Private, 4659, DAVIS, Arthur, 2nd Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
Died of Wounds: 24th November 1899
Arthur Davis was born on 30th January 1873 and baptised at St. Martin’s, Alfreton 27th April 1873. His father, John Davis was a greengrocer. John was born in Atherstone, Warwickshire and he had already moved to Somercotes by 1863 when he married Martha Simpson at the Church of St. Martin’s, Alfreton on 29th December that year. Martha was John’s second wife, as he was recorded as a widow on the marriage certificate. By 1871 the family lived on King Street, Alfreton and at the time of the 1881 census John and Martha had eight children, including Arthur, who was born in 1873.
In 1891 Arthur was 18 years old and was employed as an apprentice butcher. Sometime shortly after this date Arthur joined the British Army and was eventually posted to the 2nd Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
This battalion was part of the British 1st Division. In December 1899 the Division consisted of some 7,750 soldiers when it engaged the Boers at the Battle of Belmont, Orange Free State, which took place on 23rd November 1899. The Boers were in entrenched positions when the British attacked, but eventually retreated by pony from Belmont and reformed in another entrenched position at a nearby place called Graspan, which is where it would seem Arthur was badly wounded. He survived until shortly after midnight the following day. His death is recorded officially as occurring on 24th November.
In total British losses were 75 killed and 233 wounded, which does not entirely reflect the savagery of the battle. The commander of the 1st Division, Lord Methuen is said to have written to his wife after the battle “…I detest war, people congratulate me; the men seem to look on me like a father, but I detest war the more I see of it...”
Arthur’s death was recorded in several local newspapers some months later. The Derby Mercury dated 28th March 1900 printed a copy of a letter written to Arthur’s parents by one of his colleagues, which gives a surprising amount of graphic detail: “A CHUM'S DEATH - Private J. Coupe, of the 2nd King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, in a letter from the General Hospital, Wynberg, to his parents, gives the following description of the death of Private Arthur Davis, of Alfreton. Speaking of the Graspan engagement, he says : "We had orders to try and flank them, and in doing so got pinned with a cross fire, in the course of which my friend fell on top of me, saying, 'They have done me this time.' I tugged him behind a rock, took off his equipment, cut off his coat and shirt with my knife, bandaged up his wounds, and gave him water. I got some assistance, put him on the stretcher, and took him to a house close by, which was made into a temporary hospital. There I had to leave him, while the doctors dressed his wound properly. I went in search of the regiment, and found they were calling the roll, and that they had put me down as wounded. I asked the officer for a drop of Bovril, which I took to 'Bluff.' When I got to him I saw that a change had come over him. He drank a little, but all came back. I stayed with him until midnight. He opened his eyes, and asked for me. I said to him 'Come on, my lad, buck yourself up.' He replied, 'I am going.' He also asked me to write to his mother at Alfreton, and ask her not to take it hard, as he had done his duty. Then he passed away."
The sacrifice of Arthur was not forgotten by his family or the people of Alfreton and the surrounding villages. A marble tablet to commemorate Arthur was erected in St. Martin’s Church, Alfreton, paid for by public subscription. The Derby Mercury, published on 1st August 1900, printed details of the memorial: “MEMORIAL TO A DERBYSHIRE SOLDIER - A white Carrara marble tablet, subscribed for by public subscription, is to be erected in the Alfreton Parish Church to the memory of Private Arthur Davis, son of Mr John Davis, King Street, Alfreton, who fell at the battle of Belmont. The work has been entrusted to Mr. Bingham, sculptor, of Tibshelf. The tablet will bear the following inscription in gilt letters- "To the glory of God, and in Memory of Arthur Davis, of the 2nd Battalion, K.O.Y.L.I., who died fighting for his Queen and country at the battle of Belmont, November 23rd, 1899. Erected by public subscription."