Monday, 21 May 2018

“At present we do nothing at all other than parade” ......... sharing a day in 1915 with George Davison at Woolwich Barracks*

Mr and Mrs Davison and their son, 1916 Ireland
Now I went looking for anything that might have happened on October 27 1915 but the databases proved unrewarding.

“Unfortunately” according to one “there are no historic events for this date” other than it was the day that Herschel Saltzman was born and as everyone knows he  “was a Canadian theatre and film producer best known for his mega-gamble which resulted in his co-producing the James Bond film series with Albert R.”**

So a day of little significance which was pretty much how George Davison of the Royal Artillery described that Monday in 1915 to his wife in a letter home.

Woolwoch Barracks circa 1914
He had enlisted the year before had spent Christmas and most of 1915 in Ireland before briefly being posted to Woolwich and judging by his comments the army was not quite ready for his arrival.

There were no beds but he had managed to “find two blankets and use my coat and trousers for a pillow – the floor is the only bed and it is abominably draughty.  Our German friends (?) chipped pieces off the barracks the other day and part of the roof is being temporarily held up by wooden joists.”

And time hung heavily “at present we do nothing at all other than parade at 6 o clock am 8 am and 1.45 pm to see if any clothing is available.  There are no knives forks or spoons to eat with so you can imagine the result when fingers have to be used.”

George's letter to Nellie, October 27 1915
His experiences were no doubt echoed by his companions and conditions must have been grim given “that there are 1500 more men than the place will accommodate” which accounted for meal times being “something approaching a football scramble.”

Added to which he was still unable to “send a complete address [because] there are about 1000 other recruits to be dealt with before I get posted to any Battery.”

But there were compensations and George had managed to get the pendant and chain his wife had asked for.

Now on the surface it is an unremarkable letter but of course that is what makes it so important, for here stuck in Woolwich was George Davison biding his time as the army coped with the huge numbers of men who had volunteered since the outbreak of war.

For anyone who knows Woolwich Barracks George’s description of his time there will be of special interest more so because of the reference to Zeppelin raids.

And here I have to own up to a personal connection because just under a year after the letter was written the house two doors down to ours on Well Hall Road was destroyed by a Zeppelin bomb.

History of War, Part XXIV October 27 1915
Nor is that the only link with Mr Davison because for a while he lived here in Chorlton-cum-Hardy just a short walk from our house on Beech Road.

But even if there were not these personal links I have over the last year become close to the man as I work my through the collection of letters he sent home to his wife.

The George Davison Collection is a wonderful insight into how one family coped with the Great War and is a neat contrast to a contemporary account of the war issued by the Manchester Guardian every fortnight.***

And by sheer chance the first volume I have is dated October 27 1915 and covers the Italian Campaign, Russian Domestic Politics and the war on the Western Front with the added bonus of a series of adverts for everything from A Sun Bath to Valkasa the Tonic Nerve Food and the Manchester Guardian Christmas Gifts Fun known as "Tommy's Christmas which was “open again for the supply of Comforts for Lancashire and Cheshire Regiments at the Front.”

I will never know if Mr Davison read the history or if he benefited from “Tommy’s Christmas.”

By November 1915 he was back in Ireland and there he would stay till he was posted to the Western Front.

Pictures; of George Davison his wife Nellie and son, the extract from his letter, postcard of Woolwich Barracks and over of the History of War, courtesy of David Harrop.

*The George Davison collection is a unique record of material held by David Harrop and includes letters postcards, official documents many personal items from when Mr Davison was born in Manchester to his death on the Western Front in June 1918 and continues into the middle of the century. George Davison,


***The Manchester Guardian History of the War

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