Three Welshmen awarded Victoria Cross on the first day
James Llewellyn Davies (Corporal) 13th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers
Davies, a miner before the war, joined a new Army unit formed in October 1914 as part of the 13th Brigade, 38th (Welsh) Division. He was first posted to Gallipoli in 1915 and then after a period of convalescence, to Flanders, Belgium in October 1916.
As the Battle of Passchendaele began, the 13th Royal Welch Fusiliers were attacking south of the Ypres-Staden Railway. The ground leading up to Pilckem was already churned up. The outline of a road was ahead running from the railway, north of Pilckem, across the Steenbeck to Langemark, one of the first days’ objectives. They took their first objective by 4.50am, but then the Welshmen found themselves amongst a huge number of enemy strongpoints. Corner House, lay at a crossroads near Pilckem and each time the pillbox was attacked, men were shot down.
Corporal James Llewellyn Davies led a group to capture a German machine-gun position. He was wounded and some of his men killed. As he continued moving forward he shot one enemy soldier, bayoneted a second and captured a third. Corporal Davies, although wounded, then led a bombing party to the assault of a defended house, and killed a sniper who was harassing his platoon.
Sadly, he died of wounds received during the attack and is buried at Canada Farm Cemetery. His VC is at the Royal Welch Fusilier Museum in Caernarfon Castle.
Ivor Rees (Sergeant) South Wales Borderers
Sergeant Ivor Rees enlisted in November 1914 to the South Wales Borderers and was sent overseas 4 December 1915. He was invalided home in February 1917 before returning to the Ypres Salient.
He was with the Reserve on the first day of the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, at Ypres, aiming to secure the positions won by the main action and move on to Langemark, when his platoon suffered severe casualties from German machine-gun fire. Leading his platoon forward, Rees worked his way 20 yards around to get behind the gun, launching a bombing attack on the main garrison and killed five Germans and took 30 prisoners, including two officers. He also captured an undamaged machine-gun.
Rees returned home in September 1917 to receive his VC from King George V. He was awarded £156 which included £100 pledged by the late Chairman of the South Wales Works, for the first company employee to receive a VC. After the war, Rees returned to Wales and worked for Carmarthenshire council.
Robert James Bye VC (Sergeant) 1st Bn., Welsh Guards
The first Welsh Guardsman to be awarded the Victoria Cross, he enlisted in the newly formed Welsh Guards on 3 April 1915. Their first overseas assignment was to France in August 1915. Over the next 18 months he was promoted several times and by April 1917 he was a Sergeant.
On 31 July, the 1st Welsh Guards were in the second wave of the attack, on the left wing, north of the Ypres-Staden railway from Boesinghe. The first part went well and they had reached Pilckem Ridge, then they met heavy resistance and Sergeant Bye saw the leading waves of men being fired on from two enemy blockhouses. Single-handedly he rushed one of the forts, using bombs to put the German garrison out of action. Later the same day he volunteered to take charge of clearing the pillboxes, taking many prisoners. His was identified as ‘making the single must outstanding contribution’, accounting for seventy men dead, wounded or captured.
Sergeant Bye returned to England in September to receive his Victoria Cross from King George V. He was also awarded the Legion of Honour by the French Government.
He was discharged in February 1919, but re-enlisted six months later with the Nottinghamshire and Derby Regiment where he stayed until 1925.
More information on these stories and others can be found in 'VCs of Passchendaele' by Stephen Snelling.
(1) Canada Farm Cemetery
(5) Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917