November 8, 2020. If you have a family member who lost his life in war, this is a poignant time of year of remembrance. Recently Earle Davison of Kensington wrote us that “….As November 11 comes around, I start to think about my uncle, William Earle Davison, who was killed in the First World War. He was attending Mount Allison University and he enlisted in St John, New Brunswick. He was with the Sixth Canadian Siege Battery in France and Belgium…”
Earle explained that “…My father always kept a box about the size of a chocolate box in one of his desk drawers. It contained the last possessions of Earle, most of it must have been sent back from Europe. Every fall getting near November 11th he would take it out and we would look through it….”
The original box is long gone, but it’s a tradition that Earle and his wife Irene keep up with a replacement box.
According to his attestation document, William Earle DAVISON was born March 7, 1897 in Kensington, the son of Joseph and Annie Davison. Before enlisting on May 3, 1916 as a gunner with the No. 7 Overseas Siege Battery Artillery in St. John, he was a theology student at Mount Allison.
Earle Davison explained that he had a group photo from the No. 7 Siege Battery and wondered why, as he had only known his uncle to be in the 6th Siege Battery. This was explained by a series of changes in designation. ‘No. 7 “Overseas” Battery Siege Artillery, CEF’ was re-designated as ‘167th (Canadian) Siege Battery’ on 10 June 1916, and as ‘No. 6 Canadian Siege Battery, CEF’ on 24 January 1917. (For more information, see https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/services/military-history/history-heritage/official-military-history-lineages/lineages/artillery-regiments/3rd-field-artillery-regiment.html)
From St. John, Davison was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia. With his Battery he left for Britain on September 18, 1916, arriving in Bristol on September 26, 1916. A day later they were in France to provide siege artillery support as part of the 2nd Brigade, CGA, CEF in France and Flanders until the end of the war. (NOTE: CGA refers to Canadian Garrison Artillery, and CEF refers to Canadian Expeditionary Force.)
On September 18, 1918, he was wounded in an early afternoon bombardment while they were in the area of Villers-lès-Cagnicourt, 24.1 km southeast of Arras. A letter written by Fred KILLEN of St. John to Davison’s father on September 19, 1918 from France explained what happened to his friend, known as ‘Davy’: “… There were five of us went up to the forward section to run the telephone exchange. There was Davy, Fowler, Simpson, Bomb Yeomans, and myself….” The additional men mentioned in Killen’s letter were H. E. FOWLER of St. John, H. L. SIMPSON of Springhill, and H. L. YEOMANS of St. John.
Killen then explained that “…Davy, Fowler, Simpson, and I all lived together like 4 brothers. We always had a dugout of our own and got along well. But we all went forward to do our exchange work under Bomb Yeomans. We had been up there for about 6 days and we were going to be relieved the next morning….”
While waiting to be relieved they had a bit of time to relax, as Killen wrote “.… on the afternoon of the casualties we were all playing crib at the time….” Crib refers to the game of cribbage.
Then the shelling by the Germans, referred to as Fritz by Killen, began. “…Fritz started to put a few shells around. The first one went about 100 yards from us. We did not mind it. About five minutes later another one came and lit about 20 yards behind us….”
At first the men thought they were under a gas attack. “… It did not make much noise when it exploded and we all thought it was gas. So we started to look for our gas masks. The place was small and it was pretty well crowded when we all got in there. Fowler handed me mine and I got outside the door to look at the explosion of the last one…. when all of a sudden I heard an explosion and jumped clear of the dugout…”
Killen was the only one outside at the time of the third explosion. “… The other four were inside at the time, and Davy got a slight wound in the side of the head, Fowler got it in the back, and Yeomans got it in the leg and hand and a bruised shoulder, and Simpson got a few burns about his face. I fell as soon as I jumped and when I got up I saw Davy and Yeomans running….”
Killen relates what happened next. “…We dressed them up and sent them all to a Field Ambulance. They told us then they were all right and need not to worry. They are all clean cuts and they should all make Blighty on them….” Blighty referred to being sent back to England.
It seems clear that no one was aware that the injury to Davison would prove fatal, as he was treated for a gunshot wound at a field hospital, No. 22 General Hospital in Camiers, France. He was not sent to England. “… Davy was in the best of spirits after he was hit, although it was paining him a bit. But he stuck it well. I will only be too glad to let you know of any further particulars that we receive here. But likely you will hear from Davy yourself. But I thought I would drop you these few lines so as you won’t worry too much about him as I know how Mothers and Fathers worry about their boys. Hoping you have received good news by the time this letter reaches you. And hoping he will recover soon…”
On September 23, 1918 Davison’s service record recorded him as being ‘dangerously ill’ and on October 5, 1918 he ‘died of wounds’. He was buried in Étaples, France. This is located near Boulogne on the north-west coast of France.
Earle Davison noted that of the men in the 6th Siege Battery killed in action, his uncle was the only Islander. The other men who were wounded with him on September 18, 1918 survived the war.
Among the mementos in the chocolate box were photos and a pipe. One of the photos was of a group of men, likely taken in France. The back of the photo had most of the men thoughtfully identified!
Thank you to Earle and Irene Davison for sharing information about Earle’s uncle, William Earle Davison, and how they ensure his memory is never forgotten. If you have information to share about him, or any of the other men mentioned, please contact Pieter at email@example.com or comment on the blog.
© Daria Valkenburg