BALLYMENA 1914-1918

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Davison of Broughshane and the 22nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, City of London Regiment.

William Henry Davison, Mayor of Kensington, later 1st Lord Broughshane
Photograph authorised and courtesy of National Potrait Gallery, London
Davison papers indicate that the family came from the Dundee area in Scotland and that they had first settled in Co. Tyrone, afterwards moving to Knockboy, Broughshane following a dangerous dispute with the O’Neills. Knockboy then remained the main family base for the next 250 yrs. By 1669 there were three Davison houses around Broughshane, these occupied by James, John and John Jr. It was this family who built Carnstrone House, near Slemish.

Davison of Knockboy harnessed the river there for textile production and also created a bleach-green.  Samuel Davison owned it in 1780, and later Alexander Davison adapted the available water power to drive the flax dry-spinning mill. The bleaching business at Knockboy was then transferred to Raceview, Broughshane, where Michael Harrison had erected a bleach works in 1806, on a lease of ground from the O'Neill estate.

Harrison converted the bleach works into a wet spinning mill about the year 1832, but, keen to retire, he rented the premises to two of his nephews, namely Alexander and John Davison. They traded there as A.& J. Davison, and it appears that flax spinning continued there 'until at least 1867' (Gribbon, p 66). Thereafter it was used as a yarn-bleach works until purchased by J K Wilson, formerly associated with the Ulster Woollen Company at Crumlin, in 1895, refitted as a woollen mill, and officially named Raceview Woollen Mills Ltd in 1896. The Wilsons also acquired the bleach green at Ballygarvey, Broughshane in the early twentieth century. Alexander and John Davison’s brothers, Richard and Henry, had left Broughshane and prospered elsewhere. Alexander Davison continued to live at Knockboy and John at Raceview. Of the four brothers only one, Alexander of Knockboy, had a son, Richard Davison of Beechfield, Broughshane.

Richard Davison, formerly of Knockboy and later of Beechfield, Broughshane, married Annie Patrick, daughter of John Patrick of Dunminning, and in 1872 the union produced a son, William Henry Davision. The boy was to grow up and attend a private school in Shrewsbury before going up to Keeble College, Oxford, where he obtained a BA degree in 1895. Thereafter he joined the Inner Temple, London, as a barrister; he also obtained his MA from Keeble in 1898.  He was married that same year to Beatrice Mary Roberts, 2nd daughter of Sir Owen Roberts DL, of Henley Park, Surrey, and Plas Dinas, Caernarvon. She was to give him four children, but he was to divorce her in 1929 and marry Louisa Mary Constance Marriott.  

Davison took an interest in local politics, becoming an alderman of the Borough of Kensington, and eventually Mayor of Kensington in 1913. The outbreak of the war caused him to take centre stage in the raising of a battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, London Regiment, the 22nd Kensington Battalion.

They were raised at White City on the 10th/11th September 1914, Davison taking a major role in addressing a huge excited crowd in the playground of a school.  In a passionate patriotic speech he asked, ‘Why is this meeting being held tonight? So that there may be none within the borough who shall not know the reason why we are at war, who shall not be assured of the righteousness of our cause, and who shall not have the occasion to ask himself whether he is doing everything in his power to help’. He knew that since August 1914 young men had been queuing up to enlist and that those in Kensington were no different, and he had already offered to raise and equip a battalion of Kitchener’s new volunteer army. Referring to the breaking by Germany of the treaty of neutrality with Belgium, he said that they were at war ‘to protect the weak against the strong’ and he asked his audience to consider how they would feel ‘if we had looked at gallant heroic Belgium, laid waste by barbarian hordes’.  He said that we (the UK) strove for peace and were rebuffed, that ‘now we must see this thing through’. The cheering of the crowds was enthusiastic and the men joined his battalion.  Mayor Davison reportedly said, ‘I could not bear to think that any Kensington lad should not have his chance’. Other speakers added to the patriotic crescendo and local reporters recorded that ‘a fairly large number of recruits was then enrolled for the Kensington Battalion of Lord Kitchener’s Army’.

Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum - © IWM (Q 31446)

However, the pace of enlistment was beginning to lessen somewhat throughout the UK by September 1914 and the Kensington Battalion, at the suggestion of Major-General Sir Francis Lloyd, the GOC of the London District, was to become an amalgamated force, the Kensington men merging with ‘Colonials and overseas men resident in this country’. The Colonials formed A and B Companies and the Kensington men C and D Companies.

The Mayor meanwhile was struggling to equip the men, as he had promised to do. ‘The War Office held me responsible’, he said, ‘though unable to provide any assistance except by giving me a list of Government contractors, all of whom I found were already fully engaged with Government orders for more than a year ahead. I accordingly turned to various Kensington firms to assist me in my difficulty.’ He turned to the private sector generally, getting help from the premier firms of the day like Harrods and Derry and Toms. It was amazingly successful. Lillywhites, for example, used leather stocks reserved for making cricket bags and sporting goods, to make equipment for his 22nd Kensington Battalion, and so high was the quality that the War Office was soon ordering similar items for other units. It is fair to say, however, that the demands of war would soon draw all industrial and commercial enterprises into producing for the war effort.

So, ‘booted and kitted’ as Davison had promised, the 22nd Kensingtons joined 99th Brigade, 33rd Division in June 1915. The unit had initially moved to Roffey Camp, Horsham, Sussex but were at Clipstone Camp near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire in July 1915. August saw them moving to Salisbury Plain for final training, and in November they received orders to prepare to proceed to France. By late November the 33rd Division had concentrated near Morbecque, and on the 25th of November 1915 the Battalion transferred to 2nd Division.  Mayor Davison, still thinking of the men, sent a briar pipe and Christmas greetings to every man. He and the officers were proud of their unit: Captain Powlett’s last entry in his 1914 diary said, ‘I am glad to say I finish the year with the best Company (B) in the 22nd Royal Fusiliers’.

They became a premium fighting unit and took part in the Winter Operations 1914-15 and in 1915 saw action at The Battle of Festubert and The Battle of Loos. In 1916 they fought in the Battles of the Somme and the Operations on the Ancre. In 1917 they were in action during The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the Battles of Arras and The Battle of Cambrai. Their CO, himself exhausted like his men and soon to perish in battle wrote, ‘What a magnificent Division we are.  They send us to do all the big work – Vimy Ridge, Delville Wood, Beaumont Hamel, Miraumont, Arras, and now Oppy.  We always get it in the neck.’ Elsewhere in this same letter he said, ’I am sick of these bloody battles and everything connected with them.  This murder of heroes is appalling. I have now had my Regiment more or less wiped out three times’. Referring to his many men who had fallen in these actions he said, ‘No wonder I am depressed and feel beat to the world, as I loved them all. ... It would be a good time to leave the dear old 22nd (following their latest slaughter at Oppy Wood), as the new one can never be the same.’

The Battalion never really recovered after Oppy Wood and was disbanded in France on the 3rd of February 1918 as part of a reorganisation and amalgamation. It fell to General R. Barnett Barker, the former and best-beloved commanding officer of the battalion, to disband them. He had left the battalion in November, 1917, to take command of the 3rd Infantry Brigade. He told the men, ‘We all understand with what feelings you must view the disbanding of your fine battalion. We know full well your splendid esprit de corps, which engendered your fine fighting spirit. We know of the N.C.O.'s and men still with you who gave up their all in 1914 to join you. Nor do we forget your many heroes who died for you and us all.  ... The 22nd Battalion never lost a yard of trench or failed their comrades in the day of battle. Such is your record, and such a record of you will be handed down to posterity.’
Extracted from the account of address by General Randle Barnett-Barker

So ended the 22nd Kensingtons, their heroic legacy encapsulated in those words of their old CO,  ‘The 22nd Battalion never lost a yard of trench or failed their comrades in the day of battle.’

Davision remained and was elected Mayor for a fifth time. He was invested as a Knight Commander, Order of the British Empire (K.B.E.) in 1918 for his war services. He also held the offices of Deputy Lieutenant (D.L.) of County London and Justice of the Peace (J.P.) for Kensington. He was the Member of Parliament (M.P.), a Conservative, for Kensington between 1919 and 1945. He was created 1st Baron Broughshane of Kensington on 19 September 1945 and he died on the 19th January 1953.

St Patrick's Parish Church, Broughshane

Davison Family Grave, St Patrick's Parish Church, Broughshane

In Loving Memory of
Annie Davison
Wife of Richard Davison, Esq
Beechfield, Ballymena
Died 22nd March 192
Aged 85 Years
Also of Richard Davison
Died 25th December 1929
Also in memory of their son
William Henry Davison, Lord Broughshane of Kensington
Member of Parliament for Kensington (South)
Whose body is interred in Kensington Cemetery, Gunnersbury, London

Some sources:
1.    Kitchener's Army: The Raising of the New Armies 1914 – 1916, by Peter Simkins, Pen and Sword, 2007
2.    Sir George Dyson: His Life and Music by Paul Spicer, published by Boydell & Brewer Ltd, ISBN: 9781843839033
3.    Virtual Museum – The History of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea -
4.    The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War, by H C O’Neill, OBE, William Heinemann, London, 1922
7.    Wikipedia entry for William Henry Davison

8. The History of Water Power in Ulster, H D Gribbon, David & Charles, 1969, page 66