Hide and Seek with Harry

My maternal great-grandfather, Harry Joshua Davis, has generally made himself extremely difficult to find after 1923.  In fact, I have not found him or his date of death or where he might have died and I have been looking for a very long time.  Yes, it’s annoying and he most definitely qualifies for July’s Genealogy Blog Pool party theme. Elizabeth of Little Bytes of Life writes:

‘Do you have an ancestor which makes you absolutely miserable?’  Why yes I do! ‘Bring your most aggravating ancestor to our summer pool party and PUSH HIM (or her) in the pool!’

Harry Joshua Davis was born in Gorton West, Lancashire, England in 1879.  He was the first child of Joshua Davis and Helena (Schmidt) Davis.  He is easily found in the 1881 and 1891 UK census with his family in or near Manchester, Lancashire.  By the 1901 census however Harry is not found with the family who has stayed within the parish of South Manchester.  In fact, despite numerous searches, I have not found him at all in 1901 in England.  I do however know that by June 1902 Harry Davis was in South Africa.  He joined the British South Africa Police (B.S.A.P) in Johannesburg and I am fortunate that I have his enlistment papers.

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B.S.A.P Enlistment Papers for Harry Joshua Davis

However not being able to find Harry J. Davis in 1901 in England raises the question of whether he was already in South Africa at that time.  Did he go over to fight in the Boer War?  As a paramilitary unit, the B.S.A.P fought in the Second Boer War but Harry Davis’ B.S.A.P enlistment papers clearly show he enlisted in Johannesburg in 1902. (The Second Boer War had officially ended on May 31, 1902).   In 2003 I hired a researcher to do a search in the Public Record Office in London with the goal being to find out if Harry Davis had enlisted in the British Army prior to 1902.  Although several men were found with similar names, none fit the details I already had for Harry Joshua Davis.  Was Harry intrigued by the lure of adventure in deepest Africa?  Perhaps he saw one of the many newspaper advertisements asking for men to join the B.S.A.P?

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Morning Post (London), 21 January 1898

Harry’s trail in South Africa from 1902 until 1923 is fairly well documented in his enlistment papers.  I also know that Harry Davis married Adelaide Agnes Maud Hayes somewhere between 1902 and 1908.  However, I do not have their marriage certificate or a confirmed date of their marriage. It’s difficult to get this sort of documentation in South Africa as there is no central repository for vital records and many are kept on a local level by the various church’s – if they exist at all.   There is also the unconfirmed family story that Harry and Adelaide were not married at the time of the birth of their first son, my grandfather, Harold James Davis in 1908.  A birth certificate for Harold James Davis may have shown the word ‘illegitimate’ had that been the case but again, I have not been able to find one for him.  In fact, the family story goes so far as to say that Adelaide’s father went out and found Harry and told him he would be marrying his daughter –  ‘shot-gun’ wedding style.  Until I find their marriage certificate I can’t prove or disprove that family story.

Harry Davis did well working with the B.S.A.P and his records are full of praise and commendations.  He was promoted in 1907 to a Detective Probationer and then to Detective in 1908.  In September of  1914  the notation in his enlistment papers shows that Harry was called to active duty.  The First World War had started in July of 1914 and South Africa’s military forces, including the B.S.A.P, participated in the fighting in various parts of Africa including the East African Campaign.  Harry Davis survived and returned to Johannesburg on June 26, 1915.  Approximately 4 years later Harry was again promoted to Detective Lieutenant Constable.  In 1921 Harry Davis moved to Cape Town where he was stationed with the newly formed C.I.D (Criminal Investigative Division) of the B.S.A.P.

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The B.S.A.P is called into action for World War 1

Harry Joshua Davis and Adelaide Agnes Maud (Hayes) Davis had 4 children together:

  • Harold James Davis, born in 1908 in Johannesburg
  • Lillian Adelaide Davis, born in 1909 in Johannesburg
  • William Francis Davis, born in 1912 in Johannesburg
  • Florence Maud Davis, born in 1922 in Cape Town

Harry Joshua Davis left the B.S.A.P in 1923 at the age of 44.  And that is the last time I have found any mention of him in any document.  I don’t know where he went after he left the B.S.A.P.  I do know that there was a separation from his wife Adelaide and that when she died in 1964 her death notice stated she was a widow. Whether Harry Davis had died by then is unknown.  Widows were not always widows but may have preferred to be known as such rather than as the woman whose husband abandoned her.

There are various family stories that have been told about Harry Joshua Davis including:

  • When Harry and Adelaide separated Harry went to South West Africa (now known as Namibia).
  • In 2001 at the age of 79, daughter Florence Maud Davis was of the opinion that her father died in South Africa and that he may have taken his own life. She believed she was about 11 when her parents separated and in her early teens when Harry died, which would put his death around 1935 or so.
  • Information from Florence Maud Davis’ husband was that when Harry Joshua Davis left the B.S.A.P he started a plumbing business with a partner. The partner absconded with all the money and the business failed.  Interestingly enough Harry’s father, Joshua Davis, was a plumber (back in England) so perhaps there could be a shred of truth here.
  • In 2004 Adelaide Agnes Maud (Hayes) Davis’ nephew was asked if he remembered anything about Harry Joshua Davis. He stated that he thought Harry went into the bakery business and worked for a company called T & F Connery.  And again, Harry’s grandmother Charlotte L. Cook had been a confectioner/baker back in England. So again, perhaps a shred of truth?

Harry Joshua Davis remains a man of mystery right now.  Every few months I go back to Harry and look at him again, read the few documents I have on him, and look through any new South African records that have been placed online, but no luck so far.  Harry is doing a great job at hiding.  And that’s pretty aggravating, right?

 

Behind the Scenes of a War

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Leslie Bruce Thomas (1921-2013) in RAF uniform

On the night of April 25, 1945 LAC (Leading Aircraftsman) Thomas was involved with the last operational mission for Bomber Command No. 35 Squadron based at R.A.F. Graveley in Huntingdonshire, England.  This last mission would provide tons of vitally needed medical supplies to the Allied men on the ground in Germany and occupied France prisoner of war hospitals.  Lancaster bombers were fitted with specially adapted medical supply baskets which were dropped by parachute behind enemy lines.  LAC Thomas, ground crew at RAF Graveley, was involved in the adaptation of the baskets as is indicated by the letter below, sent from the Group Captain Commanding the R.A.F at Graveley to the Station Armament Officer and on which LAC Thomas’ name and military number is written by hand.  The copy of the letter is poor but a transcription is below.

 

LeslieBruceThomas1921_MilitaryLetter

From: – Royal Air Force, GRAVELEY, Huntingdonshire.               LAC Thomas (896)
To:     – Station Armament Officer
Date:  – 27th April, 1945
Ref:    – GY/s.933/P.1

MEDICAL SUPPLY BASKETS

            The ingenuity and effort put forth by your section in adapting the Medical supply baskets for dropping by No. 35 Squadron on the night of 25th April, has earned glowing praise from higher places.

  1. Your section will no doubt be gratified to know that all the supply Baskets were accurately delivered to a prisoner of War Hospital housing British and American aircrew where the death rate had been in the region of eight to ten per day, due to shortage of medical supplies. This position is now relieved and I am sure your section will consider that fact just reward for their efforts.
  1. Would you please pass this information to the personnel concerned, along with my thanks for furthering Graveley’s reputation for reliability, ingenuity and initiative.

 

G.F. Grant (Sgd)
Group Captain Commanding
Royal Air Force,
GRAVELEY.  Hunts.

Not every man saw armed combat but many behind the scenes contributed just as much to the war effort.  The men and women of R.A.F. Graveley No. 35 Squadron participated in over 1000 bomber raids with many losses of life.  A memorial stained glass window of the Parish Church of All Saints in Offord Cluny, Huntingdonshire serves to honor the memory of all the airmen and airwomen who served with 35 Squadron at Graveley.

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Stained glass window at All Saints Church from website https://allsaintsoffordcluny.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

From Cairo with Love

As part of this month’s theme for the Genealogy Blog Party ‘The Strong Will Survive!’ I am highlighting my Grandfather as someone I believe was strong both emotionally and physically.  He survived not only a war but a situation at home, happening at the same time, which was incredibly emotionally stressful for him.  Read on and see why I think he qualifies as a man of great courage and integrity.

I’ve always been fascinated with this postcard that my Grandfather, Harold James Davis, had made in Cairo, Egypt.  He never sent it (there is no writing on the back) but from what we can gather brought it home to South Africa to give to his only daughter.

EstelleHazelDavis1939_Postcard

Harold James Davis (1908-1967) was stationed in Egypt with the 1st Hygiene Company of the South African Medical Corp from November 1941 to April 1944 and transferred to the United Defense Force Admin HQ in Cairo, Egypt from March 1944 to November 1944.  Obviously he carried with him a photograph of the young daughter he had left behind in South Africa, enabling him to have the postcard made.

It was during this time serving in Egypt that my grandfather would have heard that his wife, my grandmother, Hazel Jane Keown, had abandoned their young daughter.  Perhaps tired of life as the wife of a military man (Harold had been an Army man since July of 1929) Hazel Jane Keown had left their 4-year-old daughter and disappeared.    Harold returned to South Africa in November 1944 where he sued for divorce and sole custody of his daughter.

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Harold James Davis (1908-1967) taken in Cairo, Egypt between 1941 and 1944.

It must have been difficult to be in the middle of a war and to be worrying about his young daughter.  I like to think that the photograph of her he carried, and the postcard he had made, helped him to feel closer to her.

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Harold James Davis and his baby girl.