Williams, David William

David was born 1897 in Llanrhaeadr, Denbighshire, to Richard Williams who worked in the Fisheries at Ysceifiog and Jane Sephorah Williams, who was born in Rhyl. They had four children including David and three survived up to the time of the 1911 census. The family lived in Pant Gwyn Mill, Ysceifiog. David’s aunt Mary Jane (Richard’s sister) who was disabled also lived with the family. At this time David was 14 years old and worked as a teator’s assistant in the local cement works.

The papers concerning David’s enlistment have not been located but it is more than likely that he would have enlisted at the Drill Hall in Holywell. He was posted to the 19th (Service) battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

David is listed as having been killed in action on 24th November 1917. He was a soldier in the 19th Battalion of the RWF and the regimental diary indicates that on that day the Battalion was in action in the fighting in Bourlon Wood which was part of the Battle of Cambrai and involved the first large scale use of battle tanks. Although the definitive circumstances of his death can not be ascertained, as a member of the 19th Bat. the following account provides the likely circumstances.

The 19th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers was a service battalion which is described as providing combat service support to a brigade group and able to fight in a defensive role and to provide logistical support. The 19th battalion moved to Lillers, France in May 1916 and by November that year it had been deployed to engage in the Battles of the Somme and the Battle of Ancre.

Force’s War Records site indicates the Order of Battle:

Battle Of Cambrai – Capture Of Bourlon Wood – 23/11/1917

Location: Bourlon Wood. British victory. The Allied attack on Bourlon Wood was part of a larger battle to take Cambrai, an important railway junction and supply point for the Hindenburg Line.

If Cambrai and the higher ground of Bourlon Wood fell to the Allies, then German supply lines from the coast would be vulnerable to attack. British success on the first day of the battle for Cambrai were countered by heavy losses to the Tank Corps, mainly due to mechanical breakdown rather than enemy action.

However more critically the strategically important high ground of Bourlon Wood remained in German possession and during the night of 23rd November, 1917, 40th Division relieved 62nd Division from their positions south of the wood with a view to renewing the attack the following day.

121st Infantry Brigade were to attack Bourlon village, 119th Infantry Brigade, Bourlon Wood. Twenty tanks were allocated to support 121st Infantry Brigade and twelve to 119th Infantry Brigade although due to mechanical breakdown not all were available.

Following off behind the artillery barrage at 10.40am, both 12th South Wales Borderers and 19th Royal Welsh Fusiliers made good initial progress into the wood, rushing across the south sunken road with fixed bayonets. The left flank of 12th South Wales Borderers coming under pressure from a machine-gun post in a small factory on the edge of the wood, this was cleared by the fortunate arrival of a tank.

17th Welsh Regiment coming forwards, by midday, parties of 12th South Wales Borderers had passed through the wood to reach the outskirts of Bourlon village. A series of German counter-attacks during the afternoon pushed them back.

18th Welsh Regiment arriving in time to mount a counter-attack and stabilise the position towards the centre of the wood. On the right 19th Royal Welsh Fusiliers had made even better progress, reaching the northern edge of the wood before also being pushed back in the counter-attack, the arrival of 18th Welsh Regiment gaining much of the lost ground, so that by the end of the day, only the north-west corner of the wood was still in German possession.

Reaching Bourlon by midday, 20th Middlesex Regiment proceeded to attack the village where they were halted by strong machine-gun fire, as were 13th Yorkshire Regiment. 21st Middlesex Regiment coming up in support a second attempt to reach the village at 14.00pm was also defeated, the German resistance stiffening as 36th Division were held up to the left.

12th Suffolk Regiment moving forwards to renew the 121st Infantry Brigade attack on 24th November, 14th Highland Light Infantry of 120th Infantry Brigade were attached in support along with twelve tanks. During the period of organisation for the attack, it was cancelled by Divisional Head Quarters, however no message to this effect was received by the attacking units.

No tank support arriving the relief was unable it fight it’s way through and the few remaining 14th Highland Light Infantry men were compelled to surrender. On the right in Bourlon Wood, a further large German counter-attack was repelled around 08.30am on 25th November, although a second at 13.00pm pushed the right flank back with the position being regained by a combined force of 19th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 14th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and 15th Hussars.

Attacks continued throughout the afternoon, 11th King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) were the last reserve unit available to help. They and the Guards Division on the right stabilised the position prior to 40th Division being relieved by 62nd Division during the evening of 25th November.

40th Division suffered 3363 casualties during the capture of Bourlon Wood and attack on Bourlon village. They are remembered in a memorial to 40th Division in Bourlon Church.

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