Serjeant John Davies
From the starting point of just the name ‘J Davis’ (sic) on the memorial it was a long time until I could positively identify John. As one of the first group on the WW1 memorial, alongside ‘R Robinson’ and ‘W Ormesher’ it seemed a reasonable idea that he would have been a member of staff. The first clue came from the briefest of mentions in the Western Gazette on July 20th 1906.
Even then finding a J Davis who was a Maths Teacher still wasn’t any easier. I had been through the archive at the Blandford Museum before, but I hadn’t come across the Blandford School Register of Teachers which finally gave me a positive identification. (Even the museum didn’t know they had it!)
The simple J Davis which I had begun to think would remain a mystery became ‘John’.
John was the son of Mr & Mrs Edward and Hannah Davies 40 Cunliffe Street Wrexham. His father was a blacksmith in a local iron foundry and John attended Grove Park County School Wrexham 1897-1901. He then gained a place at Bangor University in 1901 graduating with a BA Pure and Applied Mathematics in 1905.
John joined Blandford Secondary School as Maths master in September 1905. This was as part of a school expansion (50 when the Head, Mr Greenhalgh was first appointed 13 years before now 163) This was his first teaching job and he was at the school for three academic years until July 1908. As the school was quite small it was necessary that he taught Geography throughout the school as well as Maths. He left to go back to Wales to teach mathematics at Brecon County Intermediate School for Boys in September 1908, where he was also the sports master. John spent 8 years in Brecon and boarded in Bowen Terrace in the town.
Brecon County Boys Intermediate School 1914, John is fifth from right in the second row.
John’s position as a Schoolmaster meant that he had to register under Lord Derby’s Scheme as potential conscript. There was discussion amongst the governors of the school in January 1916 of applying for exemption for their staff and an appeal was made to the local conscription board to defer John and a colleague’s call-up. This was eventually rejected and John was called up in March 1916 and because of his scientific training he promoted to Serjeant (The Royal Engineers used that spelling at the time) in the Corps of Royal Engineers. The school resolved to make up the difference in salary John would have from his much lower Army pay as a Serjeant. The expectation being that he would eventually be commissioned and that this difference would then be negligible.
The Royal Engineers’ Anti-Gas Department was based at University College London, with satellites at Oxford Works, New Kent Road and Holloway RE Gas Department. Details of the work John was engaged in are currently not available, but by November 1918 it seems that he was in Nottingham. It is likely however that if he was employed on the testing of poisonous gas, John found that this aggravated a chest condition from which he suffered. The only connection I can find so far between the RE Anti-Gas Department and Nottingham is that the Boots Company turned their peacetime pharmaceutical production capacity over to the production of the filling for the filter canisters of the Small Box Respirator.
The Small Box Respirator
As John didn’t serve overseas he was not eligible for any medals, however it might seem unfair to modern eyes. John survived the end of the war by a few days only to die of Pneumonia as an aggravation of Spanish Flu in Nottingham Military Hospital 27th November 1918 aged 35 (Wrexham Advertiser 7 December 1918) (Wrexham Cemetery Records)
John is remembered not only on the Blandford School Memorial but also on the memorial at Bangor University at that at what became Brecon Boys’ Grammar School.