A soldiers Tale
In October 2007 I travelled with my Father, Roger Davy to Northern France with the view of tracing the history of my Grandfather’s Brother, Robert Davy’s last year in World War 1. The research I had done in the previous months (with some great help from the Royal Norfolk Regiment researcher Richard) turned up another Great Uncle on my Grandmothers side Freddie Oakley.
The film below covers our trip to the Somme, and then on to the Ypres region inBelgium (Passchendaele).
Robert Davy was born into the world in 1897. He was the elder brother of my Grandfather, Cecil Davy who came into the world in 1901. Come the outbreak of war in 1914, both joined the armed forces. Cecil went into the RAF (somehow at the age of 14 in 1915) and Robert joined the 8th Norfolk Regiment. I hope to share with you some details of Roberts’s journey that ended on a field in Passchendaele on 22nd October 1917. A journey that I only discovered in 2007
Like my grandfather, Robert was born in Swardeston in South Norfolk. He went to local schools and knowing the area well would have had a peaceful upbringing in what is a pleasant little village just to the south of Norwich. My family still resides within 5 miles of Swardeston and the Davys history in the village is traceable to the mid-17th Century. (Previously to that a bit tricky but the best guess would be Caister Saint Edmund’s.)
Prior to the outbreak of War the brothers were keen sportsmen playing football for Mulbarton football team. They are pictured in the shot below Robert is back row player far right and Cecil is front row player second left. Also in the back row to left of Goal keeper is Freddie Oakley who was Uncle albeit around the same age to my Grandmother. Freddie was shot dead at Regina Trench, Coucelette at the end of the first Somme campaign on the 21st October 1916, a year and a day before Robert was killed. His grave is easy to visit when you go to Paris and I always drop in on the occasions I am passing.
So what was Roberts’s story? After training Robert joined up with the 8th Norfolk Regiment in France. The first major action came on July 1st 1916, otherwise known as the first day of the Somme. The first strike out of Carnoy toward Montauben was a murderous day which Robert survived. Further action took place supporting South African forces in the Battle of Delville wood.
In September 1916 Robert and the Norfolk’s engaged with enemy forces at Thiepval. Robert was shot and injured. After initial treatment he returned to the United Kingdom to convalesce in a Hospital in Birmingham.
Freddie Oakley attacked the Schwabben Redoubt to the North of Coucellette. He didn’t make it, being shot and killed on the morning of the 21st October. He is buried in a small war graves cemetery Called Regina Trench. These days it is a very peaceful place to visit, which I have managed to do a couple of times.
Another Swardeston resident remembered on the memorial is Nurse Edith Cavell, who was considered a Spy and sadly shot in 1915.
Robert recovered from his injuries and returned to the war in Belgium. On this occasion he was just in time for the Passchendaele offensive, toward the end of the summer of 1917. Robert ended up in a village to the east of Ieper, called Poelkapelle. On the morning of 22nd October 1917 Robert advanced on German Lines and the best guess is he was killed in an artillery exchange whilst manoeuvring on the field. He is remembered at the Tyne-Cot memorial to the East of Zonnebeke.
Roberts’s information is sketchy as a result of an incident at the Records office in Kew, London. In World War 2 the records office was bombed in the blitz resulting in many records being destroyed. All is not lost though as the Red Cross records are if anything in greater detail than British military records. Currently they can only be accessed if you can make it to the Red Cross archives in Switzerland. In 2014 all these records go on line and we should find the missing details of Roberts last day.
Nearly 100 years on from the day Robert was hit in that field, I hope to make as many people as possible as possible aware of his actions and the great sacrifice he made for his country.
My Grandfather Cecil survived the war having served in the very first days of the Royal Air force and eventually returned to Norfolk. He became a carpenter, married my Grandmother they had a son who happens to be my dear father. I have many very happy memories of my Grandfather who survived into his 80’s living in the village of Hingham in Norfolk.
The days they spent in foreign lands fighting are difficult to imagine in modern day France. I am grateful to the Norfolk Regiment museum. (And to Richard, a great chap who helped me with research) Visiting the battlefields really bought it home to my Father and me. In 2007 we made the trip to the places I have described on the 90th Anniversary of Roberts unlucky day. I will definitely be returning in October 2017 which will mark the 100th year to pass since this normal man from Norfolk paid the price that so many people did to during World War 1.
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