Walter Davis was born in mid 1872 in Rugby and registered as Walter Smith Davis in Q3 1872. His parents were Francis Smith Davis, b.c.1836 in Welford, Northamptonshire and Emma, née Masters, Davis, b.c.1842 in Walcote, Leicestershire. Their marriage was registered in Lutterworth in later 1863. There were four children: Albert, b.c.1867; Ada, b.c.1871; Walter S., b.1872; and Arthur Davis b.c.1876.
In 1861, Francis had been a groom, the son of an agricultural labourer; but before 1867, the family had moved to Rugby and by 1881, was living at 18 Lawford Road and Francis was working as a ‘horse clipper’. In 1891, his son, Walter, was a ‘cement labourer’ – they were living at 18 New Street – and Francis, had added a further trade and was now a ‘horse clipper and green grocer’, and it was as a greengrocer that Francis was enumerated in 1881. It seems that the greengrocery business was successful as Francis was still in the trade in 1901, but now the family was living at 36 New Street. Walter’s elder sister Ada was a corset maker, whilst Walter had become a ‘mechanic’s labourer’.
By 1911 the family had moved again to live at 61 Victoria Street, New Bilton, Rugby. On enumeration night, 2 April, Walter’s father was lodging in his birth village of Welford as an ‘old age pensioner’, and whilst not required and deleted by the administrator, he had noted that he had been married 46 years and had three of his children ‘still living’. Walter was now 38, still single and a ‘crane driver’, quite possibly at the nearby cement works – and it was thought that he might have been a mechanic there in 1901, however, he is not in the list of early recruits from the Rugby Portland Cement Works in September 1914.
As was the case for a number of local men, Walter Davis joined up, as Private, No:11886, into the 5th (Service) Battalion of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (Ox. and Bucks.).
The surviving Service Records for the Ox. and Bucks. suggest that there was a rapid response to the recruitment drive and the service numbers can be used to make an estimate of the place and date of attestation for other soldiers. With the number 11886, it is likely that Walter joined up in Rugby around 2 September 1914, where No.11874 Smith, only 12 recruits ahead in any queue, is known to have joined up. Walter, who was now about 42, would have been much older than many who joined the Battalion.
A summary of the earlier movements and actions of the 5th Bn. Ox. and Bucks. can be found in the description of the attack on Bellewaarde Farm on 25 September 1915 (see: Rugby Remembers for that date). The 5th Ox. and Bucks. was formed at Oxford in August 1914 as part of Kitchener’s new army and was placed under the orders of the 42nd Brigade in the 14th (Light) Division. They landed in Boulogne on 21 May 1915.
However, whenever he actually ‘joined up’, Walter did not go to France until 1 October 1915, probably with reinforcements, after the heavy losses at Bellewaarde Farm, when the Battalion was withdrawn to regroup and retrain, and the Battalion Diary, noted that the Battalion returned to a ‘Camp near Poperinge’ by 1 October, and that ‘… 46 other ranks were killed, six died of wounds, 249 were wounded and 136 were missing.’ Two days later a draft of 200 NCOs and men, a ‘… very good looking lot of men’ arrived from 9th Bn. to provide replacements.
9th (Reserve) Battalion was formed at Portsmouth in October 1914, as a Service battalion for K4 and placed under orders of 96th Brigade, originally in 32nd Division, but on 10 April 1915 it was converted into a reserve battalion. It seems quite likely that Walter had been initially in this battalion for training and was then included in the reinforcements which joined the 5th Battalion.
However by 13 October 1915, the Battalion Diary indicated that the Battalion was back in the trenches, and relieved the 8th K.R.R.C. in Railway Wood, (see location map on Rugby Remembers – 25 September 1915, and details of the Battalion in Rugby Remembers for 16 October 1915).
The CWGC lists 11 men from the 5th Ox. And Bucks. killed on 16 October (including William Langham – see Rugby Remembers for 16 October 1915) and who have no known grave. Then on the next day the Battalion Diary noted:
October 17th – At 5.15 a.m. the enemy ‘exploded’ a mine under the junction of H.20 and H.21, making a very large crater (about 40 yards in diameter and 30 feet deep), and filling a great part of H.20 and H.21 with earth.
Our mine shaft in H.20 was blown up. It appears to have been a defensive measure only, as no artillery fire was opened and no attack made. The fire-trench at the junction of H.20 and H.21 was destroyed for about 4 bays on either side. A huge amount of earth was thrown up, and forms a long ridge running towards the German crater of the 25th September. About 7 a.m. the enemy made two bomb attacks against the new crater and the Sunken Road. Both were easily repulsed by our bombers at the crater, and by rifle-fire from H.20. The behaviour of the men was excellent. As soon as the mine exploded A Company holding H.20 north and south of the Sunken Road, stood up on the fire-step and delivered a very rapid, steady fire against the enemy position, while 2 platoons started to dig out men buried by the explosion. Work commenced almost at once on constructing a trench round the crater. Enemy snipers were busy, and we had several casualties in parties carrying up knife-rests. The C.O. directed field guns to be laid on the enemy crater; large supplies of bombs were got up, and a reinforcement of 1 sergeant and 16 bombers of the 5th K.S.L.I. came to our assistance. Captain R. O. Logan was killed by a bomb, the last of our Regular or even experienced Company Commanders, and a very great loss. At 12.40p.m. 1 company of the 5th K.S.L.I, was ordered up to reinforce. During the morning we successfully wired between H.20 and S.20. The night passed quietly, but the Battalion stood-to throughout. 2nd Lieut. A. D. J. Mellis, one of the last of the newly joined officers, was killed in the afternoon by an aerial torpedo in H.22. Casualties during the day: 2 officers and 13 other ranks killed; 31 other ranks wounded; 23 other ranks missing and buried by the mine. Total 69.
36 men were killed or buried alive that day, but there seem to be only five of them with known graves, at various places, including behind lines at dressing stations or hospitals, and they include some who were wounded in earlier actions and died on that day.
Again, it seems that for any who had actual graves, these were probably lost in subsequent actions and shelling. There are some 29 men from the 5th Ox. And Bucks. recorded as dying on the 17 October 1915, and who have no known graves and who are now remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial.
It is likely that Walter Davis was one of those killed or buried alive, in the mine explosion in the early morning of 17 October 1915. He had only been in France for just over two weeks.
Walter’s father, Francis, died in mid 1915 in Rugby shortly before his son. His mother, Emma, died in mid 1921.
Walter was awarded the British and Victory Medals and the 1915 Star, and is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial and on the Rugby Memorial Gates.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
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This summary was prepared for the Rugby Family History Group by John P H Frearson in October 2015. Thanks are due to other members of the Group for copying data in the local newspaper
 Rugby Advertiser, 12 September 1914.