Corporal 12345 Armine Davison (Military Medal)
11th Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment)
Armine Davison was born in 1894 and was the son of Austin and Florence Davison who lived on Church Plain in Worsetad. Armine was a gardener like his Grandfather James Davison and his Uncle George both of whom were the retired and current Head Gardener for the Westwick Estate. Armine’s father is listed as being a shopkeeper and overseer in the 1912 UK City and County Directory and went on to become a parish councillor after WWI.
Armine moved away to become a gardener at Belton and in August 1914 he joined up with his friends Harold Porter and William Thornley. All took consecutive service numbers in the Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment. William took 12344, Armine took 12345 and Harold took 12346. They all initially joined the 9th Battalion.
This battalion was formed at Derby in August 1914 and became part of the 33rd Brigade in the 11th (Northern) Division. They sailed from Liverpool in early July 1915 and landed at Gallipoli at Suvla Bay on 7th August 1915, Armine, Harold and William all landing on that date. There they remained until Gallipoli was evacuated in December 1915 where they then sailed first for Imbros in Greece before going onto Egypt in February 1916.
However, this time took its toll, Armine contracted enteric fever and was sent back to England. When he returned to active duty he did so with the 11th Battalion Sherwood Foresters who were part of the 70th Brigade of the 23rd Division. It was with this battalion that he was awarded a Military Medal and Armine is the only man to be awarded a gallantry medal and to make the ultimate sacrifice who is listed on the war memorial in Worstead church.
This was awarded for volunteering to lead a daylight patrol 300 yards into no-man’s land where he brought back vital information as to the ground in front of the enemy and their positions during the Battle of the Menin Road at 3rd Ypres where the 11th Battalion saw action between the 20th September and 1st October 1917. This was gazetted on 12th December 1917.
On the 23rd October 1917, orders were received to prepare to move to an unknown destination, and within days the lengthy move by rail to Italy began. So why Italy?
Italy had sided with the Allies and had been fighting the Austro-Hungarian Empire on its own. As the campaign progressed the Germans gave assistance to the Austro-Hungarians and in 1917 they launched a spectacular offensive that almost destroyed the Italians.
On the 24th October 9 Austrian and 6 German divisions attacked after the Italians had been pounded by a preliminary bombardment of high explosive, gas and smoke. Using the same type of tactics as would be seen in France and Belgium the offensive smashed the 2nd Italian Army and they were pushed back 16 miles before the front could be stabilised enough to stop the advance.
By then failed counter attacks and the complete surprise had led to the Italians losing some 300,000 casualties with virtually all their artillery lost. It so shocked the Allies that the Italians received assurances of increased military support from Allied governments. And so six French and five British divisions were sent to bolster the beleaguered Italians. The Italians were also lucky that the Austro-Hungarian/German could not launch any fresh offensives as they had lost heavily in the advance and the Italians also withdrew to the River Piave where the line was held.
And so the 23rd Division, which was inspected by the Commander in Chief Sir Douglas Haig at Leulinghem on 31st October, entrained. On the 10th November 1917 when the Italian line finally settled, the 70th Brigade moved from Wizernes then through the Rhone valley and on through Marseille, Cannes and Nice, eventually entering Italy at Mantola where on the 16th November they were billeted at Ceresa. On 16th November 1917, their concentration was completed between Mantua and Marcaria. But, the travelling did not stop and the men would now march to the front.
They covered a staggering 90 miles in 90 days. On the 3rd December, the 23rd Division took over a section of front line on the Mountain of Montello, relieving the 70th Italian Division.
Here they consolidated and repaired the Italian front line trenches and came under fire from Austrian artillery. They moved out of the line on the 30th November. Following the route of the 70th Brigade we find them moving in and out of the line between December and January and February saw them in billets at Pedervia and then in March another move was made whereby they moved from Pedervia to Granezza.
On the 28th of March they relieved the Italian 28th Regiment. It was noted that was a very quiet sector and patrols were mounted. Effectively from then on the 23rd Division spent time in and out of the line. However, all this would change in June at the Battle of the Piave River which would be code-named Operation Radetzky.
On the night of the 14th and 15th June 1918 on the Asiago plateau was damp, with a thick mist forming in hollows and valleys. At 3 a.m. a furious artillery barrage was poured onto the Allied lines and this also fell on their command and control, supply dumps and road junctions. This bombardment lasted for over four hours, and was followed up with a massive infantry attack who had assembled in areas just forward of their own wire. The Austrians, who commenced their infantry assault at 05:30hrs, chose to attack the French and British sectors who were positioned around Granezza and Carriola and the edge of an escarpment.
The 23rd Division had to protect a front of about 18,000 feet and the 68th and 70th Brigades were in the front line with the 69th Brigade in reserve. The situation facing the division has been described as complicated. It was holding the line in preparation for an Allied offensive that was set to be implemented on the 17th June. However, all front-line troops were under orders to prepare for an enemy bombardment and were to only have their front-line positions lightly manned. They were further hampered by the fact that all the battalions were seriously under-strength because of illness, leave or the fact that men were attending courses. The war diary would note that the Austrians attacked with four divisions, identified as the 6th, 58th, 38th, and 16th, against five British battalions and they managed to breach the British lines before being repulsed where they suffered horrendous losses in their retreat. The 11/Sherwood Foresters were holding the line at a place called the San Sisto Ridge and had a frontage of about 3,230 feet. As well as information provided by the war diary we also have a regimental history published in 1919 entitled ‘The Men From Greenwood’ written by Percy Fryer.
The Battalion had gone into the line on the 11th June and like all of the battalions it was seriously under-strength. The war diary lists that only 19 out of 34 officers were in the line, while the two forward companies, listed as ‘A’ and ‘D’ Coys, each had less than a hundred other ranks to man around 3,000 feet of trench. This was difficult in itself as the regimental history describes the ridge that they now defended as 1000 yards long, 300 yards broad and 200 feet high and joined the British to the French lines.
‘D’ Company was commanded by Captain Fred Handel Frith and ‘A’ Company by Captain Edward Harold Brittain who was the adored elder brother of Vera Brittain. However, the regimental history notes that both companies were specifically under the command of 2nd Lieutenant Coleman Leonard James Maurice Sallmeyer and 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Cheetham respectively at the time of the attack. Both of the forward companies were also supported by two well sited machine guns that had been placed 100 yards covering two advances to two shallow valleys as well as four other machine guns were also sited 20 yards forward of the woodland that also occupied the ridge.
‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies were in support with B holding the Allied second line next to a French battalion on their right and the 8/York & Lancs to their left. It would be B Company’s job to counter attack if the need arose. ‘C’ Coy was positioned in four strong-points situated on top of the ridge and Armine was part of ‘C’ Coy. It is also noted that another platoon had to provide a night piquet and cover an outpost.
When the artillery barrage opened ‘A’ Coy sustained severe casualties and was trying to hold nearly 2,600 feet of the line with only fifty rifles and large gaps between them and ‘C’ Coy allowed the a group of enemy described as 200 in strength with 2 machine guns to get through the British lines.
They advanced towards ‘C’ Coy as ‘A’ and ‘D’ Coys managed to hold the line with the French. This group managed to bring fire down on the battalion’s HQ and the country beyond.
The 11/Sherwood Forester’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Edward Hudson, DSO, MC, now took the initiative himself and utilised his HQ Coy into action whilst sending another officer to get reinforcements from B Coy. Hudson’s prompt action beat back the attackers who retreated back to the front-line. Furious efforts to stop the advance utilising reinforcements from other British and Italian units effectively plugged gaps in the line and on the flanks. Once this was done Hudson then led a group of men to the front-line where for this overall action he was awarded the Victoria Cross, his citation stating,
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when his battalion was holding the right front sector during an attack on the British front. The shelling had been very heavy on the right, the trench destroyed, and considerable casualties had occurred, and all the officers on the spot had been killed or wounded. This enabled the enemy to penetrate our front line. The enemy pushed their advance as far as the support line which was the key to our right flank. The situation demanded immediate action.Lieutenant Colonel Hudson recognising its gravity at once collected various headquarter details, such as orderlies, servants, runners, etc., and together with some Allies, personally led them up the hill. Driving the enemy down the hill towards our front line, he again led a party of about five up the trench, where there were about 200 enemy, in order to attack them from the flank. He then with two men got out of the trench and rushed the position, shouting to the enemy to surrender, some of whom did. He was then severely wounded by a bomb that exploded on his foot. Although in great pain, he gave directions for the counter-attack to be continued and this was done successfully, about 100 prisoners and six machine guns being taken.Without doubt the high courage and determination displayed by Lieutenant Colonel Hudson saved a serious situation and had it not been for his quick determination in organising the counter-attack a large number of the enemy would have dribbled through, and a counter-attack on a larger scale would have been necessary to restore the situation
London Gazette dated 11th July 1918
Hudson was only 26 at the time.
Overall the 23rd Division lost a little ground on its flanks but actions such as Hudson’s recovered the lost ground during the day. The overall Allied line suffered a breach of 1.5 miles towards the escarpment but the Austrians were checked although it took another five days of terrible fighting before the Austrians were beaten. Both French and British accounts mention massed attacks made by the Austrians that led to them suffering terrible casualties, which amounted to almost 50,000 men from the 11th Austrian Army, during the period 14th-25th June 1918 these all for minimal Allied casualties. For example the British casualties amounted to just fewer than 1,500 of all ranks, killed, wounded and missing.
The war diary for the 11/Sherwood Foresters reported at least 200 Austrian dead lying in front of their lines after the battle. Operation Radetzky had failed to push the Allies back and the Austrians never attacked again.
Among the British dead was Armine and Edward Brittain, the brother of Vera Brittain the writer who written about the women’s experience of WWI, who had apparently been the only unwounded officer in his company. He is reported as appearing on the scene having returned from consulting with the French and rapidly organizing a counter-attack group, which included some French soldiers. He led this attack, which forced the Austrians back.
Some jumped out of the trench and ran back towards others coming through the wire. These enemy troops went to ground and opened fire on the Foresters, as did machine-gunners and riflemen on both sides of the wire. Brittain re-organized the defence of the trench, forming a flank with what troops he had available. He apparently paused to observe the enemy, and was shot by a sniper as he did so.
Vera Brittain was haunted by her brother’s death for the rest of her life and after the war she wrote the book ‘Testament of Youth’. She was the mother of former Labour cabinet minister Baroness Shirley Williams. Her ashes were taken to Italy by her daughter and sprinkled on Edward’s grave. Armine was also among the dead and overall the 11/Sherwood Foresters lost 4 officers killed or wounded with a further 52 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. Armine was probably killed when the Austrians breached the line and attacked the positions held by ‘C’ Company.
After the terrible fighting in June the line again settled to one of training and of going in and out of the front line. In September 1918 the 23rd Division was moved from the Asiago Plateau, and was billeted in an area northwest of Vicenza before moving by rail to Treviso. It was part of a wider movement with the British Army taking over a wide front on the banks of the River Piave, down stream from its former positions on the Montello. The Piave here is a mighty river indeed: 800 yards or more wide, very fast-flowing in numerous deep channels. A feature facing the British was a flat, narrow, four mile-long island of Papadopoli.
This move was part of a broad plan by the Italian Commander-in-Chief General Diaz to make a decisive break through across the Piave, to separate the Austrian forces on this front from those in the Trentino. If a major advance could be secured in this area then the enemy’s rail routes for supply would be cut and they would be forced to withdraw their troops from Italian soil. The attack commenced on the 23rd October 1918 and became known as the Battle of Vittorio Veneto. This battle efectively destroyed the Austrians who lost a staggering 300,000 men in the offensive and they sued for peace on the 4th November 1918.
Armine Davison now lies in Plot 1, Row B, Grave 4 in Granezza British Cemetery and is buried in the same row as Edward Brittain and the other men who were killed in action on the 15th June and who served in the 11/Sherwood Foresters. Harold Porter and William Thornley both survived the war.
As a footnote when Armine’s mother passed away in 1948 his passing was also recorded on her gravestone noting at the bottom,
Also Their Son
Corporal Armine Davison MM
11th Sherwood Foresters
Killed in Action Granezza Italy
15th June 1918 Aged 25 Years