Sydney Grey Davis

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Sydney Grey Davis, 1896-1917, is one of the eight Stoke men known to have died in World War One. He is commemorated on the Stoke Memorial Gates.

Davis Sydney Grey World War I 1914 1918Corp. Sydney G. Davis
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Sydney Davis, 1896 – 1917,  a third-generation New Zealander, was born in Greymouth on 29 August 1896, the son of Francis George and Catherine Eliza (neé Griffiths) Davis.  Sydney had a brother, George Henry (born 1897 in Greymouth), and a sister Dorcas (born 1903).   The children received their schooling in various parts of New Zealand, their father being regularly transferred from job to job as an employee of New Zealand Railways.  After schooling in Kurow, near Oamaru, Sydney and George attended Huntly School from 21 October 1907 to 08 February 1910, when the family moved to Waihi.  Both brothers then played their part in World War 1, by which time their parents were living in Tahunanui where they were fruit farming.  The Davis’s then moved to Port Nelson where they ran a tobacconist’s shop.

Sydney was working as a clerk with the Bank of New Zealand’s Nelson branch when he enlisted on 1 December 1915 and became 13430 Private Davis in the 2nd Battalion of the Wellington Regiment.  According to his enlistment papers, Sydney had a “medium” complexion with grey eyes and brownish hair.  He was 5’ 8 ½” tall, weighted 127 lbs (10st 7lbs), with 32-36.5” chest measurements.

Davis Sling campSling Camp, Salisbury Plain, England, during World War 1. Johnson, Margaret :Collection of photographs and postcards of assorted subjects. Ref: PAColl-6129-02. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.  Note the kiwi carved into the cliff above the camp.
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After completing his attestation papers at Featherston on 9 February, Sydney was posted as a trooper to the C squadron of the NZ 13th Mounted Rifles three days later.   Following further transfers in April, Sydney was in Platoon 2 of the 13th Reinforcements’ J Company who embarked in Wellington on 29 May 1916 aboard the Tofua (HMNZT 55) and reached Devonport, England on 27 July.  These men then proceeded to Sling Camp in Hampshire for advanced training:

“Sling was just one of many military camps on Salisbury Plain during the war.  New Zealand infantrymen made it their own.  It has gone now, but the memory of those days is preserved by the large white kiwi they carved in the chalk of Beacon Hill, happily still maintained to the present day by the soldiers of nearby Bulford Camp......At Sling the training was designed to prepare the soldier for Western Front conditions, particularly trench warfare.”1

Davis EtaplesSunset over tents at the WWI NZ reinforcement camp, Etaples, France. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association :New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-013018-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
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After further training at Sling Camp, the 2nd Battalion Wellington Infantry Regiment left for France on 11 August and Sydney found himself attached to the NZ Infantry & General Base Depot at Etaples, south of Boulogne.

“Etaples was a bleak place which seemingly no soldier recalled with any affection…The New Zealand Depot was not so much a training camp as a reinforcement holding unit where trained reserves were held, to be sent forward in organised drafts to meet the needs of the division.”2

A few weeks later, Sydney and his regiment marched to the Western Front.  On 15 September they found themselves heavily involved in the Battle of the Somme.  Sydney went down with influenza in late October and was admitted to the No.8 Casualty Clearing Station at Bailleul.   By 1 November he was sufficiently recovered to re-join his battalion.  He was appointed Lance Corporal on 25 March 1917, and on 8 June was promoted to Corporal.  Throughout the first half of 1917, the 2nd Wellington Regiment continued in action on the front line right through to the Battle of Messines in early June and its aftermath.

DAVIS S G La Basseville MapMap of La Basse Ville. From from Stewart, Col H. (1921) The New Zealand Division 1916 - 1919: A Popular History based on Official Records - Chapter VI — Basseville - La Basse Ville. Retrieved from NZETC
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According to his Army Form B. 103: Casualty Form – Active service, he was killed in action in “France or Belgium” on 27 July 1917 when the 2nd Wellington was involved in manoeuvres designed as a prelude to a planned major offensive at Ypres.  A more precise report gives his place of death as La Basseville, Ypres, Belgium.

Sydney is buried in Grave B 10 at the Communal Cemetery in Halluin, a town on the French-Belgian border, north of Lille.  In addition to being recorded on both the Stoke and Tahunuanui World War 1 memorials, his name also appears on the Bank of New Zealand’s memorial plaque in the BNZ Arcade in Wellington.

Sydney’s brother George was an engineer’s apprentice with S. Winn of Nelson when he enlisted on 5 October 1916.  He states that he registered for Compulsory Military Training when he was in Stoke.  He embarked with the 23rd Reinforcements aboard the Corinthic (HMNZT 80) for Plymouth as one of a Specialist Company Machine-Gun Section.  Like his brother he rose to the rank of Corporal but survived the war.

Sydney’s grandfather, George Harrison Davis, was a cabinet maker by trade who came out to New Zealand, probably in the 1850s, and married a governess from England, Emma Wheeler, in 1857.  George and Emma had five children of whom Sydney’s father was the fourth.  At the time he died as a young man aged 36, George Harrison Davis was working as a brewer in Kaiapoi.

2014

Sources used in this story

  1. Gray, J. (2007) Quid non pro patria – the short, distinguished military life of Henry James Nicholas VC MM. Christchurch, N.Z. : Christchurch City Council & Canterbury District Returned Services Association
  2. Gray

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Further sources - Sydney Grey Davis

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  • Gray, J. (2007) Quid non pro patria – the short, distinguished military life of Henry James Nicholas VC MM. Christchurch, N.Z. : Christchurch City Council & Canterbury District Returned Services Association
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/174067321

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