Friday, June 12, 2020

Arnold Mercer Davies' letter from South Africa

Arnold Mercer Davies, served in the Victorian [Citizen] Bushmen during the South African War. You can see his Nominal Roll entry, here.   I am not actually sure how he is connected to this region, however Arnold and Alfred Robinson were welcomed home at a function at the Narre Warren North Mechanics' Institute on Friday, February 22, 1901, so I presume he was farming in the area. There was a report of the welcome home in the local paper and it starts thus  - It is hardly possible that at any country town within the colony such a handsome welcome home was extended to our returned soldiers as that which took place at the Mechanics Institute, Narre Warren North, Friday night last.

The assemblage comprised visitors from Dandenong, Berwick and the surrounding district well as a strong force of the local residents and numbered about two hundred and fifty, possibly a record attendance at any similar gathering at Narre Warren. The idea of inviting ladies was a great success, nearly half the audience being composed of members of the fair sex. Arnold and Alfred were each   presented with a handsome gold medal, suitably inscribed to the effect that they were given by residents as a token of esteem.  You can read a full report of the event, here, in the South Bourke & Mornington Journal of  February 27, 1901. There is more information about his family below.

Arnold's letter was published in The Argus on September 14, 1900 (see here).

Private Arnold Davies, son of Sir Matthew Davies, of the 3rd Victorian or Bushmen's Contingent, gives the following account of the attempt made to reach Elands River at the end of July:—
"We are camped now—that is 20 of our division—on a large kopje, about a mile from our old camp, on the Water Hill Fort, and it looks as if we were going to have fairly easy times for a day or two, and I think we could all do with a rest. I suppose you have heard by now that we had a go with the Boers last Sunday, and I think even the most sanguinary amongst us had enough fighting then to do them for a day or two. The wonder is that any of us came through alive; as it is, there are four killed and 21 wounded and missing.

We left the Nek about 8 o'clock on Saturday night for Eland's River to bring in a large convoy. My horse went lame just before we started, and McCulloch lent me his second one. At about 12 that night the advance party came across a small party of Boers at the top of a ridge we had to cross. They fired a few shots, and cleared. We dismounted. I forgot to say there were about 300 of us—Victorians, West Australians, New South Wales, and Queenslanders—and Colonel Airey was in command. We dismounted, as I said, and had a walk round the country, but finding nothing came back and formed up in open order round the hill, waiting to be attacked.

"At daylight we all took another walk, but could see nothing of the enemy. We mounted again about 7, and started off. After going for about a mile and a half our right-flankers fired on the Boers, but they all got away. We rode on again, thinking of when we would get breakfast, when suddenly they opened fire on us from two hills on the left of the road. We dismounted and lay down, and the horses were taken away, and then the fun began. The place where the Victorians were was very like the centre of the two ends of a horseshoe, and about 500 yards away, and we had a cross-fire from each hill, and later on from behind as well. We had ridden fairly into a trap.

While we were on our horses we could see Boers running over the hill, but as soon as we got on the ground we could not see a trace of them. We were lying nearly in the open. If a man made the slightest movement he brought down the whole of the fire on himself. We stayed there till about 1 o'clock, doing nothing, except now and then having a stray shot. The funny thing was that nearly all of us went to sleep. I know I slept for over two hours, and it was a long way the best way to pass the time. At about 1 o'clock we made a dash for a drain about 30 yards in front of us, and two of our men were killed while they were running. Once in the drain things were more comfortable, but we could see nothing to shoot at. I was lying on my back, when a bullet hit the ground at the back of my head, and threw the dirt over my face. That was the nearest shave I had.

"At about 2 o'clock the major called for 20 Victorians to help charge the hill, and I thought I had  done nothing all day, so I went, but somehow I did not like the idea of it till we got started. We fired a few volleys advancing, and then fixed bayonets and charged, but not a shot came after we began to rush, and when we got to the top not a Boer was to be seen. That was about all I saw of the fight. Nearly all our horses were killed, and the horse-holders had by far the worse time of it. What would have happened to us if relief had not come is hard to say. We would never have got out of the hole we were in by ourselves.

We heard yesterday from young Botha, who was wounded, that there were about 1,000 Boers, and they had us surrounded, only they did not know it, but thought by our keeping so still that we had a trap for them."

Family life
Arnold was the son of Sir Matthew Davies - the first Speaker of the Victorian Parliament, who was born in Australia. He was also a land speculator who was declared bankrupt in 1894, and a 'colourful character' that wonderful euphemism  we use to describe slighty dodgy characters. You can read his obituary here, in The Age of November 27, 1912 and his entry on the Victorian Parliament website, here.

Matthew Henry Davies married Elizabeth Locke Mercer in 1875. She was the daughter of Peter and Marion (nee McMillan) Mercer. She died in October 1922.  Matthew and Elizabeth had seven children, the first six born in various suburbs of Melbourne -

  • Arnold Mercer, born 1876. He served, as we know, in South Africa. On February 16, 1907 he married Miss Millicent Beatrice Hay Yuille of Heathcote. The wedding was written up in Punch on February 21, 1907, you can read about it, here.  In the 1909 Electoral Rolls, the couple are listed at Doodakine in Western Australia.  Doodakine is 230 kms east of Perth. He was still in Western Australia in 1912 along with his brother Henry, according to Sir Matthew's obituary. He returned to Victoria and was living in Oakleigh, when he enlisted in the A.I.F in November 1914 at the age  of 38. I can't tell you what he did during the War as he also enlisted in the Second World War and the personnel files have been combined and are not yet digitised. The WW2 Nominal Roll entry states he was born in 1887 - he was actually born 1876. It will be interesting to read the personnel file once it is digitised. Millicent died in Prahran in 1975, aged 90. A family tree on Ancestry suggests that Arnold may have died  in 1975 in New Guinea.
  • Marion Agnes, born 1877, married David Inman Tod in 1898. The wedding was the subject of an extensive report in Table Talk, read it here. Marion died in England in June 1914.
  • Henry Gascoigne, born 1879. Henry was Killed in Action in France on July 19, 1916. You can read his Personnel Dossier here.
  • Beatrice Elizabeth, born 1880. Died in Medindie, South Australia in 1964.
  • Muriel Kate, born 1882. Muriel was  a doctor, graduating from Melbourne University in 1907.  Muriel married Dr Konrad Hiller in November 1912, two weeks before her father died. Muriel died in 1963, aged 82.

Muriel's final results

Dr Muriel Davies, accepts a position in Perth
Bendigo Independent, March 11, 1910

  • Olive Blanche, born 1884. Olive married Arthur Lyle Rossiter in 1916. She died in Adelaide in 1976.
  • Cecil Harwood Locke, born 1886 in London and married Claire Vernon in 1915. Cecil, who was a Barrister and a Solicitor, also served in the First World War, see his file here. He died in December 1954.

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