b. 29/09/1895 Birkenhead. d. 28/10/1955 St Helens.
John Thomas Davies (1896-1955) was born at Rockferry, Cheshire on 29th September 1896 at 19 Railway Road, Tranmere, Birkenhead. He was the eldest son of John Davies of Birkenhead and Margaret Davies of Mostyn, North Wales. His father was a labourer. When John was still very young the family moved to St Helens and Davies senior became an employer at Cannington & Shaw’s glass bottle factory. John attended Arthur Street School in St Helens and became a brick worker at the Ravenhead Brick and Tile Works in St Helens. In September 1914 he joined the South Lancashire Regiment and was posted to the 11th Battalion becoming one of the St Helens “Pals”.
After initial training he served in France from 6th November 1915, and in 1916 he was wounded twice on the Somme front. By 1918, although still only 22 years old, Jack was an experienced and battle-hardened soldier when Germany launched a great Spring offensive in a last desperate attempt to win the war. On 24th March the St Helens Pals were occupying positions 12 miles southwest of St Quentin near the village of Eppeville. After heavy shelling the Germans advanced from their bridgehead across the Somme at Ham and, within an hour, the Pals’ forward companies were in danger of being surrounded and under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire.
On 24th March 1918 near Eppeville, France, when his company was ordered to withdraw, Corporal Davies knew that the only line of withdrawal lay through a deep stream lined with a belt of barbed wire and that it was imperative to hold up the enemy as long as possible. He mounted the parapet in full view of the enemy in order to get a more effective field of fire and kept his Lewis gun in action to the last, causing many enemy casualties and enabling part of his company to get across the river, which they would otherwise have been unable to do.
He was believed killed during the action, and his parents were notified of his death in action, and his Victoria Cross was gazetted posthumously, before information was received two months later that, almost incredibly under the circumstances, he was in fact a prisoner. It was discovered he was alive when a request for food from a POW camp at Zagan, Silesia (Poland) informed them otherwise.
On 1st January 1919 Davies was repatriated to England and received a very special welcome when he returned to his home at Alma Street, Peasley Cross, St Helens. On 5th April 1918, he was presented with his VC by King George V in the Ballroom of Buckingham Palace, and in the same year he was discharged from the Army. It is believed he is one of only two VCs (the other being Herbert Le Patourel in WWII) who was awarded the VC posthumously when actually still alive.
In civilan life he was employed in a local glass bottle factory and in the Second World War he served with the 75th Battalion of the West Lancashire Home Guard (South Lancashire Regiment), becoming a Captain by the end of the war. In later life, he was a regular visitor to the Regimental Depot and was a friend of another holder of the VC, John Molyneux of the Royal Fusiliers, who was awarded the medal in 1917. The two men attended functions together and in the 1930s were presented to the Prince of Wales. On 19th July 1924 the new cathedral of Liverpool was consecrated and when in the afternoon the King reviewed the 55th West Lancashire Territorial Division at Wavertree Playground, Davies was one of nine VCs present.
John died suddenly, aged just 60, on 28th October 1955, at 27 Leslie Road, St Helens and was buried in the St Helens Borough Cemetery. His medals were placed on loan to the Imperial War Museum, London, and are displayed on rotation in the Ashcroft Gallery.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM.
BURIAL PLACE: ST HELENS BOROUGH CEMETERY, ST HELENS, LANCASHIRE.
Kevin Brazier June 2016