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Article date - 23 March 2018
On 24 March, 1918, Corporal John Thomas Davies –who was one of the first volunteers for the ‘St Helens Pals’ - leapt to defend his comrades as they were ordered to retreat after coming under enemy attack near the village of Eppeville, France.
Aged 22 at the time, Corporal Davies knew the only line of retreat lay through a deep stream lined with a belt of barbed wire and that it was imperative to hold up the enemy as long as possible – so he fired his Lewis gun at the enemy to stall their advance.
With the enemy so close on top of him, it was presumed Corporal Davies was killed in action and so his parents were notified of his death, and his Victoria Cross was gazetted posthumously.
However a few months after his V.C award, Corporal Davies’ parents received a postcard telling them he was indeed alive and had in fact been captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp.
Later released from the camp, Birkenhead born John, who moved to St Helens at two years of age, returned to St Helens after the war and started a family, marrying wife Beatrice Travers on 31 March, 1920. Together they had three children, Eunice, Alan and Syd, and lived in Leslie Road, Thatto Heath.
John went on to live in the borough of St Helens right up until his death in 1955 and is buried in St Helens Cemetery.
100 years on, his descendants and their families – as well as a number of representatives from the military and St Helens Council - gathered at a special ceremony at the Cenotaph in Victoria Square as the Mayor of St Helens, Councillor Joe Pearson, lifted a Union flag to uncover a commemorative paving stone in honour of Corporal John Davies VC’s valour.
Speaking at the ceremony, Councillor Pearson said: “As the mayor of St Helens, I welcome you to the unveiling of Corporal John Thomas Davies’ commemorative paving stone.
“We are honoured to have so many members of his family and friends with us, also representatives from his Regiment and members of the Armed Forces Community.
“On behalf of the borough of St Helens, it is my honour to unveil Corporal John Davies’ commemorative paving stone.”
The unveiling is part of the national WWI centenary commemorations, which sees commemorative paving stones laid on the 100th anniversary of each soldier who was awarded the Victoria Cross during the Great War.
In October last year, a stone was laid at the Cenotaph in honour of Sergeant John ‘Jack’ Molyneux who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his brave actions on the front near Langemarck, Belgium on 9 October 1917 when a British attack was held up by machine gun fire from a German trench.
Sergeant Molyneux, who was born in Sutton, was also honoured in July 2017 when a new street in Sutton was named John Molyneux V.C Close.
Back in 2015, Company Sergeant Major Frederick William Hall became the first local serviceman to be recognised when a commemorative paving stone was laid in Victoria Square.
Company Sergeant Major Hall, once of Ormskirk Street, St Helens, was killed in action in Belgium during the Second Battle of Ypres.
Meanwhile, the Newton and Earlestown Community Group are also raising funds to erect a statue this year to commemorate Newton-born Private Norman Harvey, who received his Victoria Cross for actions in battle at Ingoyhem, Belgium in October 1918.
Norman’s battalion was stopped by machine gun fire and suffering casualties when he ran forward and engaged the enemy single-handed, killing two, wounding one and capturing 12 men and two guns.
A Newton street has already been named in his honour.