ONE of our most celebrated war heroes will feature as part of a special exhibition at Manchester’s Imperial War Museum marking the centenary of World War One.
John Davies was awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroics during the First World War and his story will be told as part of From Street To Trench: A World War That Shaped A Region, an exhibition marking the centenary of the War and the importance of the role played by the people of the North West.
Corporal John Thomas Davies, known as Jack, was born on September 29, 1895 in Rock Ferry, Birkenhead, but grew up in St Helens.
He was wounded twice during the Battle of Somme in 1916, and twice returned to active service. But the incredible events for which he was awarded the VC, took place on March 24, 1918 near the village of Eppeville, France.
The men of his battalion were outflanked on both sides and in danger of being surrounded when they were ordered to withdraw.
Corporal Davies, then aged 22, knew that the only line of retreat 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.
In the words of his Victoria Cross citation: “He mounted the parapet, fully exposing himself, in order to get a more effective field of fire, and kept his Lewis gun in action to the last, causing the enemy many casualties and checking their advance.
“By his very great devotion to duty he enabled part of his company to get across the river, which they would otherwise have been unable to do, thus undoubtedly saving the lives of many of his comrades.
“When last seen this gallant N.C.O. was still firing his gun, with the enemy close on the top of him, and was in all probability killed at his gun.”
His parents were notified of his death in action and his VC cross was gazetted posthumously. But incredibly, two months later, information was received that Corporal Davies wasn’t dead, he was in fact being held as a prisoner of war in Poland and had survived.
He is believed to be the only person ever to have been awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross while still alive.
John Davies’ Victoria Cross, letters, photographs and many more personal items are now on display at the Imperial War Museum including a letter written to the mother of John Davies, informing her that John was missing and feared dead in the fighting.
Graham Boxer, director of IWM North, said: “John Davies actions during the First World War were quite extraordinary. Even among so many stories of sacrifice and bravery on display in our current exhibition, John Davies stands out.
“As we mark the centenary of the conflict, we are privileged to be able to recount his emotional, powerful experiences and display his Victoria Cross.”
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the Biritsh armed forces. It was created on 29 January, 1856 to recognise acts of extreme bravery carried out under direct enemy fire.
The medal is hand-made, traditionally using bronze taken from a gun captured in the Crimean War. The inscription on the Victoria Cross “For Valour” was personally chosen by Queen Victoria, after whom the medal was named. The Queen turned down the first suggestion, “For the Brave”, explaining that all her solders were brave.
The free From Street To Trench exhibition at Imperial War Museum North in Manchester runs until 31 May 2015 and reveals more than 200 personal objects, films, sound recordings, photographs, artworks and letters - many on public display for the first time.
On display in IWM North’s From Street To Trench exhibition are:
• Photo of John Davies VC in Army uniform
• Letter written to the mother of John Davies, informing her that John was missing and feared dead in the fighting of 24 March 1918. It was written by Lieutenant-Colonel H F Fenn, John’s commanding officer, who describes John’s extreme bravery: “By his very gallant conduct he no doubt saved the lives of many of his comrades”.
• Cap badge of the South Lancashire Regiment belonging to John
• Victoria Cross medal group awarded to John for his bravery in the fighting of 24 March 1918 and for his war service • Photograph of John in civilian clothes wearing his Victoria Cross on his lapel. John was 22 years old when he performed the actions for which he was awarded his Victoria Cross.
• Programme of a garden party held at Buckingham Palace on 26 June 1920 especially for recipients of the Victoria Cross. This was one of several ceremonial events that John attended.
• Travel pass issued to John to allow him free travel on all forms of London public transport whilst attending a series of VC events, including a dinner at the House of Lords in Westminster.
All images are part of IWM’s national Photography Collection. All images provided on condition that they reference ‘From Street To Trench: A World War That Shaped A Region at IWM North’