George was born in Caergwrle in 1896 the sixth and youngest child of William Davies and Charlotte Holmes who had married in Wrexham in 1887.
In 1891 William, a coal miner, and Charlotte were living in Lower Street, Caergwrle with two of their children, Alexander and Mary.
By 1901 their family had expanded to 6 children. They were still living in Lower Street, Caergwrle and the 1901 census tells us that William Davies was 47, a labourer to a coke burner, and his wife Charlotte was 38. The children were – John William aged 13, Alexander aged 12, Mary Esther aged 10, Rachel Annie aged 9, Charles Henry aged 7, and George Holmes aged 3. The children were all born in Caergwrle.
At some time before 1911 the family had moved to Sunny Bank Terrace, Caergwrle. The head of the family, William Davies aged 53, had returned to work in a coal mine. Charlotte was 48. Five of their children were still living at home. John William was 23, Alexander was 22, Mary Esther was 20, Charlie was 18, a coal miner, George aged 14 was still in school, and living with them was William and Charlotte’s granddaughter, Charlotte Davies aged 4 months. William and his sons John William and Alexander were each described as a coal miner byman. This census tells us that William and Charlotte had been married for 24 years and Charlotte had given birth to 7 children, 6 of whom were still alive.
In 1891 and 1911 William declared that he was born in Portabella, Staffordshire, but in 1901 he said he was born in Hoylake, Cheshire. Charlotte was born in Holywell.
George’s military records can be found on Find My Past (www.findmypast.co.uk) and Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk). They tell us that he joined the 5th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in Caergwrle on 4th August 1914 – the day that war broke out. He was only 18 years old. At that time he stated that his trade was a butcher, and he worked for Mr Griffiths, Lower Street, Caergwrle. He had a medical examination on 5th August and was declared ‘fit’. The only personal information given was that he was 5ft 8ins tall.
Over the next two years he had several promotions through the ranks. He started out as a Private, and was transferred to 2/5th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers on 15th May 1915. He was appointed provisional Lieutenant Corporal on 10th July 1915, and then acting Corporal on 22nd February. He was appointed acting Sergeant on 1st April 1916, and then posted to 3rd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers on 23rd August 1916. It was noted that he was to maintain his former rate of pay. His final posting was to 8th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers on 10th September 1916.
On the other side of the coin, he did have one or two brushes with authority. In Cambridge, on 23rd January 1915, he was “Absent without leave from tattoo until reporting himself at 9.30am (84 hours)”. His punishment was to be confined to barracks for 14 days, and to forfeit 5 days’ pay. Shortly afterwards on 3rd February 1915 he was “Absent from 9am till tattoo (12 1/2 hours)”. He was confined to barracks for 10 days and forfeited 1 days’ pay. There were one or two other misdemeanours over the following months.
George spent the first two years of his service in Britain. On joining the 8th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, on 10th September 1916 he embarked from Devonport and arrived in Mesopotamia on 10th October, joining his Unit in Amara on 21st October. Following his admission to hospital with tonsillitis in mid November 1916, he rejoined his Unit on 19th November, still in Amara.
I tried to find out in which battle George was killed, but it appeared that locally to his Battalion there were no battles between the end of April 1916 and the beginning of January 1917. So why was George killed in action on 20th December 1916?
I was pointed in the direction of the Great War Forum where I posed the question. I had some very interesting replies, and am grateful to ‘Ken’ for his help and for telling me about the Regimental Records of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (Forgotten Books). From these records the following is recorded by the 8th Battalion.
“Our battalion remained at Abu Shitaib Camp, Amara, until the 28th November. During this time there was a marked decrease in the sick rate, which was attributed to the fall in temperature, better rations, and fewer guard duties and fatigues.
But the battalion was not idle. “Training was carried out regularly; there was a rifle range and a grenade range available on certain days of the week, and field work was also carried out. They were carefully nursed by Lieutenant-Colonel Hay, a feeling of confidence was established ” the men felt fit”.
On the 28th the battalion marched out of camp and took the road for Twin Canals, arriving at Sheikh Saad on the 6th December and Twin Canals on the 7th.
The I Corps had the 7th Indian Division on the left bank of the Tigris, and the 3rd Indian Division on the right bank from opposite Sannaiyat to the Nasifiya canal. The III Corps carried on the line on the right bank to the vicinity of Atab with the 14th Indian Division in the line and the 13th Division concentrated at Imam al Mansur. Our battalion marched to this last place on the 13th December.
In order to deceive the enemy, all tents were left standing during the concentration. And on the 14th the I Corps, on the left bank, were to bombard the Sannaiyat positions and do all that was possible to make the Turks believe an assault was about to be launched on their first system of trenches. The duty of the III Corps was to occupy a line from the Calf’s Head to the Hai, and thence to a point north-west of Basrugiya.
At 3 a.m. on the 14th the 13th Division commenced the advance. Our battalion, after moving to the point of deployment with the 40th Brigade, proceeded independently to seize a small redoubt north-west of Atab, on the Hai, and cover the crossing of the 5th Wiltshire lower down the river.
Excitement was tense. Bayonets were fixed, and the orders were to charge into the fort and take the garrison by surprise. But a reconnoitring patrol soon reported that the fort had been abandoned by the enemy. Not a Turk was seen. Dawn broke and revealed the River Hai with a trickle of water in it. A bridge was thrown over below Atab. For the rest of the day the battalion was strung out about 2,000 yards north of Atab, in front of the 38th Brigade, and when night fell was withdrawn into reserve.
The next day our battalion remained in line while the cavalry probed the country ahead. But on the 16th the whole of the III Corps crossed the Hai, our battalion taking over a line about Besouia and digging trenches through the night. Everything was quiet. C Company occupied a small hill in advance of the line on the 17th, and after nightfall the battalion was withdrawn to Ummas Saad as divisional reserve.
During the next two days a slight redistribution was effected in the III Corps. The 13th Division was astride the Hai with the 38th Brigade on Lnam Mahdi.
On 20th December a column was assembled, consisting of the 7th Cavalry Brigade, the 40th Infantry Brigade, B/55th Field Battery, a section of the 88th Field Company, and the Bridging Train. This column was given as an objective the Brick-kilns on the Husaini Bend, and their orders were to secure a crossing and throw a bridge across the Tigris. Marching first in a south-westerly direction, to escape shell fire, twelve miles were covered before the column reached the objective. The cavalry found the Turks on the alert, but the infantry dropped into the dry bed of the canal and approached the bank of the Tigris under ideal cover. At 11.30 a.m. the Cheshire Regiment was ordered to the east of the canal, while our battalion lined the bank of the Tigris, with A, B, and C Companies from the Brick-kilns to the canal.
Supported by the fire of the two battalions, the Bridging Train attempted to launch a pontoon. The fire from the Turks was too severe, in a moment, out of the 29 men employed, 10 were hit (Captain Piers Mostyn was badly wounded in our battalion) and it was decided to attempt a crossing higher up. Before this could be proceeded with, however, a telegram from General Maude ordered General Crocker to withdraw his column unless a crossing had been effected before receipt of the message. Shortly after 2 p.m. General Crocker withdrew his troops, but the movement required care, and the concentration was not complete until 5 p.m. The column then marched about six miles and bivouaced in the desert. Considering the nature of the operation ” and the strength of the enemy, which was estimated at 350 ” the casualties were small: 54 for the column. Our battalion had Captains Mostyn and Gibby and Lieutenant Owen wounded, 2 other ranks killed, and 9 wounded.”
It would appear that it was George Davies and a William Hudson who were killed in action that day.
George’s brother John William Davies survived the war after spending 4 years in 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
There is an index card for George Davies in the Flintshire Roll of Honour at the County Record Office in Hawarden which confirms the regimental details above.
He is also listed on the Caergwrle War Memorial