“Mr Davis was educated at Mill Hill School, London. He became a cricketer of distinction and played for Leicestershire. In the great War he joined as a Private the 11th Royal Fusiliers and served in France, where he was killed in 1916”. [ULA HIS/FOU/2, Memorial Portraits Book]
As described in a previous post, the University Archives contain an ornate leather-bound volume known as the Memorial Portraits Book. The volume contains photographs and biographical notices of prominent donors towards the foundation of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland University College in 1921. There are also a number of portraits and accounts of those honoured with gifts given in memoriam. The above brief note is all that is recorded about Arthur Edward Davis, who was killed in action during the final days of the Battle of the Somme.
Born in Leicester on 4 August 1882, Davis was the son of Samuel Davis, manager of the Leicester Permanent Building Society, and grandson of John Henry Davis, its founder. As stated in the biographical notice, Davis was a keen cricketer and he features in in Nigel McCrery’s book, Final Wicket: Test and First Class Cricketers Killed in the Great War (Barnsley, 2015). In 1897 he went to study at Mill Hill School where he played cricket for the first XI. He went on to make 21 first-class appearances for Leicestershire between 1901 and 1908.
A search for him on Ancestry, to which the Library has a subscription, locates his census entries for 1891, 1901 and 1911. In 1891 he was living on Upper New Walk with his parents and two older siblings. A decade later, the family were still on New Walk, with the address recorded as The Friars. By now, Arthur had become a Building Society Clerk, the occupation recorded for him 10 years later. In 1911, he was living at 63 Knighton Drive, married to Hettie Louise Davis with a 2 year old son (George Edward). They were comfortably off, with one domestic servant at the time of the census. Kelly’s directory for 1916 shows that their close neighbours included a solicitor, schoolmaster, clergyman, and a bank inspector. They were, it seems, an affluent young family in one of Leicester’s comfortable middle class suburbs. As was the case for so many families, their lives were transformed in 1914 by the outbreak of World War I.
Davis died just a couple of weeks before the Battle of the Somme was finally ended by the onset of winter in 1916. None of the references to him record the circumstances of his death. The Battalion diary, which is also available on Ancestry, provides brief details of movements during early November. On 3 November the men relieved the 8th Norfolks in the trenches at Albert. The following day, on which Davis died, the entry simply reads “Weather very bad. Artillery very active on both sides”. (TNA, WO 95/1096–3948) His name is recorded on the Thiepval memorial to the missing of the Somme, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.
The reason Davis appears in our Memorial Portraits Book is a donation to the University College sent to W. G. Gibbs, College Secretary, by J. H. Davis, Arthur’s brother, on 4 November 1921. A brief covering note sent with a cheque for £105 survives in the University Archives, requesting that the donation be received “In memoriam Samuel Davis”. (ULA AD/M16/1). However, a second letter sent five days later, states that:
Further to our conversation on Monday evening. On second thoughts we should wish the £105 sent last week to be marked “In memoriam Arthur Edward Davis” instead of Samuel Davis. (ULA /AD/M16/1)
Ten years later, the college received a bequest from Mrs Fanny Henrietta Knox Teasdale, including a request that a memorial tablet be produced in memory of her two sons killed in the war. On receipt of this, it was decided to commission the Dryad Metal Works, founded by Harry Hardy Peach, to create two bronze plates: one in memory of the Teasdales and a second for the other men killed in the conflict for whom in memoriam gifts had been given. An initial list sent to Peach on 17 February 1931 contained eight names, with Arthur Davis omitted. On 20 February W. G. Gibbs wrote to J. H. Davis asking for particulars about his brother and informing him of the intention to produce a memorial tablet:
If you would inform me whether Mr. Arthur Edward Davis was killed in the War, his name will be inscribed on this panel (ULA/AD/M16/1)
Confirmation of this was received, and the designs for the panel were altered so that Davis’s name was rightly added. The dedication of the war memorials took place on 11 October 1931 at the College’s Annual Commemorative Service, led by The Right Rev Edward Arthur Burroughs, Lord Bishop of Ripon.
By an interesting twist of fate, the Davis family home on Upper New Walk, The Friars, is now a University of Leicester property housing Criminology. The family business, the Leicester Permanent Building Society, merged with the Leicester Temperance Building Society in 1974 to form the Leicester Building Society, a forerunner to the Alliance and Leicester bank. The company records are held by the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland.
A century on from his tragic early death, we remember Arthur and the sacrifice he made. If anyone has any further information about him we would be delighted to hear from them.