It’s wonderful to finally be able to put a face to a name. The Virtual Museum – back in September 2013 – carried a story about a soldier’s prayer-book – given to him when he ‘signed-up’ to fight in the First World War.
I came upon this Book of Common Prayer on a book-stall at a car boot sale near Castle Combe in Wiltshire.
My attention was drawn to a little embossed and leather-bound book with the Royal Crest and words ‘Official Copy’ on its age-darkened cover.
Inside was the name ‘Private Leonard Davis, Coldstream Guards, no 12410’ and – in different ink below – ‘Caterham,Surrey, September 7th, 1914.’ It was where this soldier had joined his regiment – nearly one hundred years ago.
Did he survive the war to end all wars? Well l came into contact with Private Davis again – after linking with http://www.forces-war-records.co.uk – and discover
red he was NOT killed in action.
Nor was he sent home from the trenches with an obvious war wound. It appears Private Davis was given an Honourable Discharge in 1917 and a Silver War Badge.
This was something issued to all service personnel forced to retire from action through wounds or sickness – to let the public back home know they had been ‘doing their duty.’ In Leonard’s case his discharge was put down on his record as ‘valvular heart disease.’
No heart valve replacements on offer in those days so l had no idea low long Leonard lived after he came home from the Front.
Private Davis had been a member of the Coldstream Guards. During the First World War the Regiment gained 36 battle honours and 7 Victoria Crosses – but losing 3,860 men during that terrible conflict.
He left the Army on November 9th, 1917. His Silver War Badge – sometimes known as the Discharge Badge, Wound Badge or Services Rendered Badge – was first issued in September 1916 – along with an official certificate of entitlement.
The sterling silver lapel badge was intended to be worn on civilian clothes. It had been the practice of some women to present white feathers to apparently able-bodied young men who were not wearing the King’s uniform. Their badge was a ‘shield against shame’ and was to be worn on the right breast while in civilian dress. It was forbidden to wear the badge on a military uniform.
Well l am now so delighted to be able to complete the story and show you a photograph of Leonard in uniform from so long ago. It’s all thanks to Charles and Moyra Griffin who have contacted me from Ottery St Mary in Devon. They moved down there from Wiltshire when they retired.
Moyra tells me: ‘Leonard Davis was my husband’s grandfather. The connection with your area is Corsham. We don’t know if he was born there but – before the war – Leonard worked in a quarry. He was a big man. l think you had to be big to be in the Guards in those times.’
‘After the war he married Charles’s grandmother and they were tenant farmers in Charlton, near Malmesbury but, from about 1930, they moved with their four children to Wroughton near Swindon, and he worked in the Great Western Railway Works – in the foundry.’
‘He lived into his eighties – which makes the reason for his discharge a bit questionable!’
One of Leonard’s daughters IS still living – and in Canada. Through her – Moyra has been able to obtain a photograph of Private Leonard Davis – which she and her husband are happy to share with us.
Apart from his Silver War Badge – like many service personnel of World War One – Leonard was also entitled to the Victory Medal, also called the Inter Allied Victory Medal. This medal was awarded to all who received the 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star and, with certain exceptions, to those who received the British War Medal. It was never awarded alone. These three medals were sometimes irreverently referred to as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.
Eligibility for this award consisted of having been mobilised, fighting, having served in any of the theatres of operations, or at sea, between midnight 4th/5th August, 1914 and midnight, 11th/12th November, 1918. Women who served in any of the various military organisations in a theatre of operations were also eligible.
Leonard’s medals have only recently come into Charles and Moyra Griffin’s hands – that’s after an uncle died and the contents of his house went to auction. Charles paid the market price for them.
Now l will be ensuring they are re-united with the Book of Common Prayer l came across at that Castle Combe car-boot sale too – with the compliments of the Virtual Museum of Bath.