Albert was baptised on 13th October 1889 in Hope Parish Church, the son of John Davies, a labourer, and Harriet Hughes of Cymmau, who were married in the same church 16 years earlier on 23rd June 1873.
In 1891 the family were living at Ffordd Las, Hope. John Davies was 40, a coal miner born in Gresford and was Head of the family. His wife Harriet was 37 born in Wrexham. Four of their children were living at home. Jane 12, John 6, Samuel 4 and Albert 1. The children were all born in Hope.
By 1901 the family had moved to Caer Estyn Lane, Hope. John Davies was 50 and was then a general labourer living with his wife Harriet who was 47, John who was 16, Samuel who was 14, Albert who was 11, Mary Ann who was 9 and Harriet who was 3.
They were still living in Caer Estyn Lane, at Meadow View in 1911. John Davies was 60, a byman at Llay Hall Colliery, Harriet was 57, John was 27, a fish merchant, Samuel was 24, a platelayer, Albert was 21, also a platelayer and Harriet was 14. A granddaughter, Flosse Jones aged 10 was visiting them that night, and they also had a boarder living with them, Joshua Kirkham aged 39, a hawker. The 1911 census also tells us that John and Harriet had been married for 38 years, and Harriet had had 13 children sadly only 7 of whom were still living.
Albert’s military records have survived, but are quite badly burned in places. They can be found on Find My Past (http://www.findmypast.co.uk) or Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk). Before enlisting Albert had been working for the Great Central Railway Company as a Subganger. He enlisted in Caergwrle on 26th February 1916, to the Army Reserve Class “B”, when he was 26 years old. From his personal details at that time, we know that he was 5′ 9 1/2″ tall, he weighed 139lb and had a 35 1/2″ chest.
He joined the Royal Engineers and his Service No. was 289962. In his Army records there is a memo dated 11th July 1917 to the Area Commander authorising him to despatch Albert to the Depot Railway Troops, Royal Engineers at Longmoor. There is also a Pass for Recruits authorising him to proceed by the most direct Railway from Wrexham to Longmoor. This Pass says that he is not in possession of a Great Coat, but his Ration allowance for the day of the journey had been paid to him. The HQ of the regular railway troops before the war was at Longmoor in Hampshire and the Special Reserve Companies came there annually for training. Albert was attached to 279th Railway Company, Royal Engineers and his Service No. changed to WR/274991.
He left for France on 27th August 1917. The Royal Engineers were vital to the fighting of the War. Armaments, ammunition, food for the men and horses, mail for the troops, etc all needed to be sent to the Front as speedily as possible. The quickest way to do this was by building railways. Light railways were built closest to the Front. This worked very well, mainly thanks to the good management of Eric Geddes (later to be Sir Eric Geddes) who was put in charge of railways early on in the War.
The Bolshevik Revolution had led to Russia pulling out of the War and Germany now used troops released from the Eastern Front to launch the Spring Offensive of Operation Michael on 21st March 1918. They used storm troopers to penetrate deep into enemy positions in order to disrupt communications and cut supply lines. Members of the Royal Engineers will have been caught by surprise and defended themselves with whatever came to hand. In Albert’s case this was his pick and shovel. The event was recorded on the Roll of Honour Index Card held at Flintshire Record Office, which stated ‘in battle when manual workers fought with picks and shovels’. The failure of Operation Michael is considered to be the beginning of the end of the War.
He survived the War, but in the early days of 1919, before being de-mobbed and whilst still in France, he contracted the influenza that was prevalent at the time and died of pneumonia on 14th January at the 39th Stationary Hospital in the field. It is reported that the Matron and Army Chaplain performed the last rites in a little cemetery close by. His possessions, consisting of: photos, cap, badge, 4 handkerchiefs, wallet, watch (broken) with case and chain with locket attached, lock of hair and 3 coins (defaced) were returned to his mother Harriet.
A photograph of a grave has been passed down through the family, which is a little confusing. Albert now has the standard white grave, issued by the Commonwealth Grave Commission, in Lille Southern Cemetery. However, it looks as though a ‘grave stone’ – possibly made of wood or even cardboard, and surrounded by flowers, was erected shortly after his death. Following a query on the Great War Forum, it was suggested to me that it is a cut out cross bearing Albert’s details laid on top of an original photograph and then re-photographed. Possibly the work of a charlatan taking advantage of the grief of relatives desperate to have a memento of the last resting place of their loved one.
The index card for Albert Davies in the Flintshire Roll of Honour at the County Record Office in Hawarden confirms the regimental details above.
He is also listed on the Hope War Memorial.