Harold William DAVIES MM

Poppy

DAVIES, Harold William

Service Number: 3537
Enlisted: 27 July 1915, Melbourne, Victoria
Last Rank: Corporal
Last Unit: 58th Infantry Battalion
Born: Homebush, Victoria, April 1893
Home Town: Ballarat Central, Ballarat North, Victoria
Schooling: Sebastopol State School and Ballarat High School
Occupation: School teacher
Died: Died of wounds, France, 5 April 1918
Cemetery: La Neuville British Cemetery, Corbie
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour
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World War 1 Service

27 Jul 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 3537, Melbourne, Victoria
11 Oct 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 3537, 8th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Nestor, Adelaide
11 Oct 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 3537, 8th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
15 Mar 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 58th Infantry Battalion
19 Jul 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 3537, 58th Infantry Battalion, Fromelles (Fleurbaix)
22 Nov 1916: Honoured Military Medal
11 May 1917: Wounded AIF WW1, Corporal, SN 3537, 58th Infantry Battalion, Bullecourt (Second), Shell wound (neck)
5 Apr 1918: Wounded AIF WW1, Corporal, SN 3537, 58th Infantry Battalion, Villers-Bretonneux, 2nd occasion

Cpl Harold Davies MM

From "Ballarat & District in the Great War"

One of the richest veins from the great 1850’s goldrush was not the highly prized metal, but that of heritage – Chinese heritage. Many families in Australia now share that incredible birthright due to the ready assimilation of Chinese miners into the growing European presence on the goldfields. Those connections were often identifiable amongst our Great War diggers by surname, however, that was not always possible – as was the case of Harold Davies, a young man with a Welsh surname, but with one of the richest of Chinese ancestries in the colonies.

Born at Homebush, near Avoca, on 7 March 1893, Harold William was the only son of Daniel Brotherwood Davies and Ellen Howqua. His maternal grandfather had been a Chinese interpreter and was called on to give evidence in the Commission into the Goldfields, published 29 March 1855. He was also descended from the Chinese trader, Howqua (1769-1843), who was reputed to be the richest man in the world of his time. He built his empire trading with the British during the First Opium War, and was reputed to be an opium dealer himself. This was a heritage the family was to become very proud of.

When he was quite young the family moved into Sebastopol, and made their home in Ophir Street on the borough’s southern edge. Daniel Davies found work in the local mines, Ellen maintained their new home, and the children were enrolled in the Sebastopol State School.

For many years Harold was a member of the Sebastopol Junior International Order of Rechabites Tent, where he served as Secretary. He and his two sisters attended Sunday School classes at the Holy Trinity Church Sunday School. With school and training in the junior cadets, life for young Harold was very busy.

From an early age Harold showed great promise in his studies. He graduated to the newly opened Ballarat Agricultural High School, where he studied the two-year course for his Junior Public examination.

As was common in those pre-war years, students who displayed an aptitude for teaching were given the opportunity of gaining experience as a junior teacher before undertaking a suitable course of study. So, it was with Harold Davies, who began his teaching career at his former State School in Sebastopol. He was at the school for two years before presenting himself for a competitive examination at the University of Melbourne. His success in this exam entitled him to two years training at the Teacher’s College in Carlton during the years 1913-14. Whilst there, Harold also played football for the college against their Sydney counterparts.

After successfully completing his course, Harold received the Trained Teacher’s Certificate. His first appointment was as head teacher at Yandoit Hill State School. He quickly proved to be an excellent teacher, certainly his ‘happy and genial nature’ made him a favourite in the district. Assessments of his teaching spoke of ‘his briskness and intelligence, and the excellence of his methods.’ The future looked bright.

Then the world went to war.

On 16 July 1915, Harold travelled into nearby Daylesford to present himself as a recruit for the AIF. He was examined by a captain from the Australian Army Medical Corps, who described Harold as being of quite a slight build: he was just 5-foot 4¼-inches tall and weighed only 123-pounds. He had a reasonable chest measurement (fully expanded at 34-inches), but all-in-all he was just inside the minimum requirements. It was also noted that he had a fair complexion, with blue eyes and brown hair – and that he had a varicocele (an abnormal enlargement in the scrotum), which could potentially have made him unfit for active service. However, after being re-examined in Melbourne on 24 July, Harold was passed fit.

The ensuing months were spent in training at both the Albert Park and Broadmeadows camps. He was posted to the 11th allotment of reinforcements destined for the 8th Infantry Battalion. On 11 October he boarded the troopship Nestor for the voyage to Egypt.

The re-organisation of the AIF following the end of the Gallipoli Campaign saw the raising of many new units. Battle-hardened battalions were divided in half, each being combined with new recruits to create a mixture of experienced and green troops. A new battalion would be thus connected to a “sister battalion”. As a result, the 8th Battalion was linked to the 60th – as the men would say: the 8th Battalion had pups! On 24 February 1916, after just a month with the 8th, Harold Davies was transferred to the 60th Battalion. He was very much a “pup”! This was to be a very brief association, however, with a second transfer on 15 March – this time to the 58th Infantry Battalion – sister unit to the 6th Battalion.

To illustrate the harshness of military life, on 8 April 1916, Harold was brought up on a charge of being absent from the 5:30am Parade, and, when he appeared, being ‘improperly dressed on parade’. Captain E. H. Mair found Harold guilty and awarded him a sentence of 5 days of close confinement. It wouldn’t be the only time he fell foul of authority – on 5 October of the same year, he was charged with having been out of bounds of the Divisional Area contrary to orders. This time he was awarded a punishment of 7 days Field Punishment No2 – something that often consisted of something like being fed bread and water.

The 58th Battalion arrived in France on 23 June 1916, and had travelled by train from Marseilles to Steenbecque in the north of the country.

At the Battle of Fromelles on the 19 July 1916, the 58th Battalion took part in attack on German positions in support of the 59th and 60th Battalions. The disastrous action, contrived as a distraction from British movements on the Somme, resulted in a catastrophic loss of life for the Australian troops. The 58th was fortunate to come through with just 77 dead – the 59th and 60th were not so lucky, with a combined total of 644 men killed.

Harold Davies came through the Battle of Fromelles relatively unscathed, but he had, nevertheless, brought himself to the attention of Brigade Commander, Brigadier H. E. “Pompey” Elliott, for his selfless and brave work on 19 July 1916. His continued work under fire at Flers in November resulted in him being recommended for both the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Italian Bronze Medal for Military Valour.

‘…This soldier distinguished himself during and subsequently to the action at Fromelles on 19 July 1916. He worked his gun coolly and efficiently during the action, and, when the attack was over, was instrumental in rescuing under fire many of his wounded comrades. On the night of November 22/23 1916 the 58th Battalion was relieving the unit holding Shine Trench, east of Gueudecourt. The night was dark and wet; the route lay among a wilderness of shell holes; the ground was almost impassable with mud and water. Pte Harold Davies was marching near the rear of his Coy, and, when within 200 yards of the trench, he saw some of his comrades fall. The fire from MG’s was heavy at the time and shells were bursting in the vicinity. Private Davies picked up one of the wounded men and carried him to the shelter of the trench. He then returned and brought in the second man. A third time he returned and searched the vicinity for traces of other casualties, and finding no more, reported the fact to the Officer in the trench and then set off to join his gun crew some 300 yards distant. All this was done under continuous and heavy fire. He bears moreover an excellent record for devotion to duty and reliability at all times…’

As was too often the case, the recommendations were downgraded by the High Command. Harold was instead awarded the Military Medal for his outstanding bravery under fire. It was noted at the time by his commanding officers that his ‘…conduct had an excellent moral effect on his comrades, who were occupying a very ugly sector for the first time…’ It is impossible to calculate the impact his work had on the men around him.

Harold was rewarded with an extended furlough to England on 24 January 1917; he was also appointed lance-corporal upon his return. Then, on 12 March, it was confirmed that he had been decorated with the Military Medal. General William Birdwood presented Harold with the ribbon to be stitched onto his uniform. He was then promoted to the rank of corporal on 10 April.

The 58th Battalion then continued on to another historic AIF battle – the Second Battle of Bullecourt. They entered the trenches near the Hindenburg Line on 9 May 1917.

Harold wrote home to his mother telling of the harrowing experience…

'…The weather now is much milder, and there is no one who will appreciate the change more than the soldiers who have spent the winter in this district. I will remember our first experiences down here - the mud, the rain, the biting wind, which cut one like a knife; the long, long nights of anxious watching and listening. But they are all over now, and we are enjoying a little sunshine and comparative comfort.

Our first trip to the front line was one of the worst experiences we have passed through since landing in France. When we were about half-way our guns opened a barrage. Every gun seemed to speak on a given signal, and for about an hour the crash and roar was something terrific. The sky was red - a red brighter than that from the glare of a huge fire.
Further towards the German trenches the country was lit up like day from the continual firing of star shells.

For three-quarters of an hour we laid down wondering at the force and punch of our artillery, marvelling that any human being could live, let alone fight, against such unseen forces. But we had still 1000 yards to go to reach our destination, so we pushed on through the mud and slush over open country, continually harassed by artillery fire and snipers' bullets.
I know you will not be able to understand the nature of the country over which we had to travel, or how all sense of direction and landmarks are practically useless in such country. It is just a case of trust to luck and go ahead. The country was full of shell holes, loose wire, bogs, and fallen trees. We were more often on our knees and stomach than on our feet. Covered with mud from head to foot, wet through and weary, we discovered at two o'clock that we were lost. We sat down for a while to have a blow, and for the machine gunners it proved our undoing. Shells began to come, small ones, but nevertheless awkward. One shell landed on the tail of the line, and caught a whole machine gun team. We were glad to move on.

Towards daylight we arrived at our post, wet through and muddy and dead beat. Our post consisted of a trench about 20 yards long, 4 feet deep, and 2 feet wide, with about 7 inches of water and mud in the bottom. There we relieved our pals, expecting to be relieved ourselves in 48 hours, but we were sadly mistaken. For 48 hours we stood it, and you can imagine my feelings when I found that my gun had to do another two days before being relieved.

As for rations, we had none, not even water, so when nightfall came we sneaked out on all fours over the back of the trenches and filled our dixies. However, we managed to scrape through till the end of the fourth day, when relief failed to come. On the fifth night we struggled out, hungry, muddy, weary, and worn, and when we got to our shelters behind the line we slept without blankets or any cover until nine o'clock next morning.
I shall never forget those five days, never, even after the war. I feel thankful that I am still spared to be able to continue…'

Strangely, Harold didn’t mention to his mother that he had been wounded in action during the fighting at Bullecourt – he suffered a shrapnel wound to the neck that required evacuation to England for treatment. After nearly a month in the Fort Pitt Hospital in Chatham, Harold was discharged to furlough. By the time he arrived back in France on 3 November 1917, Harold had been out of action for nearly six months.

The weather was fine on 5 April 1918, although visibility was said to have been poor. The 58th Battalion was occupying a 1600 yard section of the line between the 59th and 44th Battalions. Heavy enemy shelling of the villages of Vaux-sur-Somme and Vaire-sous-Corbie was maintained for nearly four hours. Small German attacks were also easily propelled, and valuable documents were retrieved from a German officer who was killed.

During the course of the day, Harold Davies was reported to have been wounded in action, but there was no indication that he had been attended to by stretcher-bearers or admitted to a dressing-station. A week later, Harold’s fate was officially changed to “died of wounds”. The battalion suffered no other casualties on 5 April, so it was strange that there was no documentation or notes to indicate what actually happened to him. Sadly, we will probably never know.

Harold’s body was buried in the La Neuville British Cemetery on 6 April. His personal effects – an identity disc, photos, letters, note books, a badge, unit colours, a coin, a gold shell ring, and his YMCA wallet cover – were collected and packaged up for return to Harold’s parents.

On 18 April 1919, Ellen Davies received the following letter from Base Records.

‘…It is with feelings of admiration at the gallantry of a brave Australian soldier who nobly laid down his life in the service of our King and Country, that I am directed by the Honourable The Minister to forward to you, as the next-of-kin of the late Private H. W. Davies, MM, 58th Battalion, AIF, the Military Medal which His Majesty The King has been graciously pleased to award to that gallant soldier for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty while serving with the Australian Imperial Expeditionary Force…[copy of citation]…I am also to ask you to accept his deep personal sympathy in the loss, which, not only you, but the Australian Army has sustained by the death of Corporal Davies whose magnificent conduct on the field of battle has helped to earn for our Australian soldiers a fame which will endure as long as memory lasts…’

A month later Harold’s parents received advice from Base Records that his personal effects had been lost at sea with the sinking of the SS Barunga. The ship had been en route to Australia carrying some 800 sick and wounded troops and a hold filled with the belongings of countless men who had laid down their lives. It was sunk by a German U-boat 150 miles south-west of the Isles of Scilly on 15 July 1918. It was a further sad loss for Dan and Ellen Davies.

When I first visited Harold's grave at La Neuville, I discovered that it now lies in the shade of a large Ash tree; the cemetery itself is surrounded by open fields of beet and corn. At the base of the headstone that marks his grave is the inscription: ‘He has fought the good fight – one of Australia’s best.’

Many years after Harold's death, when his ancestor, the Chinese businessman, Howqua, was named as one of the men of the millennium, the story of Harold Davies and his rich heritage was once again revealed – the pieces of this story were put together and Harold's own place in Australian history was assured.

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Biography contributed by John Edwards

"...3537 Corporal Harold William Davies MM, 58th Battalion of Yandoit Hills near Castlemaine, Victoria. A school teacher prior to enlisting, he embarked from Melbourne aboard HMAT Nestor (A71) on 11 October 1915 as 3537 Private Davies with the 8th Battalion. On 5 April 1918, near Corbie, France, he was wounded in action and died later that day, aged 24 years. He is buried in the La Neuville British Cemetery, Corbie, France. As Pte Davies, he was awarded the Military Medal for his heroic rescue of two men despite artillery and machine-gun fire in the area of Guedecourt, France on night of 22 - 23 November 1916. Previously, he had exhibited bravery by bringing in men from "No Man's Land" after the action at Fromelles, France in July 1916. The award was gazetted on 12 March 1917." - SOURCE (www.awm.gov.au)

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