A Watch, A Bullet, and a Diary
A man at war: The diary of Corporal Walter Davis
My Great Grandfather was Corporal Walter Davis, otherwise known as Wallace. He was born in April 1892 in Aston, Birmingham, and grew up to become a mould maker, this is what I am myself now, I didn’t realise he was too until I had already become one myself, I guess I must have inherited his passion. He enlisted to the army on 8th September 1914 in Birmingham and began as a Lance Corporal with the 9th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment. His number was No.11666.
My Great Grandfather was promoted to Corporal just before he was injured on 13th July (I believe 1916) and returned to England on 17th July. The 9th Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment was a pioneer battalion which meant they were responsible for important work such as digging trenches, building roads and bridges and setting up communications etc. Here he is photographed at a post-war reunion, third from left on the front row.
He kept a short diary of his experiences at war in France. I decided for the centenary that I would publish his war diary into a book with old photographs and postcards from the war as a way of commemorating his life and helping others gain an understanding and appreciation into just what these men went through for us and our country, which is something I feel is lacking in the younger generations.
There are a lot of WW1 books out there that tell us the facts and figures and give us dates and places, they group the men who fought for our country into regiments and battalions etc. but very rarely talk about them as individual human beings with families and homes, with memories and a past, human beings just like you and me who were scared. I felt that releasing my Great Grandfather’s diary and story of his life would give that personal touch that will help people understand and appreciate exactly what war was like for those involved. (I have included a photograph of my book with the original diary pictured just above). I have had a feature about this book done in the Shropshire Star and the Express and Star.
He didn’t write about this story in his diary but he told it to my Grandfather who told it to my Mother who then told it to me. During the war my Great Grandfather Corporal Walter Davis was shot in the chest. He survived though because he had a tiny pocket watch in the top pocket of his uniform jacket. This watch stopped the bullet and saved his life. The bullet hit the watch at the thickest part, if it had of gone a millimetre lower, it would have gone straight through the watch and killed him. He didn’t have any children before the war, therefore the watch has also saved the life of every single person who has ever, and will ever, descend for him. There are currently 45 people over 4 generations who would never have existed without this tiny pocket watch. He kept the watch and the bullet and these have now been passed down to us.
The diary of my Great Grandfather, along with many other WW1 stories have influenced my MA glass work. Some of the text on the faces are quotes from my Great Grandfather’s war diary and some of the writing is the original handwriting from the official war documents of a soldier my Great Grandfather talks about in his war diary, Private James Henry Ford, or ‘Poor Jim Ford’. My Great Grandfather witnessed his death and buried him at war.
These faces and parts of faces resemble the broken and damaged faces of the First World War. These soldiers are either ‘broken and damaged’ physically or in a more representational way of describing the emotional impact of life at war.