I was very happy to pick up this WW1 officer’s travel bag on the Huddersfield Second Hand Market this morning for £10.
What had been merely a good buy, turned into something rather more when I looked up the name of the owner, W.A. Davenport, painted on the side of the bag. I could only find one matching officer and I was surprised to read of his impressive career. The following biography accompanied the sale of his medals by a major auction house:
William Arthur Davenport was born on 22 October 1881, son of the Rev. E. Davenport of Wellington College. He was educated at Marlborough where he distinguished himself in the Shooting VIII. He was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in the West Yorkshire Regiment in 1903 and promoted to Lieutenant in 1908 and, in February 1912, was seconded to the Egyptian Army in which he was to serve, apart from the first fourteen months of the war, for the next twelve years.
Davenport first saw active service in Gallipoli in 1915 whilst serving with the combined 1/7th and 1/8th Cammeronians (Scottish Rifles) battalion. Following the evacuation, he returned to the Egyptian Army and served in the Equatorial Battalion which fought in the Imatong and Lafite Mountains in the Sudan (Mentioned in despatches, Order of the Nile).
Late in 1916, Davenport was selected for service with a detachment of Egyptian troops in the Hedjaz, where he operated in Emir Abdullah’s territory. Davenport’s important contribution to the Hedjaz operations should not be underestimated and, indeed, was fully recognized by Lawrence, himself, in Seven Pillars of Wisdom:
‘In Port Sudan we saw two British officers of the Egyptian Army waiting to embark for Rabegh. They were to command the Egyptian troops in Hedjaz, and to do their best to help Aziz el Masri organise the Arab Regular Force which was going to end the war from Rabegh. This was my first meeting with Joyce and Davenport, the two Englishmen to whom the Arab cause owed the greater part of its foreign debt of gratitude. Joyce worked for long beside me. Of Davenport’s successes in the south we heard by constant report.’
Davenport fought in the desert for nearly three years and enjoyed great success with his raids on the Turkish-operated Hedjaz railway. In July 1917, whilst Lawrence was engaged in the capture of Aqaba, Lieut.-Colonel S. F. Newcombe and Major Davenport raided Qal’at Zumrud, 140 miles north of Medina, destroying three miles of line by means of explosives. It was one of the most successful raids of the whole campaign, and was carried out by detachments of Egyptians, French Algerians, and Indian cavalrymen. General Wingate, in his despatch published in the London Gazette of 15 December 1919, records some of Davenport’s later successes:
‘... the only British-led troops temporarily retained in the interior being a detachment of Camel Corps and a machine-gun section, employed, under Major Davenport, upon raiding operations against the railway until the middle of September .’
‘During the past three months [April-June 1918] no less than five convoys, aggregating over one thousand five hundred camels, have been captured by Arab detachments from Sherif Ali’s army; whilst in Abdulla’s area the Arabs, under Major Davenport’s direction, have carried out many important raids against the railway, notably at Seil Matara on 8th April, when five kilometres of track and three culverts were completely destroyed, and at Bowat on May 11th, when, in addition to extensive damage to the line, twenty Turks were killed and over forty prisoners taken.’
After the war Davenport commanded the 4th Egyptian Battalion in Cairo, and was afterwards employed as an intelligence officer, in which capacity he rendered invaluable service owing to his great knowledge of the conditions and topography of Upper Egypt. Colonel Davenport rejoined the 2nd Battalion of his regiment in Bombay, as Second-in-Command, in 1924, and succeeded Colonel Spencer in command at Mhow in February 1928. Leaving India in March 1929, he brought the 2nd battalion to Khartoum to introduce them to the scene of many of his past episodes and to many of his old friends. He then brought the battalion home to land at Southampton in December 1929, and to finish his Regimental service at Strensall. He retired from the army in 1932 and moved to Stroud in Gloucestershire, where he became a prominent member of the local scout movement. During the Second World War he raised and commanded the 5th Battalion, Gloucester Home Guard, for which services he was awarded the O.B.E.
I also found a photograph of the officer:
And a letter that had been sent by him to a fellow officer following his promotion in 1928:
I can’t tell you how fantastic it was to put a full biography (and such an illustrious one) to an item in my collection! Bargain of the year so far methinks...