168. H S Davis & T A Wilson

DAVIS Herbert Stanley (13491 – 2/Lt.)
5 B KIA 16/6/18

Herbert Davis was from Tasmania. His parents lived at Battery Point, Hobart and his enlistment papers showed that he was born in Sandy Bay, Hobart. Unfortunately the (National) Roll of Honour was not completed so there is no indication of where he went to school or of his early life. The enlistment papers do however indicate that he spent one year in the senior cadets in Tasmania so, presumably, he left Tasmania and went to the Shire of Alberton in his later teens or early twenties

Private Davis was nearly 22 yo when he enlisted in July 1915 (6/7/15) and at the time he gave his occupation as farmer. Interestingly, the occupation listed on his embarkation papers is ‘engineer’. His religion was given as Church of England.

On enlistment Herbert Davis was married. He married in 1915 and there was a daughter – Phyllis – born the same year. His wife – Myrtle Lily McKenzie – was the daughter of Thomas George McKenzie, a successful local farmer. On enlistment, his wife was shown as living with her mother, Elizabeth Lily Ann McKenzie of Devon. At the time, it appears that the Davis family in Tasmania did not know that the son was married and that there was a child.

Private Davis enlisted in Melbourne and, like many others, he had had his first medical in Yarram, with Dr Pern. There was a report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire (3/11/15) on his formal farewell from Yarram:

Private H. S Davis was met at the shire hall on Friday morning by a few townsmen, and presented with the usual card and medallion by Mr. V. S. Lalor. Private Davis is attached to the Army Medical Corps.

Vivian Sherry Lalor was the local chemist and member of the committee responsible for soldiers’ farewells.

Private Davis joined the Army Medical Corps but did not move overseas until April 1916 (1/4/16). It looks as though there was a short period in Alexandria because he did not reach England until 16/7/16. Once in England he moved quickly to France where he was taken on strength of 1 Field Ambulance (31/7/16).

One year later (22/7/17) Davis was selected for officer training and sent to England (Cambridge University). In February 1918, he was appointed 2/Lieutenant and posted to 5 Battalion. He joined his unit, in the field, on 21/4/18. There was a brief period of hospitalisation with German Measles in May 1918.

On 16 June he was reported ‘wounded and missing’ and then at the end of 1918 (27/12/18) there was a Court of Enquiry held at Bouffioulx, Belgium which found he had been ‘killed in action’ on the day he was originally reported as wounded and missing. It appears that his wife was advised in February 1919 (24/2/19).

The war diary of 5 Battalion shows that the battalion relieved 7 Battalion in the line in the Strazeele Station – Mont de Merris area very early in the morning of 13 June 1918. Over the next few days patrols were sent out. The Germans were described as ‘alert’ but they were said to have adopted ‘a strictly defensive attitude.’ It was against this background that 2/Lt Davis took out a patrol (himself and 3 other ranks) on 16 June. The diary tells how the patrol found a machine gun post in a house and another post in a shell hole. The patrol engaged the enemy and killed three of them but 2/Lt Davis was wounded. It then says that 2/Lt Davis was not able to get back to the lines but that one of the men stayed with him while the others returned. It concludes the report of the incident with,

Later 16 men crawled out to try and get Lt Davis but were unsuccessful. Enemy more alert than usual. 2nd Lieut Davis wounded & missing. 1 OR missing. 1 OR wounded.

There is a very detailed Red Cross report that throws more light on the incident; and it appears that some of the statements were provided to the Court of Enquiry at the end of 1918.

Essentially all the witness statements present a common scenario: early on 16/6/18 2/Lt Davis led a small patrol to reconnoitre the German lines. The patrol came into contact with the enemy very close to their (German) lines and in the fighting 2/Lt Davis was seriously wounded. He was left behind, very close to the German lines, as close as a few yards. Subsequent attempts to reach him failed and there was no trace of him from that day on. Most of the witness statements concluded that he had been taken prisoner, on the grounds that he was lying so close to the German lines and there was no trace of him when relief patrols were sent out. The Court of Enquiry at the end of the War determined that he had not been taken prisoner and that he had therefore been killed in action on the day, with the body never recovered.

The following witness statement essentially matches the account from the war diary,

At 05.30 on the 16.6.18 Lt Davis and a party of 3 O.R. left our lines to reconnoitre an enemy Machine Gun post. On approaching it the enemy opened fire on it and Lt Davis was hit. The remainder of the party reported back and another party left our lines at 0800 to try to locate Lt. Davis, and reached within 20 yards of the enemy post and the enemy opened fire on us and we had to withdraw without seeing any signs of Lt. Davis and he has not been seen since.

This statement, undated, was made by Private H Trevenna (6364) who was batman to 2/Lt Davis. In fact, Trevenna provided four witness statements. He gave another, more detailed statement in September 1918 (5/9/18),

He was of A. Coy. 3rd Pltn. On or about 16th June at Strazeele he took 5 men out in the morning about 5-30 to try and locate an enemy M.G. post. One of the men who returned reported to us, that one of them drew a waterproof sheet off one of the Germans in the post, and fired at him. Enemy started then to fire their M.G., and another who came up from behind the post started throwing bombs. It was reported that Lt. Davis had been hit by M.G. bullets in the groin. I was on a volunteer party that went out at 8-30 a.m. to try and find Lt. Davis. He was nowhere to be seen. Pte. L.G. Bursill, 540A was lying dead about 10 yds. from post, killed by bomb. Lt. Davis had German decorations in his pockets when he went out on patrol. If alive he is a prisoner. I was his batman. Four men got back out of the patrol.

The Private L. G. Bursill (540A) referred to in this statement by Pte. Travenna appears to have been the ‘other rank’ referred to in the Battalion’s war dairy as ‘missing’. He is officially listed as killed in action on 16/6/18 and there is also no known grave. He was a bugler in 5 Battalion and in the previous month (May), he had been recommended for – but was subsequently not awarded – the Military Medal.

Private Trevenna’s account has Bursill ‘lying dead about 10 yds. from post, killed by bomb’. However this was not supported by other witness statements. For example, in the statement by Pte C. A. Shepherd (6577) the view is that both 2/Lt Davis and Private Bursill were alive when last seen,

He [2/Lt. Davis] was in A. Coy. On this date at Strazeele he led a small party out on patrol, at about 5030 a.m. They ran into a German post. Lt. Davis and Pte. L. G. Bursill, 540A were both wounded by bomb. They were left in a shell in “No Man’s Land”, the other two in the party, names forgotten, got away. They were 5 to 6 yds. in front of enemy’s post at the time. Lt. Davis and Pte. Bursill were both reported alive by the two men who came in. We were relieved that night by 10th Battn. If alive he [2/Lt Davis] is a prisoner.

There is a critical issue here. If in fact both men were only wounded and then captured by the Germans in the outpost directly in front of their lines, it is at least possible that, rather than being taken prisoner, they were killed on the spot. Private Trevenna, the batman to Lt. Davis, made a point of stating that Davis had ‘German decorations in his pockets’. Moreover, the following witness statement in relation to Bursill’s fate that day suggests that the German troops could well have decided to apply some sort of summary ‘justice’. The statement was made by Private. Kilbey (7037) on 15/8/18,

This was at Strazeele in front of Merris. He [Bursill] went over the top on a raid on the Boche lines with Lt Davis and Cpl MacKay. They got their post and gained objective but two of the party were missing. I saw the Boche bombing them and open up machine gun fire. This was about daybreak, and I saw everything from my watching post. I saw Lt Davis hit but Bursill took cover in a shell hole. Bursill may have been taken prisoner but he was dressed up from all sorts of things taken from German prisoners, German boots, German waistcoat and Fritz revolver and I therefore think he was killed. We went out afterwards but could not get closer because of the machine guns.

Back in the Shire of Alberton, news of Lieutenant Davis was reported in early July 1918. In the editorial section of 5/7/18, the following appeared:

Mrs. Davis of Womerah, received word on Wednesday that her husband, Lieutenant H. Davis, was wounded on 16th June, and was missing. This soldier, who may be a prisoner, was formerly in the employ of Mr. D. Wright, Carrajung, and played with the Yarram Football Club.

And on 10/7/18 there was further confirmation:

We learn from yesterday’s dailies that H. S Davis, North Devon is reported wounded and missing …

The question of Lieutenant Davis’s fate was not resolved until the end of the War. News that his status had been changed from ‘wounded and missing’ to ‘killed in action’ was reported in the paper on 28/1/19. The same report noted that his parents were in Hobart and that he left behind his wife (Myrtle) and daughter, Phyllis.

Earlier, it was only after Lieutenant Davis had been reported wounded and missing that his parents in Tasmania had learned that he was married and had a child. There was a younger brother – Lieutant James Davis – in 12 Battalion, who also rose through the ranks. In fact, he was also sent to Officers’ Training College in England, just one month before his brother disappeared at Strazeele. The younger brother survived the War and returned to Australia in December 1919.

James Davis heard about his wounded and missing brother and wrote to his parents back in Hobart. Not surprisingly, the father – (Ret) Captain James Davis – wrote to the AIF asking why he had not been informed. On 23 August he wrote,

Have received letter from my son Lieut. James Davis who states that his brother Lieut. Herbert S. Davis 5th Battalion was wounded and missing about June 12th. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we have not been notified from your Office and would be pleased if you will kindly give us all the information in reference to same.

On the face of it, the lack of communication was a major failing. However, Base Records replied on 29/8/18 that –

I have to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 23rd inst., and in reply to state your son, 2nd Lieutenant H. S. Davis, 5th Battn., is reported wounded and missing since 16/6/18.
Notification of the above report was on 2/7/18 conveyed to the Military Commandant, Melbourne, for transmission to next-of-kin, shown as Wife, Mrs M, Davis, c/o Mrs McKenzie, Whitelaws Track, Devon North, Victoria, who will receive advice of any further cable reports which may come to hand regarding your son.

There are, of course, many unknowns in the relationship between the young family in Gippsland and the in-laws in Hobart. However, it is worth pointing out 2/Lt Davis did make a will, in June 1917, and in it he nominated his father – Captain James Davis – as the sole beneficiary. He appears to have been caught between loyalty to his old and new families.

In the division of the military estate, the wife received the medals, memorial scroll and plaque and the actual ‘Commission for the late 2nd Lieutenant H. S. Davis, 5th Battalion’.  Through BP Johnson – Barrister and Solicitor, Yarram – she wrote (13/6/19) requesting the personal kit, only to be informed (17/6/19) that it was to be … forwarded to Captain J. Davis, Hobart, Tasmania, he being the sole legatee under deceased’s will. The kit comprised:

One brown valise (sealed) containing:- 1 wallet, Photos, 1 Small Diary, Postcards, Ties, 1 “Sam Browne” Belt, 1 Pr Puttees, Socks, Collars, 1 Handkerchief, 1 Safety Razor, 1 Razor Strop, 2 Prs boots, 1 Towel, 1 White Sweater, 1 Haversack, 1 S.D. Tunic, 1 Pr S.D. Slacks, 1 Pr Breeches.

There are two other pieces of correspondence in the file. The first was a letter written in April 1918 from a Miss Marjorie Oke (?) – possibly Gladys Marjorie Oke, born 1899 – of Flemington. The letter to Base Records asked for contact details for H S Davis. The two were obviously corresponding. Perhaps he had met her when he was in Melbourne in the period before embarkation.

Would you kindly oblige me with H. S. Davis’s (Tasmania) proper address, his previous was
No. 13941
Private H. S. Davis
1st Field Ambulance A.M.C.
But since then he has been in Cambridge College England, and obtained his commission.
I received a letter from him this mail, stating he has sent me, his new address, but unfortunately I have not received it, as the mail was on the boat that was sunk. Hoping you will let me know it at your earliest convenience.

Base Records replied, with the address, two days later.

The second letter was written much later – 1966 – and it suggests that relations between the young family 2/Lt Davis left behind in Gippsland and his own parents and siblings remained difficult, or at the very least there was little communication between them. At the time (1966), the child – Phyllis – of Herbert Davis and Myrtle McKenzie would have been 51 years old. The letter also suggests that the family in Hobart did, subsequently, send the personal kit to the wife in Gippsland. The writer was Mrs Elvera Cullinger, younger sister of Herbert Davis.

As a Trustee for some money left by my parents to be given to their grand-child Phyllis Davis, I would solicit your help in helping me to trace this young lady through the last address, or otherwise address, left by my brother who was later reported missing at Strazeele in the first world war.
My father died in 1933 & my mother in ’59.
I am getting on in years & feel this matter should be settled as soon as possible. …
My brothers name is Herbert Stanley Davis, son of Capt. James Davis Hobart (Mrs Violet Ella).
I understand he married a Myrtle MacKenzie (sic) of Yarram. We knew nothing of this wedding until after he was reported missing. Our informant was from military Headquarters as far as I know (I was a child at the time). She [the wife] received the personal effects.
My brother served first in the Ambulance Brigade later being transferred & when missing it was as a Lieutenant.
I will be very grateful for any help you can give me in this search

2/Lt HS Davis’s name appears on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. His name also features on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It also appears on the memorial for the Carrajung Residents.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for DAVIS Herbert Stanley
Roll of Honour: Herbert Stanley Davis
First World War Embarkation Roll: Herbert Stanley Davis
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Herbert Stanley Davis

 

 

WILSON Thomas Anderton 3984
6 B DoW 16/6/18

Thomas Wilson was another of approximately 100 young men born in the United Kingdom who enlisted in the AIF from the Shire of Alberton in WW1. The majority of these were working as farm labourers in the district before their enlistment.

Thomas Wilson was born in Beetham, Westmoreland (Cumbria). His mother – Dora Agnes Varley – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour and on it she indicated that her son came to Australia aged 22. When he enlisted in July 1915 he was nearly 24 so it appears he came to Australia in late 1913 or early 1914. The mother recorded his school simply as ‘Beetham’ and she listed his occupation as ‘agricultural labourer’. There had been no previous military service. He was single and his religion was given as Church of England.

Thomas Wilson enlisted in Melbourne on 20/7/15. On his enlistment form he stated that he had not previously been ‘rejected’ but there is a MT 1486/1 for him suggesting that he had been rejected earlier in 1915. His occupation was listed as ‘farm hand’. He gave his mother’s address – Sedgwick, Kendal, Westmoreland – but on the embarkation roll there was an address from the local area: Miss E. Smithers, Mack Street, Yarram, Gippsland. In fact, this should have read: Mrs Emma Smithies, Mack’s Creek, Yarram. This must have been his boarding address.

There was a formal farewell for him from the district which was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 29/10/15, under the headline: Another Soldier

Yesterday [28/10/15] word was hurriedly sent round that another soldier was to be farewelled, and, soon after 10.30 a number of townsmen and visitors assembled at the shire hall.
Mr. Elder was asked to take command as chairman, and introduced Private T. A. Wilson as from the Old Country, who had enlisted to fight with the Australians. He presented him with a card and medallion, and hoped he would live long to enjoy the honor of victory.
Mr. B. P. Johnson stated Private Wilson had been in the employ of Mr. W. H. McKenzie, who would have come in to the farewell function but for indisposition. He wished him a successful career, and hoped to welcome him back to Australia with the other boys.
Mr. Lakin, as a fellow countryman, wished him Godspeed. Mr. Black stated that of the 230 recruits from this district a large proportion were immigrants from the Old Country. He trusted the young Englishman would return to the district.
After a rousing “Jolly Good Fellow” and cheers, Private Wilson thanked them for the farewell. He felt he was doing his duty …

William Hodgson McKenzie was a local farmer with over 300 acres at Lower Bulga/Mack’s Creek.

Private Wilson joined as a reinforcement for 6 Battalion. He embarked for overseas 4 months later (23/11/15). The record of his service in Egypt is sketchy but it looks as if there was one period of hospitalisation. He left Alexandria in late March 1916 (29/3/16) and reached Marseilles on 4/4/16. It appears he finally joined 6 Battalion in the field one month later on 5/5/16.

At the start of 1917 (23/1/17) he was admitted to hospital with quinsy but was discharged and rejoined his unit after about a fortnight (7/3/17). There were 2 periods of leave in the UK: one from 31/8/17 to 12/9/17 and the second from 11/2/18 to 2/3/18. Presumably he caught up with his family at these times. Then on 4/6/18 he was wounded – gunshot wound to the face – and admitted to hospital where he died from his wounds on 16/6/18. He was buried in the Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, France. This particular cemetery only opened in June 1918. It served the many military hospitals in that part of France.

There are only limited details in 6 Battalion’s war diary for June 4 1918. At 8 p.m. on that day the battalion moved into the line in the Strazeele sector to relieve 11 Battalion; but the relief was not without incident –

Whilst our boys were moving up, the lines of communication were heavily barraged by the enemy, this made the relief very difficult; we suffered 20 casualties.

Presumably, Private Wilson was one of the 20 casualties.

It appears the family in England were advised of the death about one week after it occurred (27/6/18). On the enlistment form the mother – Mrs D Varley – had been given as next of kin and a will made in July 1917 named the mother – Mrs. Varley, Old Row, Sedgwick, Nr. Kendal, Westmorland, England. – as the sole beneficiary. All the medals, and memorial plaque and scroll, and details of the grave were sent to the mother. Personal kit was returned to the mother in July 1918 but there was no separate list of the items.

The mother wrote (August 1918) to the AIF in London stating that her son’s ‘pre-military effects’ had been left in the custody of a Mr W. H. Mackenzie (sic) , Tanna Valley (sic), Lower Bulga, South Gippsland’. Acting on her behalf, the AIF in London requested that the property be collected and then sent to them in London. There is a copy of correspondence, probably October 1918, from W. H. McKenzie of ‘Calrossie’, Yarram, indicating he had handed over all the belongings of T. A. Wilson to the Superintendent of police at Yarram. It appears that this property reached the mother in England in May 1919.

Lastly, there is another piece of correspondence in the file that indicates at least one person was sufficiently close enough to Thomas Wilson, from his time in Yarram, to be concerned about his fate. It was from Mrs Emma Smithies of Mack’s Creek, Yarram – as indicated it seems likely that he boarded with her before enlistment – and was written in July 1918. In part, the letter requested,

As this is the first I knew of No. 3984. Pte. T. A. Wilson being deceased would you, if you could, kindly let me know any particulars.

In the 10 years after the War there was still a strong enough collective memory of Private Wilson to ensure that his name was included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It was also included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Back in England, his family ensured that his name was included on the memorials in his original village (Beetham). His name, – as a member of 6 Battalion, 1 Australian Division – is included on the memorial at the entrance to the village and also in the local church (St. Michael and All Angels Church).

Private T A Wilson 3984, courtesy Yarram and District Historical Society

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for WILSON Thomas Anderson
Roll of Honour: Thomas Anderton Wilson
First World War Embarkation Roll: Thomas Anderton Wilson

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