Private Desmond Godfrey Davies
Unit : 16 Parachute Field Ambulance, attached to 2nd Parachute Battalion.
Army No. : 14387667
The following account was written by Stuart Davies.
Born: - 9th August 1924 at 6 Brecon Road, Hirwaun, Near Aberdare, South Wales
Father: - Edward John Davies MM. Served in the Royal Field Artillery during WW1. Gaffer Haulier in local colliery (Tower Colliery) - in charge of pit horses underground. A member of the Mines Rescue Service. Main interests: - Founder Member of local British Legion Branch (1922), Horse Welfare
Mother: - Emily Davies. Nurse in local TB Hospital. Main interests: - Her local Anglican Church (St. Lleurwgs)
Looking back with hindsight it is easy to understand that Desmond's personality was moulded and influenced during his early life by both his parents. His mother being a kind, caring and religious person and his father having a very strict and strong sense of duty towards his work, family and country.
Des was a very studious child and also took an active role in his local Anglican Church in a number of roles from a choirboy in his early years and a server at the Eucharist. In his late teens he was encouraged by the local Vicar of the time to become a Lay Reader and actually take charge of the evensong service in subsidiary churches. His other main interest was in the St John Ambulance Brigade, which he joined at an early age and remained a member of until he began his military service.
He left school at just before his 15th birthday and began work as a bookkeeper for a local man who owned a number of grocery shops in the valley. By this stage in his life he had decided that he wished to become an Anglican priest and with this ambition in mind he attended evening classes to further his academic knowledge. In addition to these classes he also studied Greek and Hebrew, being taught by the local Vicar.
At the aged of 17 he applied for admission to Mirfield Theological College in Yorkshire which is run by an Anglican monastic community - The Community of the Resurrection. He by this time had decided that he wished not only to become an Anglican Priest but also to take vows and become an Anglican Monk. He was interviewed for a place at the college but was told that it was felt he needed to experience more life before he committed himself to such a life. He accepted this decision although feeling that his ambition would be unlikely to change, and returned to his life in South Wales.
Obviously the war had started and certainly as a result of the influence of his father during his upbringing he felt he should be prepared to undertake his duty to his country, although he did feel strongly about the issue of possibly having to kill a fellow human being. As soon as he became eligible for military service he volunteered and requested that he serve in the Medical Corps.
He therefore began his service in the RAMC, and it is believed that it was at this point that he first met his good friend Benjamin Bliss. It was also at this point that some of his views that were bred from his religious upbringing started to change. This is apparent by the fact that both he and Benjamin volunteered for airborne training and when, asked by his brother, why he volunteered for the airborne he stated that as a Medical Orderly in the airborne he would carry a sidearm which would at least give him the opportunity to protect himself against an aggressor if necessary. (A significant change from his feelings that had originally influenced his decision to volunteer for the RAMC as a non-combatant). Following his parachute training he was attached to the 2nd Battalion 1st Airborne Division - the actual Company he was attached to at Arnhem was B company although shortly before Arnhem both he and Ben Bliss were attached to A Company.
I had been told by my family that Des was with his friend Benjamin Bliss when he was killed and at the same time he received a slight flesh wound in his calf muscle, however I knew no other details until I read the book "B Company Arrived" and also the following account of part of the battle at the bridge written by James Simms.
One German soldier fell just outside the White House. Two airborne medics carrying a stretcher ran out from our Battalion Headquarters building to aid him. Both stretcher bearers were unarmed and wore armbands bearing the Red Cross symbol. They also had large red crosses on a white disc on both sides of their helmets, and their mission must have been obvious to everyone. We were horrified to hear the ripping fire of a German machine gun and to see the front man crumple into the gutter. The man at the rear of the stretcher was so astonished at what had happened that for a second or two he just stood still holding the stretcher's rear handles before dropping them and sprinting for his life. A hail of bullets followed his progress but at last he made it to safety.
Des was taken prisoner at the fall of the bridge and ended up in Stalag IVB where he remained until the Russians reached the camp in about late March or early April 1945. It was at this point that he and four other Paras and one American serviceman decided they didn't want to wait around under the control of the Russians until they could be finally repatriated. They managed to acquire some supplies (including a German Bayonet which Des eventually brought home with him) and left the camp (at this time security was not very efficient - Bob Jones actually told me that near the end some of the German soldiers guarding his POW camp would almost let you out for the day if you gave them some coffee or sugar). Des and his companions witnessed some appalling treatment of both German soldiers and civilians by the Russians. Bob also witnessed similar things at his camp. Eventually Des and his companions made it across part of Germany and arrived safely at the British/American lines. This account is similar to that of Pte David Jebbit later Colonel Jebbit RAMC who was also a prisoner at Stalag 4B and it may be possible that he and Des were companions on this journey. In an e-mail from David Jebbit's son he confirmed that there was also one American serviceman in the group with his father. However this is supposition to a certain extent.
On his arrival back in the UK Des was sent home on leave. During this period he had no proper uniform and was dressed in civilian clothes while on leave. On a visit to a cinema in a local town, after the usual news reels had shown items from areas where fighting was still taking place (I'm not sure if the war in Europe was over but the war in the far east was still ongoing) some women started hurling abuse at Des asking why a fit (albeit rather thin after his time as a POW) wasn't in a uniform and away fighting like their boyfriends, sons and husbands were. Des was with some friends and they became annoyed and started shouting back at the women who on realising their mistake in jumping to conclusions about the fact that Des wasn't in a uniform, started to apologise. Apparently Des just laughed at the irony of the situation and carried on watching the film.
By this stage in his life and almost certainly as his brother and parents felt, due in no small part to his experiences at Arnhem and as a POW, all ambition to become a priest let alone a monk had disappeared. When he was offered the opportunity to become an officer cadet and take a commission, he accepted and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the South Wales Borderers in September 1946. Shortly afterwards he was posted to Palestine and it was whilst there that he first met his wife to be Mary who was at that time also a serving officer in the Army. On their return to Britain they married in Aldershot in 1949 and remained devoted to one another for the next 36 years, with her accompanying him on all his postings both in Britain and abroad in places such as Malaya, Aden and Kenya. Des ended his military service in 1972 when based at Woolwich as a Major in the Royal Horse Artillery, the regiment in which his father had served during the First World War.
On his retirement he returned to Wales with his wife and lived in the small village of Penderyn on the Brecon Beacons, only two miles from where he had been brought up. He obtained employment with the MOD, in charge of civilian staff at an army camp just outside Brecon called Dering Lines. He remained employed there until his early death at 61yrs of age in 1985, although he was on sick leave for almost a year before this as he suffered a stroke in late 1984.
Des had recovered well from the stroke and was considering returning to work when his wife Mary suddenly died of a heart attack early one morning. The shock and sad loss effected Des terribly and that night his condition deteriorated rapidly - This was the night I spent with him where he appeared to spend most of the time talking to Ben Bliss about Arnhem. The next morning he collapsed and was taken to hospital where he died about an hour later.
One amazing coincidence was that the porter who wheeled his stretcher from the Accident and Emergency Department up to the medical ward was also an ex-para who had served at Arnhem and as they moved along the corridors you could hear them quietly shouting "Woha-mohamed" together and laughing.
Des and Mary were cremated at Llwycoed Crematorium and their remains where buried in the church yard of St Lleurwgs church where Des had regularly worshiped as a young lad.
At his funeral the Colonel then in charge at Dering Lines had managed to obtain a detachment of Paras to act as bearers and to provide a firing party. There were also representatives from every regiment with which he served and a detachment of Gurkhas - a regiment he became very fond of when serving alongside them in Malaya in the 1950's. Taking pride and place on top of the Union Flag on his coffin was the original tattered, faded and threadbare beret that he had taken to Arnhem with him and returned from the POW camp with.
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