Herbert Davies was born on 7 August 1887, the third child and eldest son of Herbert Howard Davies and his first wife Margaret. They were then living at 83 Wigan Road in Brynn, Ashton-in-Makerfield, Manchester. His father was in 1887 a national school master, and in 1891 a grocer, and in 1901 a grocer and butcher, working with his eldest daughter Gertrude’s assistance. After the death of his wife Herbert Howard Davies married again, to Emma, who in 1911 worked from home as a draper and milliner, with her step-daughter Helen’s assistance. A third daughter, Constance, was born c. 1893. Herbert Davies senior died on 3 November 1904.
By 1911 Herbert Davies was himself working as a grocer in Ashton-in-Makerfield, living at 6 Gerard Street. His matriculation at Durham University in Michaelmas term 1913 to study Arts thus indicates a significant career change. He was admitted to St John’s Hall. He attended lectures throughout the 1913/14 academic year, and passed his first year examinations in Classical and General Literature, Mathematical and Physical Sciences in the Easter term of 1914. His intended new career is indicated in his having also passed a first public examination in Theology in the Epiphany term of 1915: he perhaps intended to take Holy Orders.
War interrupted his plans. He joined the Public School and University Brigade, enlisting first as a private in the Royal Fusiliers but then was quickly appointed a second lieutenant on 22 October 1914. He was serving as a temporary captain 10th Battalion D.L.I. when he was awarded a Military Cross for gallantry. The citation, not published until after his death, reads as follows.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When in support of an attack he did valuable work in consolidating the captured position. His platoons were widely distributed, and he was continually visiting and encouraging his men in spite of the sniping to which he was exposed. Throughout the fighting he rendered valuable service, encouraging all ranks by his cheerfulness and confidence.
M.C. citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 7 March 1918 p.2911.
Captain Davies was leading D Company of the 10th Battalion when he was killed on 24 August 1917 during the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) near the Menin Road and Sanctuary Wood. The unit’s war diary (WO 95/1908/1) of the operations over the period 22-24 August makes clear how intense the fighting was: the battalion suffered casualties of 14 officers (out of 20), and 355 other ranks (out of 608). Davies was reported missing in action, and his body never having been identified he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. His sacrifice is also recorded in Durham University’s Roll of Service.
Davies left a wife, Lilian Sanderson, the daughter of a Durham draper and tailor; they had married in Durham in November or December 1916. They lived at 55½ Western Hill in the city, and it was to his widow at that address that his medals were returned in 1919.