Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (11 & 12 December 2013)

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Date of Auction: 11th & 12th December 2013

Sold for £5,200

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

An emotive Great War Hedjaz railway operations M.C. group of four awarded to 2nd Lieutenant W. T. Davies, Royal West Surrey Regiment, attached Imperial Camel Corps, late Shropshire Yeomanry, who was decorated for his gallant leadership in the famous raid on Mudowwara Station on 8 August 1918, which place he had earlier reconnoitred with four other officers, the whole attired in Arab dress: undoubtedly known to Lawrence of Arabia, who rode alongside the Camel Corps on many occasions, it seems improbable that the great man was not shown the “Mudowwara Trumpet”, which instrument Davies retained as a souvenir of the raid - and which was sounded at the annual reunions of the Imperial Camel Corps right up until the 1960s

Military Cross, G.V.R., in its case of issue; British War and Victory Medals (2 Lieut. W. T. Davies), these in their card boxes of issue; Territorial Force War Medal 1914-19 (1374 Sjt. W. T. Davies, Shrops. Yeo.), generally extremely fine (4)
£6000-8000

Footnote

M.C. London Gazette 10 September 1918:

‘During the raid on Mudowwara Station on 8 August 1918, he was in charge of the attacking party which he led and directed with conspicuous ability. It was owing to his quickness of action that we incurred few casualties. His demolition work throughout the operations was invaluable.’

William Thomas Davies was born in Shrewsbury in October 1891 and joined the Shropshire Yeomanry in early 1910. Having then served in Egypt as an N.C.O., he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment in December 1917, and attached to the Imperial Camel Corps in Palestine. And it was in this latter capacity that he would come into close contact with Lawrence of Arabia in the following year, his, and one other company of the Camel Corps, totalling 300 men, being chosen to capture the railway station at Mudowwara.

Mudowwara lay on the Hedjaz railway, Lawrence’s favoured hunting ground, and possessed the only significant water supply to cover 150 miles of the line south of Maan. As a result, Lawrence had made two or three attempts to mount an attack on the station in September 1917 but, for assorted reasons, they never got off the ground. And it was only in August 1918 - via the suggestion of his friend Colonel Dawnay - that he got clearance to use two companies of the Imperial Camel Corps, under Colonel Robert Buxton, for a renewed initiative:

‘Dawnay and I sat down with a map and measured that Buxton should march from the Canal to Akaba; thence, by Rumm, to carry Mudowwara by night-attack; thence by Bair, to destroy the bridge and tunnel near Amman; and back to Palestine on August the thirtieth’ (Revolt in the Desert refers).

Here, then, Lawrence’s first mention of Buxton and the Imperial Camel Corps, but such were the achievements of this irregular force over the coming weeks - achievements in which Lawrence shared for he delighted in riding alongside them - that he would dedicate an entire chapter in Revolt in the Desert to their story. In late July 1918, he visited Buxton and his men for the first time:

‘Accordingly I went down to Akaba, where Buxton let me explain to each company their march, and the impatient nature of the Allies whom they, unasked, had come to help; begging them to turn the other cheek if there was a row; partly because they were better educated than the Arabs, and therefore less prejudiced; partly because they were very few. After such solemnities came the ride up the oppressive gorge of Itm, under the red cliffs of Nejed and over the breast-like curves of Imran - that slow preparation for Rumm’s greatness - till we passed through the gap before the rock of Khuznail, and into the inner shrine of the springs, with its worship-compelling coolness. There the landscape refused to be accessory, but took the skies, and we chattering humans became dust at its feet.’


It was shortly after this visit that Davies participated in the ‘reconnaissance from Rumm towards Mudowwara in Arab cloaks’, the party also comprising Colonel Buxton, Captains Lyall and Bell-Irving and 2nd Lieutenant W. Jones (verified by records held in the Liddle Collection at Leeds University).

And of the subsequent attack on Mudowwara, Lawrence later wrote:

‘Next morning we heard by aeroplane how Buxton’s force had fared at Mudowwara. They decided to assault it before dawn mainly by means of bombers, in three parties, one to enter the station, the other two for the main redoubts.

Accordingly, before midnight white tapes were laid as guides to the zero point. The opening had been timed for a quarter to four, but the way proved difficult to find, so that daylight was almost upon them before things began against the southern redoubt. After a number of bombs had burst in and about it, the men rushed up and took it easily - to find that the station party had achieved their end a moment before. These alarms roused the middle redoubt, but only for defeat. Its men surrendered twenty minutes later.

The northern redoubt, which had a gun, seemed better-hearted and splashed its shot freely into the station yard, and at our troops. Buxton, under cover of the southern redoubt, directed the fire of Brodie’s guns which, with their usual deliberate accuracy, sent in shell after shell. Siddons came over in his machines and bombed it, while the Camel Corps from north and east and west subjected the breastworks to severe Lewis gun fire. At seven in the morning the last of the enemy surrendered quietly. We had lost four killed and ten wounded. The Turks lost twenty-one killed, and one hundred and fifty prisoners, with two field-guns and three machine-guns.

Buxton at once set the Turks to getting steam on the pumping engine, so that he could water his camels, while men blew in the wells, and smashed the engine-pumps, with two thousand yards of rail. At dusk, charges at the foot of the water-tower spattered it in single stones across the plain: Buxton, a moment later called “Walk-march!” to his men, and the three hundred camels, rising like one and roaring like the day of judgment, started off to Jefer. Thence we had news of them. They rested a day, revictualled, and marched for Bair where Joyce and myself had agreed to join them.’

And so it was, Lawrence rejoining the men of the Camel Corps for several days, a period in which he would undoubtedly have sought out information about the attack on Mudowwara - most likely, too, from one of the heroes of the raid, such as Lieutenant Davies - if so, we may be sure he showed the great man his souvenir, the trumpet that had been taken by him from a Turkish sentry who had tried to sound the alarm during the advance of his men, but who was silenced before he could do so. It was also during this visit to the Camel Corps that Lawrence observed with pride how well the men were progressing, largely thanks to Buxton having made some useful changes:

‘Consequently, our Imperial Camel Corps had become rapid, elastic, enduring, silent; except when they mounted by numbers, for then the three hundred he-camels would roar in concert, giving out a wave of sound audible miles across the night. Each march saw them more workmanlike, more at home on their animals, tougher, leaner, faster’.

Encouraged by the victory at Mudowwara, Lawrence guided the Camel Corps towards their next target, the railway viaduct at Kissir, south of Amman, a journey entailing another 120-mile journey behind enemy lines, a daring enterprise best summed up by Buxton: ‘It is not unlike an attempt on the part of the Huns to blow up Waterloo Bridge, as it is many miles at the back of their lines and within five miles of their Army headquarters’. But with the promise of Arab support, Lawrence’s leadership and an element of surprise, ‘the matter should not be difficult’. As it transpired, two enemy aircraft soon ended any notion of surprise, while the presence of three large Turkish patrols led both men to conclude that any attack would now end in serious casualties, and since Lawrence had assured Allenby that he would keep such grim statistics to a minimum, he agreed with Buxton that the attack be cancelled.

But he journeyed back with the Camel Corps as far as Sadi Bair, their number being reduced by one in the interim, namely Lieutenant Rowan, who, according to Lawrence, was accidentally shot when an Arab’s rifle discharged on being dropped on the ground at a halt at the wells at Azrak. When approached about this incident many years later, as part of the research being undertaken for Geoffrey Inchbald’s history of the Imperial Camel Corps, Davies did not counter the claim that Rowan had in fact been deliberately shot by the Arab as a result of a well-side dispute - ‘He forgot about the advice given by T.E.L. to ‘turn the other cheek’ and cursed the Arab in Cairo Arabic’, or so an accompanying source states.

Davies, who was latterly C.O. of No. 10 Company, was demobbed back in England in July 1919, and settled in Wales as a farmer, where he died in Llandudno in October 1973. Most of his military papers and photographs were subsequently gifted to the Liddle Collection at Leeds University by his daughter.

However, the following original documentation is included: a copy of the message announcing the award of his M.C., signed by the C.O. of No. 8 Company, I.C.C.; three letters from his old Shropshire Yeomanry C.O., Brigadier-General A. H. O. Lloyd, the first, dated 20 September 1918, congratulating him on his M.C., the second, dated 18 October 1918, to Davies’ father, informing him that he had recently pinned the ribbon of the M.C. on his son’s uniform, and the third, dated 20 December 1920, inviting the recipient to attend the unveiling ceremony of the Leaton War Memorial; War Office forwarding letter for his M.C., dated 18 October 1923; a letter of reference, dated 28 May 1919; his Protection Certificate, dated 14 July 1919; one or two newspaper cuttings; an Imperial Camel Corps reunion menu and programme, Westminster, 7 October 1970, Davies being allotted to read the “Roll Call”; and old certified copies of his birth and death certificates.

Together with a number of related artefacts, including the “Mudowwara Trumpet”, with oval cartouche bearing the Turkish arms, much dented, but an important relic of Lawrence’s desert war and as used at subsequent Imperial Camel reunions; another souvenir of the raid, a liberated Turkish sword, bearing Egyptian and German maker’s mark to the upper blade, circa 1908, with related metal scabbard; an old framed display containing portrait images of the recipient mounted on horse and camel, and a printed Imperial Camel Corps citation card for his M.C.; two large group photographs of Shropshire Yeomanry men, and another of the recipient, mounted, from the same period, all framed; and a pair of Shropshire Yeomanry embroidered ‘souvenirs of Egypt 1916’; and an extensive file of research.