On the 31st December 1915, near the village of Vermelles in northern France, a platoon of soldiers from the 19th Battalion of the 1st London Regiment were being lead out of the front line trenches by their sergeant, B.A Few. Somehow on the way, in the confusion of the trenches, saps and communication lines crossing each other the platoon got lost. Tired, dirty and anxious to get to their billets and comparative safety, one man, Corporal Percy Davies, calmly climbed up onto the parapet to see if he could find the route back to the rear area. While he was standing there he was shot and killed by a German sniper.
His death was not one of great daring-do or cold steel gallantry and in military terms there was nothing particularly remarkable about the man either. Corporal Percy Davies was 23 years old, an ordinary ‘Tommy’, just like the hundreds of thousands of other unacclaimed British soldiers who died during the 1st World War but he was one of ours – the son of William and Alice Davies who ran the Ailsa Tavern on St Margarets Road. He was a local man, mourned by his family and missed by his friends. His sergeant, B.A Few wrote of him… “I personally miss Percy more than I should any other fellow out here. He was one of the right good sort.” Now all that remains of Percy are a few letters and photographs, a document or two marking his sacrifice and a name carved on the wall at the Loos Memorial where he is remembered with honour.
Percy Davies is just one of many men from St Margarets killed during the 1st World War whose lives are now being investigated by the North St Margarets Residents Association as part of a ‘War Walk’ project. Taking place in October the intention is to walk around the neighbourhood visiting places associated with the Great War, the various Rolls of Honour bearing the names of the dead, the houses where they once lived -and the cemetery where some of them are now buried. We know a little about the men, their homes, when and where they died and where they are now buried but there the information largely ends. The only other thing we know about them is that they were all remarkably brave. Now we need to fill in the details of their lives – so that names carved in stone can be revealed as the local heroes that they are, just like Corporal Percy James Davies, number 2512, an ordinary soldier of the 19th Battalion of the 1st London Regiment …
“He died as he lived amongst us, trying to do something to help others in a difficulty…He was one of the best fellows that ever stepped.”
CAPT. C.H. FAIR – ‘A’ Company 1st London Regiment
The 1st World War was 100 years ago – and much of the minutia of those days is tucked away forgotten in family photo albums, at the back of drawers, in dusty suitcases and in people’s fading memories.. If you have any information or photographs of anyone from North St Margarets, soldier or civilian, man or woman, who took part in, survived or were killed during the 1st World War please contact Laurence Mann of the North St Margarets Residents Association on firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 020 8400 9822
In our own way we will remember them.
— from Martyn Day