The following biographies were written by Victoria Doran. There is no known relationship between the two soldiers. They appear together because they were both based in West Kirby and appear close together on the Grange Hill War Memorial.
JAMES HATTON DAVIES
This is an account of one of the less fortunate and somewhat flawed individuals who lost his life early in 1915. Born to fairly lowly beginnings, he seems to have been a far from ideal husband, father and soldier. But he would have had very few options in life, and divorce was not a possibility for the working class at that time.
James Hatton Davies was born at Shore Road, Caldy at the end of 1882, the second child and eldest son of the eight children of Thomas Davies (born about 1857 in Wallasey) and Sarah Hatton (born about 1858 in Caldy). He was a cousin of John Hatton (1887-1917) who was the son of an older brother of his mother.
He was baptised at St Bridget, West Kirby on Christmas Day 1882. At that time his father was a labourer, but he also later worked as a cowman, a builder’s carter and a waggoner on a farm. The family were not well off as they lived at Shore Road with his mother’s widowed father, and it must have been very crowded. By 1901 most the family was living in Shore Cottage at Caldy, right at the bottom of the cliffs at the beach, but James was no longer at home. He was probably the James Hatton, blacksmith, living as a boarder at 56 Liscard Village, Wallasey.
He joined the militia on 4 Jun 1901 and did 46 days drill with the 4th Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment before deciding to become a regular soldier and attesting on 25 July 1901 at Warrington. He claimed to be aged 20 when he was only in fact 18, though the officer agreeing he was suitable gave his correct age. He joined as a Private on a Short Service Contract of three years. He is described as a labourer, nearly 5 ft 9 in tall, with a 36 in chest, sallow complexion, grey eyes and dark brown hair.
He was fairly quickly transferred to the 2nd Battalion. He was not an ideal soldier having numerous disciplinary offences to his name during his three years service, including being improperly dressed for a defaulter’s parade, quitting camp without permission and being drunk on parade. He seems to have spent most of his service in Ireland. When he completed this period of service and was discharged on 25 July 1904 he had grown over two inches and now had a 39 inch chest. He returned to Shore Cottage, Caldy to his parents, and was placed on the Army Reserve.
On 29 October 1904 he married Amelia Webley at St Bridget, West Kirby.
In fact she was born Eliza Amelia Webley in Liverpool in 1878. James’ army records show her as deceased, but she was remarried in April 1918 in Liverpool to John Johnson, correctly stating she was a widow, and then moved to mid Cheshire. In 1901 her younger sister Sylvania was working as a domestic servant for the Leech family at the shop in Caldy, which possibly is how she met James. In September 1909 he did his Army Reserve training at Neston.
On 12 December 1909 he had a son Owen Davies baptised at St Bridget, West Kirby.
Note that at this point, his wife was called Annie. The family lived at 3 Ridley Grove, West Kirby and James was a carter. Owen was born on 16 Oct 1909 in West Kirby. By the time of the 1911 census, the family was still living at 3 Ridley Grove, James was still a carter and there was now a daughter called Annie Owen Davies (born 20 November 1910). He claimed to have been married to Annie for three years and she was apparently born in Birkenhead. There is no record of him marrying Annie, and he would have committed bigamy had he done so.
A further child, James was born 23 November 1912 in West Kirby, and yet another Thomas, was born 8 January 1915 in Amlwch, Anglesey. James is probably the James H Davies registered in the March Quarter of 1913 in Wirral, from which we can deduce that Annie was probably Annie Owens. On 23 Mar 1915, when the army was trying to establish who James Hatton had actually married, Annie Owens was living in Amlwch, where she had only been for about 12 months, which suggests that she had split up from James some time before, and calls into question whether Thomas was his child. By 21 September 1919 she had married one Oswald Williams.
On 24 Jul 1913, James’ period on the Army Reserve expired. He attested again on 15 November 1913, in order to remain on the Reserve as a member of the King’s Liverpool Regiment. At that date he gave his address as Church Cottage, Boughwood, Near Brecon, Wales and described himself as a general labourer. This confirms that he had now left Annie and his three children.
He was mobilised on 5 September 1914. In order to make Annie and his children eligible for separation allowance whilst he was on active service, he claimed to have married her on 12 October 1908 in West Kirby. There is, not surprisingly, no evidence of such a marriage. By the 12 August 1914 he had been posted to the 1st battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment and was in France with the British Expeditionary Force.
The following is from Wikipedia and describes the actions in which James will have taken part.
Under command of Lieutenant-Colonel W.S. Bannatyne, the 1st King’s boarded the SS Irrawaddy at Southampton. The battalion landed at Le Havre on 13 August with the 6th Brigade, 2nd Division, one of the original components of the British Expeditionary Force. The BEF first engaged the German Army at Mons, Belgium, after which it went into a retreat that was sustained until 5 September, when the Allies resolved to stand at the Marne, a river east of Paris. Having acted as a rearguard to the 2nd Division, the 1st King’s and its brigade prevented a German force cutting off the 4th (Guards) Brigade, forming the rearguard at Villers-Cotteréts, and 70th Battery, Royal Field Artillery. The brigade extricated the guns, earning it praise from the 2nd Division’s commanding officer, General Monro. The Allies halted the German advance in the First Battle of the Marne; the ensuing retreat, which prompted an Allied counter-offensive, ended at the Aisne. After both battles had been fought, the battalion moved north to Ypres, during the so-called “Race to the Sea”. In an action at Langemarck during the First Battle of Ypres, the battalion captured the small village of Molenaarelstoek, just north-east of Polygon Wood. As the battle progressed, the German command sought a decisive victory against the outnumbered BEF and launched First Ypres’ last major assault on 11 November. Located to the south of Polygon Wood, the 1st King’s was one of only a few units available to defend British lines. A force of “12 and a half” divisions, including a composite of the élite Prussian Guard, attacked at 0900 along a 9 miles (14 km) front extending from Messines to Polygon. Some German units breached the front in places but quickly lost momentum and were gradually pushed back by a desperate defence. The Prussian Guard had advanced in dense formations, each guardsman effectively side-by-side and led by sword-wielding officers. In the defence of Polygon Wood, the 1st King’s held on and virtually destroyed the 3rd Prussian Foot Guards with concentrated rapid-fire and artillery support. By battle’s end, the 1st King’s casualties numbered 33 officers and 814 other ranks from an original strength of 27 officers and 991 other ranks.
We do not know precisely when James was wounded, but the Book of Remembrance states it was at Ypres, so he was probably one of the 814 other ranks of his battalion who died.
However it also states he was a member of the 7th Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment, whilst his military record and the CWGC record him as a member of the 1st Battalion. The 7th Battalion did not arrive in France until March 1915. Possibly confusion arose because he died in the 7th Stationary Hospital at Boulogne, never recovering sufficiently in at least two months to be transferred back to England. He died aged 33 of a fractured spine having received a gun shot wound in the back. He is buried in grave III. C. 57. of the Boulogne East Cemetery.
Birth: Oct 1882 in Caldy
Death: 19 Jan 1915 in hospital at Boulogne, France from a gunshot wound in spine
Addresses: Shore Road, Caldy (91); 52 Liscard Village, Wallasey (01); 11 Ridley Road, West Kirby (11); Church Cottage, Boughrood, Radnorshire (13)
Occupations: Soldier, Carter
Units: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Battalions The King’s (Liverpool Regiment)
Numbers and Rank: 5522 (militia), 7687 (regular)
Medals: 14 Star, 15 Star, Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: France: Boulogne East Cemetery III C 57; Grange Hill, St Bridget, St Andrew – all in West Kirby S
Sources: GH, WK, CWGC, SR, MC, BR, PR, Census: 91, 01, 11
WILLIAM HENRY DAVIES
William Henry Davis was a first cousin of the five Johnstone brothers who died as a result of World War I, his father being a brother of their mother Johanna. From newspaper reports we know he was called ‘Billy’ by his fellow soldiers, so that is the name that the rest of these notes will use. Billy was born in 1899, the son of William Davies (1866-1954) of a long established local family and Elizabeth Stevenson (1864-1939) from Youlgreave, Derbyshire. Elizabeth came to West Kirby as a parlourmaid to a family in Beacon Road. William and Elizabeth married on 21 January 1892 at St Bridget, West Kirby. Unusually for the Davies family, Billy had only one sibling, older sister Florence Emmeline (1893-1973). However he had a host of cousins in West Kirby. Financially the family probably managed better for only having two children.
William Davies started as an agricultural labourer by the age of 15, worked as a labourer and settled as a domestic gardener. By 1901 the family was living at 8 Alexandra Road, West Kirby and were still there in 1911. There is no reason to suppose that Billy ever lived anywhere else. Due to his youth he will have been conscripted into the army. At that time he was apprenticed as a plumber to Councillor W Chas.White whose plumbing business was at 2 Alexandra Road, so very close to Billy’s home.
We know he first joined the Lancashire Fusiliers. Indeed he is wearing the cap badge of that regiment in the above picture. As his military record has not survived, we know no more for certain until the time of his death at the age of 19 when he was a Gunner in the 5th Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps.
One of the Corporals wrote to his parents and we know that Billy
“fell in the morning of 21st August. … rushed up to the assistance of one of his mates who had fallen, only to meet the same fate himself. They were about the only two in his section that day; a few others were wounded and have since gone to England. It is a big loss to us. Your son was a quiet though cheerful and obliging lad, and much respected by all the section.”
This probably occurred as part of the Battle of Albert (21-23 August), part of the 2nd 1918 Battle of the Somme. His body was never recovered, so he is remembered on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial in France, and also on the following, somewhat neglected, family grave marker in the church yard at St Bridget. His sister never married, so there has been no close family for a long time now to look after it.
Birth: June 1899 at West Kirby
Death: 21 Aug 1918 at Bouzencourt, France; killed in action.
Addresses: 8 Alexandra Road, West Kirby (01) (11)
Occupation: Apprentice Plumber
Units: Lancashire Fusiliers; 5th Battalion Machine Gun Corps
Numbers and Rank: not known; 137481
Medals: Victory & British War
Commemorated: France: Vis-en-Artois Memorial Panel 10; St Bridget Church Yard (LR28) Sources: GH, WK, CWGC, MC, BR, PR, DA, Census: 01, 11