Thursday, August 13, 2009

William Duckworth Davies in World War I

This is about my grandfather, William Duckworth Davies, who lost a leg in World War I.

Grandpa volunteered in January 1916 and joined the 138th Battalion in Canadian Expeditionary Force on Monday, July 24, 1916.

Acting Corporal. W. D. Davies embarked from Halifax on August 21, 1916 aboard the S.E. Olympic, arrived in Liverpool nine days later on the 30th. The Olympic was a sister ship to the Titanic and was converted to a troop ship for the war effort.

The next year was spent in England where the raw recruits were turned into soldiers. He finally arrived in France with the 50th Battalion Alberta Regiment on September 11, 1917 and joined the unit in the field on September 20.

Grandpa sent a letter to my father from England before he was sent to the front in WWI. The letter was written before my Dad's third birthday which was on April 11, 1917. It is transcribed as follows:

My dear little Bertie,I am awfully sorry that I have not got you anything for your birthday yet, but it is hard to get anything for you in these little places. Never mind sonny, I will get you something just as soon as I see something that I think you will like. You must be getting quite a big boy now. Three years old. You are making mamma and me feel old.. I must ring off now as I have to write to mamma & nana. Good bye and lots of kisses to the best little 3 year old boy on earth ; lot of love from your Soldier Daddy. x x x x x x

Grandpa landed in France on September 11, 1917, just before the deadliest battle for the Canadian forces in the war. After weeks of losses for the allies, it was decided by the British generals to launch an assault in the area of Ypres, near the border of France and Belgium. The Canadian Corps under a reluctant General Currie, carried on this assault, known as the Battle of Paaschendaele, from October 12, to November 10, 1917. Conditions were horrible for the Canadian troops fighting in soupy mud against the Germans who overlooked the morass from concrete bunkers. The Canadian Corps achieved its objective at a cost only fractionally less than General Currie's pre-battle estimate of 16,000 casualties. It was all for naught, within six months, the ground they had won was retaken by the Germans. From Grandpa's service records, I have concluded that he lost his leg at the Battle of Paaschendaele.

Grandpa said very little about experiences at the front in Europe, and in an interview by his great-grandchildren when he was eighty-eight years old, he said the following:

"How did I lose my leg? You'll have to ask Fritzie that. He knew I'd gone to France and he thought I was going to cause him some trouble so he sent over a 9.2 and I got part of it and that was it and that had to come about eleven miles to get me."

Perhaps Grandpa was lucky to be wounded at Ypres on October 12, 1917, after just a month on the front, because it took him off the battlefield where so many of his comrades lost their lives. The injury was caused by shrapnel entering the right knee, badly shattering it, and fracturing the femur. The leg was amputated through the thigh at C.C.S. (Casualty Clearing Station) the same day. Two days later he was admitted to No. 1 South African Gen. Hospital, Abbeville, France where he would start his long recovery. On November 10 he was considered fit enough to return to England and was admitted to General Military Hospital in Colchester, England, also known as Whipps Cross War Hospital. He stayed at Whipps Cross Hospital for 102 days, then he was admitted to Granville Canadian Special Hospital, Buxton, Derbyshire on February 21, 1918. On April 23 he was admitted to Military Hospital Kirkdale, Liverpool where he would stay another month before finally being transferred back to Canada.

He boarded the hospital ship Araguaya on May 25, 1918. It had been thirteen years since he taken the same route from Liverpool across the Atlantic to the Gulf of St. Laurence, then on to Montreal before taking the train to Toronto. He was eager to return to Alberta and resume life as a civilian, but he had one more hospital to visit first. He was admitted to Military Orthopedic Hospital, Toronto where he continued to recuperate from June 10 to August 6, 1918. Finally declared unfit for further service, Grandpa was able to return to Busby, Alberta where he had applied for a homestead before the war.

When asked about his experiences while overseas in the war, Grandpa had very little to say and was reluctant to talk about the horrors of the battlefield.

"Well there wasn't very much to tell except of course once in a while when Fritzie decided to come over and give us an air raid that made very exciting times because we didn't know just when a bomb was going to drop right on us; and in fact after I went to France and was wounded and came back to hospital in England why there I was in the hospital in London, at Whipps Cross Hospital and he came over one night and blew 60 feet of the hospital fence away of the hospital I was in, so he wasn't very particular. We often had experiences like that and whenever there was an air raid we used to get up and go out and watch the flack in the sky where the anti-aircraft guns were happening. But it was very exciting, very exciting."