SECOND LIEUTENANT WILLIAM ROY DAVEY
LONDON REGIMENT, THE RANGERS
1ST JULY 1916 AGE 19
BURIED: GOMMECOURT BRITISH CEMETERY NO 2, FRANCE
In 1914, Rupert Brooke wrote:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.
These are the opening lines of his hugely popular poem, The Soldier. Today readers criticise Brooke for romanticising, even glamourising war and the idea of dying for your country. But it is nevertheless a very beautiful poem, and very consoling should your relation be numbered among the dead.
There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.
In one way William Roy Davey was the classic nineteen-year-old subaltern, fresh from school, killed leading his men 'over the top' into a hail of machine-gun fire and a tangle of uncut German barbed wire on the morning of 1 July 1916. But in another way he does not conform to the stereotype. He was not a young man of privilege, of the establishment, educated at a public school. In 1911 his father was a tailor's cutter, the family lived in Albert Road, Hendon, a road of terraced houses of some substance but no grandeur, and worshipped at the Congregational Church.
Davey was one of five second lieutenants in the battalion killed in the attack at Gommecourt - his body not located until May 1921 - one of 552 second lieutenants killed in France on that day, a small fraction of the 19,240 British soldiers who died on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts of England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.