John Douglas Jones Davies was born in 1893 in Ruabon, the son of Clara Davies, the unmarried daughter of Edward and Jane Davies of Caergwrle. He was known as “Dougie”.
Dougie‘s grandparents Edward Davies and Jane Coates were married in Wrexham in 1867, and in 1901 Douglas was living with these grandparents and his great grandfather amongst others in Lower Street, Caergwrle. Edward Davies was 55, a brewers’ labourer, Jane his wife was 54, Valentine was 22, also a brewers’ labourer, Hannah was 18, Margaret was 15, both were housemaids (domestic), Mary was 11, Douglas was 6, Edward’s grandson, born in Ruabon, Denbighshire, and George Coates was 87, a widower (Jane’s father).
In 1901 Dougie’s mother was living at Hillock Lane in Gresford as a boarder with Mrs Isabella Hampson, a widow and laundress, and her family. Clara was 29 years old and was also a laundress.
In 1911 Dougie was living with his mother Clara in Hillock Lane, Gresford. They were living with Mrs Isabella Hampson as Clara had been in 1901. Mrs Hampson was aged 57, a widow and laundress. Clara Davies, assistant, was 39, laundress, and Douglas Davies, was 17, a boarder and apprentice to a butcher.
Late in life, on 29th November 1926, Dougie’s mother Clara married John Samuel Robinson, a Coal Merchant from Vicarage Lane, Gresford. Clara died just over two years later in the early months of 1929, but by the Spring of that year John Samuel Robinson had married Clara’s younger sister Mary Edith, known to the family as Daisy.
Dougie’s military records are missing, but we do know that he fought and died in Gallipoli. Sometime after the outbreak of War he became Private 1514 of the 5th battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. His future movements are those which were recorded in the War Diary of the battalion. The 5th underwent several movements between barracks in parts of the UK before May 1915, when it became part of the 158th Brigade which would be deployed in landings designed to break the deadlock that had developed in Gallipoli in Turkey.
The force left British shores on 14th July, on board HMT Caledonia, and arrived at Lemnos Harbour on 28th. On 8th August they embarked on board HMS Rowan and landed at the island of Imbros, Dougie’s Medal Index Card gives this as the date in which he first officially entered the Balkan Theatre of War. At 4.30am on 9th August they set sail again and disembarked at what was identified as ‘C Beach’ at Suvla Bay at 6am.
Earlier Suvla Bay landings, involving other forces, had commenced on the night of 6th August 1915. Rather than being sent to seize the high ground, before the Turks could gain the initiative, these troops had been mismanaged by the British Commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford from the start. The Turks had been able to strengthen their previously weak positions. In addition insufficient steps had been taken to secure control of a supply of water for the troops, which were yet to land and follow. These failures had absolutely devastating implications for the future of the campaign. Earlier mismanagement meant that Dougie’s battalion would receive a baptism of fire.
For Dougie, and many of the soldiers with him, this was their first experience of the War. They spent the rest of the 9th August in bivouacs on the beach at Lala Baba. Another division was involved in action towards the high ground of Scimitar Hill and Dougie will have heard the firing. He will have seen clouds of smoke rising from the hillsides where hot bullets landed on the parched vegetation. Without doubt he will have witnessed something even more sinister and sickening. The British war correspondent, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, was at Lala Baba on the same day. He saw crawling figures disappear amid the dense clouds of black smoke. When the fire passed on he noted little mounds of scorched khaki where British soldiers had been burned to death. The next day it would be the turn of Dougie’s battalion.
Reveille was as 3.30 am on 10th August. The orders for the 158th Brigade were to advance eastwards, crossing about two miles of mud of the dry Salt Lake. They were then to pass through the lines of the 159th Brigade and continue to attack the high ground of the Anfarta Spur, which would be under bombardment. One member of the 5th battalion later described crossing the Salt Lake as being like crossing the sands of the River Dee between Flint and Neston. Half way across they came under heavy shrapnel fire from Turkish positions. It was the start of what was going to be a long casualty list.
There was considerable confusion once the forces had reached the eastern side of the Salt Lake and this is reflected in the accounts left behind. With regard to members of the 5th battalion, they did pass through the ranks of the 159th Brigade and were amongst the troops that began the assault. Some lives were lost in a dash for cover on the east side of the lake and many others were killed or wounded in the battle for Scimitar Hill. The hill slopes were covered with thick scrub and, rather than being able to charge the enemy with fixed bayonets as planned, the men became separated, following goat tracks and water courses in single file. Reports suggest members of the 5th battalion made a courageous attack, having been roused into action by their commander Lieutenant-Colonel Philips.
Once they were within 150 yards of the Turkish trenches the enemy started to retreat and it looked like the British were going to capture Scimitar Hill. However the Turkish artillery opened fire with a heavy bombardment of shrapnel shells which had a devastating result.
Colonel Philips was killed and several members of the battalion were forced back. Some Turkish trenches had been seized but the change of fortune brought the Turkish troops back and there are reports of hand-to-hand fighting. Once the Turks regained control of their positions they opened fire with machine guns. Several soldiers were now cut off from their battalion and could be picked off by snipers. The attack was called off at 13.30. Another attempt was made at 17.00 hours but it failed.
By the end of the day of 10th August the 5th battalion had lost the commanding officer, four other officers, and 13 other ranks. One officer and 39 ranks were reported missing. Six officers and 116 other ranks had been wounded. Some soldiers later died of wounds received and the eventual death toll, for the 5th battalion for that day, was recorded as six officers and 26 other ranks.
Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Mills, of the 6th battalion described the conditions after the first week at Suvla Bay:
“Very little water, very few rations, cold at night, and blazing sun during the day. The smell was indescribable, dead and wounded everywhere, and no means of burying the dead. After sweating in the sun all day, the dust caked on everyone’s face, and for want of water everyone’s lips were black with caked blood; the blood cracked if one open one’s mouth, and it streamed down one’s chin.”
As for Dougie, his Medal Index Card shows that he earned the Victory, British and the 1915 Star medals. However, it also shows that his death was “accepted” on 10th August 1915. As with so many others, there was no chance of recovering his body. Dougie is remembered on the Helles Memorial that records the names of those who were buried and those whose bodies were never found. He died on what was his first day of action in the conflict of the First World War, aged 22.
He is also listed on the Hope War Memorial.