approaching as the RWF fell back to a line being held just in front of the former Second German Line; then were ordered to withdraw to trenches being held by The Queen’s, which they accomplished successfully.

The RWF claimed to have penetrated the enemy defences to a depth of 1200 yards. For this they paid a heavy price: Officers- 6 killed, 2 died of wounds, 9 wounded, 1 wounded & missing, 1 missing. Total 19 out of 25. Other Ranks- 118 Killed, 271 wounded, 164 missing (many of whom would prove to be dead), 6 wounded and missing. Total 559 out of 806. Some 110 bodies were collected and buried in the old No Mans Land on 18th May, in addition to various officers brought in the previous evening.

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