Sunday, August 07, 2016

Arthur E. Davison (~1875-1915)

Private Arthur E. Davison, 2768
'D' Company, 1st/8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.
Died aged 40 on Monday 26th April 1915

Private Davison was the son of Joseph and Elizabeth Davison, of Darlington; husband of Ann Davison, of 17 Davison Terrace, Sacriston, Durham. He was a builder by trade and was the father of Joseph, Robert, Ivy, Amelia and Myra.

Remembered with honour on the Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium.

The following is an extract from 'Eighth Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry, 1793 - 1926', by Major E.Hardinge Veitch, MC, TD

On April 17th [1915] the transport and machine-gun detachment departed via Southampton en route for Le Havre, followed on Monday, the 19th, by the Battalion which was to cross by the shorter route, Folkestone-Boulogne.


After a calm, uneventful crossing Boulogne was reached at 1 a.m. on Tuesday, April 20th, its brilliantly lighted landing-stage contrasting strangely with the semi-darkness of Folkestone. Here the battalion disembarked and was met by Major J.R.Ritson, who had preceded it by two or three days, and was soon set on its way up the long rough road to bivouac ot Ostrovhe on the hill above the town.

About midday on April 20th, the Battalion marched from the camp at Ostovhe to Pont des Briques, a distance of some three miles, where on arrival of the train from Le Havre conveying the transport and the machine-gun detachment which, leaving Gateshead on April 17th, had crossed from Southampton, entrainment was quickly carried out in spite of the lack of experience in finding sufficient space for forty "hommes" with full equipment in a horse box.

After a leisurely journey....St Omer was reached. Here orders were received to continue to Cassel, where eventually the Battalion arrived about 7 p.m., detraining at a small station a little to the north-west of Cassel, and marching to billets in and about St.Marie Capelle.


The Battalion was not destined to make a gradual entry into the fighting, for on April 23rd orders were received to move forward at once. At 1.45 p.m. all the Companies had concentrated on the road a little to the north of Cassel, and the Battalion marched to Riveld where it was ordered to continue to Steenvoorde. On arrival here large numbers of French troops were seen being hurriedly conveyed north in motor lorries, and the sound of heavy continuous artillery fire made it evident that a serious engagement was in progress. At 5 p.m. the Battalion moved forward from Steenvoorde for Poperinghe in two parties in motor buses, still bearing the familiar advertisements carried by them when running in the London streets, crossing on the way at Abeele the frontier into Belgium. At Poperinghe further orders were received to go on to Vlamertinghe, which was reached at 11 p.m. Here it was ascertained that the French had been attacked by the Germans, who, by the use of poisonous gases, had broken the line. A Canadian Division had filled the gap thus made and were winning back the lost ground in very gallant style. Very heavy artillery fire could be heard, and Ypres was reported to be heavily shelled. After leaving Poperinghe the Very lights rising from the line became visible, and through them could be traced the whole outline of "The Salient".The transport which had followed arrived about 2 a.m., and the night was spent in billets and the out-buildings of a convent at the west end of town.

All through the 24th the heavy artillery fire continued, the Battalion "stood by", and at 6.30 p.m. moved forward, the first of the 50th Division to go into action.

On into Ypres.....out through the Menin Gate....on through Potijze, Velorenhoek and Frezenberg to the Level Crossing (Devil's Crossing) of the Ypres-Roulers railway where the road was left and the Battalion groped its way up a narrow track alongside and under cover of the railway embankment into Zonnebeke, near its station, and so into the fight.


Although several shells fell in Ypres whilst the Battalion was passing through, Potijze was reached about 10 p.m. without any casualties. Orders were then received to push on to Velorenhoek and to report to Brigadier-General Chapman, commanding the 85th Infantry Brigade (28th Division). On arrival here the Battalion was ordered to move about four hundred yards to the east of the village, extend on either side of the road and there await morning.


At 11.30 p.m., however, further orders were received to proceed to the Headquarters of the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers on the Zonnebeke-St.Julien road, where a guide was to be obtained to lead the Battalion to some trenches which were reported to have been dug by a Canadian Battalion but left unfinished by them......the Battalion at once moved off.

On arrival at the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers Headquarters the orders were explained to Major Johnson then commanding that Battalion. He, however, stated that the position the Battalion was ordered to was quite untenable and that, moreover, it would be quite impossible to entrench it before daylight, especially as the men's small entrenching tools only were available. On the situation being explained by telephone to the 85th Infantry Brigade, the Battalion was instead ordered to proceed to a position held by the 8th Canadian Battalion uner Lieutenant-Colonel Lipsett at Boetleer's Farm.

It was now nearly 2 a.m. The Battalion immediately moved off to relieve the Canadians who were reported to have lost heavily and to be much exhausted. Passing through a farm filled with Canadian wounded, the pack animals were left and the ammunition taken on by hand. The position at Boetleer's Farm was reached about 3 a.m. on Sunday, April 25th.


The Canadian trenches centred on a group of farm buildings (Boetleer's Farm) which were in ruins from shell-fire. These occupied the highest ground. To the north-west the ground sloped gently down, but observation was much restricted by small clumps of brushwood and hedges. Towards Keerselaare and the line of the Stoombeek the ground rose again and there were some fairly large fields. To the east was a large open field leading across a narrow valley to a ridge some 12 to 14 hundred yards distant. Westwards, the ground fell away gradually with a good field of fire.The field was enclosed by a thick hedge, and at its north-west corner adjoining the farm buildings was a small orchard which, on the arrival of the Battalion, was strewn with bodies stripped of their uniforms.


The Canadian headquarters had been stationed at the farmbuildings. These on examination were found to be full of Canadian wounded in great need to attention owing to their Medical Officer having been killed. Though protected by sandbags the buildings were totally unsuitable for any purpose, as they were constantly shelled and partly destroyed. However, for the time being Battalion headquarters was establishd here.


D Company was ordered to occupy trenches, relieving the Canadians holding these.


The German positions varied from about eighty to two hundred and fify yards in distance from the trenches.....the "No Man's Land" between being covered with young corn and mustard.


Leaving Boetleer's Farm with a Canadian as guide, D Company, followed closely by A Company, moved over the crest of the ridge and then in a north-easterly direction down a gradual slope. After crossing two or three fields, in one of which were several unoccupied trenches, passing a ruined farm nearby which was a trench containing several dead, and crossing a stream, eventually they reached on slightly rising ground a line of trenches held by some weak Companies of the 7th and 8th Canadian Battalions. Turning left into this, D Company, still leading, filed along for a distance of some two hundred yards, then through a length used as a communication trench partly filled with water into a trench beyond also held by the Canadians.


Though by this time it was broad daylight, it was most remarkable that no fire was opened on the Companies, for the German trench facing the point where they entered the Canadian trench was no more than 80 yards away, and to their strained imagination the noise made by the wash of the water carried by them in petrol tins was in itself alone sufficient to draw attention. Possibly after their efforts on the 24th the Germans were sleeping at the moment, but there it was, the position was occupied without a shot being fired.

The trenches had obviously been held by the French at some time, for a number of bodies were buried in and around them, so little below the surface that they could be felt under the feet, and the shell-fire during the day that followed threw many of these up, scattering them in all directions, when it was seen that they were French Colonials.

They were shallow trenches with a fair breastwork partly loopholed, but the traverses were incomplete and there was no protection in their rear, the lack of which was responsible for many casualties from the back blast of the shells bursting behind, and during the day even the breastwork gradually failed them, being blown in along much of its length together with a number of the dug-outs and burying the wounded where they lay waiting till darkness set in for succour-if the trench could be held till then. Nor were there in these early days steel helmets to protect against overhead shrapnel. The dug-outs, of which there were a number, were filled with Canadian dead, wounded and gassed, mostly the latter. Owing to the light it was impossible to remove any of these, and of the few Canadians holding the trenches but a small number were able to get away. They had been holding the position for some days. Much has been written in other records of their gallantry-let this be added to them here, they were good fellows, and fearless, officers and men alike. The trenches were well supplied with ammunition, periscopes and food. There was very little wire in front.

As the main and decisive German attack on the 25th developed from the gap existing on D Company's left flank the story of that Company will be taken first.


Soon after 3.30 a.m. heavy rifle fire opened from the west, lasting for about thirty minutes when it died down, and during of the remainder of the early morning fire was only intermittent from this direction, whilst from the north there was little more than sniping. Between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. a German aeroplane flew low along over the trench, dropping silver paper in spite of being fired at, and half an hour later heavy shelling opened and continued. One of the first shells struck the telephone dug-out, killing the operator and destroying the instrument. Communication with Battalion headquarters by this means was never re-established. Casulaties from the shell-fire were constant and heavy.....many men were killed and wounded, and one of the Canadian machine-guns was knocked out, all its team being killed or wounded, for the trench gave but little shelter save from rifle fire in front.


The shelling became intense about 12.30 p.m., and from then onwards, save during the intervals of German infantry attacks, never ceased till night.

About 2 p.m. scouts who had gone out to the north-west reported that the Germans were collecting in some dead ground in that direction. These could not be seen from [D Company's] trench nor were they observed from Boetleer's Farm. Shortly afterwards they advanced, but fire was opened on them at six hundred yards, and they were stopped, but now D Company was enfiladed by rifle-fire, and as the Germans appeared to be working farther and farther round the left flank Captain Bradford extended a section in the open amongst some mustard to prolong his flank and at the same time ordered Lieutenant J.O.Wilson with a patrol to work up a fence to a farmhouse in the rear. All the patrol, after a sharp fight at the farm, were killed or wounded, Lieutenant Wilson himself being wounded and taken prisoner.


A determined attack by the German infantry now developed. After the long hours of shelling they had endured this came somewhat in the nature of a relief to the men, who faced it steadily, and under their rapid fire and that of the one remaining machine-gun the grey-clad figures doubling across No man's Land halted, turned and melted away.


After the failure of their infantry to capture the trench a heavy bombardment again began, under cover of which the Germans continued to work round its left flank and rear. About 5 p.m. some hundred German cyclists came along a road on the left from the direction of Langemarcke until they were five or sixe hundred yards away, when rapid fire being opened on them, they jumped from their machines and took cover.

The remaining machine-gun was knocked out at 5.30 p.m., and when its fire ceased the Germans again advanced in a most determined manner. Captain Bradford, himself wounded, had now only Lieutenant J.L.Wood and about thirty men left, but though the Germans approached quite close, their further advance was completely stopped by the fire of this small party. During the lull that followed, a supply of rum found in the trench was issued.

At 6 p.m. the German artillery fire increased in intensity, and a little later, ammunition being almost exhausted, communication with Battalion Headquarters impossible, and the trench being surrounded, Captain Bradford decided to attempt a retirement.


The losses sustained by D Company throughout the day amounted to 7 officers and 173 non-commissioned officers and men, killed, wounded or missing.

[On the 26th] the Germans advanced considerably, having extended both east and west from their original position, and threatened to envelop the Battalion. Time passed and there was no sign of reinforcement or relief. The defense of the position was reorganised and all dug in more deeply, the small entrenching tool still only being available. Extra ammunition and water were distributed. Patrols were sent out and the Monmouth Company brought up.

[It was on one such patrol that Private Davison is thought to have been killed].

Throughout the night of April 25/26 the whole position was constantly shelled with shrapnel, and a number of men were hit by snipers.

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