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Davidson, William St John Stevens (1870–1945)

by Merrilyn Lincoln

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

William St John Stevens Davidson (1870-1945), dentist and soldier, was born on 25 June 1870 at Huntly, Victoria, son of William David Baird Davidson, police constable, and his wife Matilda, née Furlonge, both of whom were Mauritian-born. Educated at St Joseph's College, Richmond, he was registered as a dentist on 25 September 1891, and after practising in West Brunswick moved to Warrnambool in the early 1890s. On 4 August 1897 at St Francis Catholic Church, Melbourne, he married Edith Annie Murray Fagan. By 1904 he had established a large practice in Victoria's western district. He was described as 'an ardent supporter of all branches of amateur sport' and a member of the Warrnambool hunt, cricket and bowling clubs.

On 1 March 1895 Davidson was commissioned lieutenant in the Victorian Mounted Rifles (the 11th Australian Light Horse from 1903) and in August 1904 he transferred to the Australian Field Artillery. Promoted captain in 1907 and major in 1912, he commanded the Warrnambool battery in 1905-15. He joined the Australian Imperial Force on 20 October 1915 as a major and officer commanding the 10th Battery, 4th A.F.A. Brigade, and on reaching Egypt was also temporary brigade commander for several months. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 1 March 1916 and appointed commanding officer of the 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column. At this time the Australian artillery was being reorganized to provide artillery components for the 4th and 5th Divisions and before leaving for France on 20 March Davidson, from a nucleus of four artillery officers and about ten other ranks, formed a new D.A.C. out of Light Horse details. On 8 April, in France, he commanded the 22nd Howitzer Brigade then, when the howitzer batteries were absorbed into the field artillery brigades, was appointed commander of the 22nd A.F.A. Brigade.

On 4 June Davidson returned to the 2nd D.A.C. as commanding officer, and in July-August served at Pozières. He commanded the column in operations at Bapaume in March 1917 and was mentioned in dispatches. The divisional artillery served with distinction at Noreuil, left the Somme early in July and was allotted to the Fifth Army's southern division for the Ypres offensive. As Charles Bean noted, conditions at Ypres strained the endurance of the Australian artillerymen, with the enemy's 'crash' bombardments and shelling with mustard gas causing high casualties. In August-September Davidson's unit was posted to Hill 60. The battery positions suffered severely but in this 'morass of a battlefield' the supply services also bore a heavy share of the strain as they worked day and night bringing ammunition across the mud through 'nightmare barrages'. When the Australian divisional artilleries left his army in September General Gough wrote that they had 'earned the admiration and praise of all'. Later that year Davidson commanded the 2nd D.A.C. at Passchendaele; he was mentioned in dispatches in December and awarded the Distinguished Service Order in January 1918. He retained command of the 2nd D.A.C. until April when he left for Australia.

After the war, Davidson, who had been awarded the Volunteer Officers' Decoration in 1917, served with the Australian Military Forces until 1930, when he was placed on the retired list with the rank of colonel. He had returned to Warrnambool after demobilization and continued in dental practice there until his death on 5 March 1945. He was buried in the local Catholic cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 2 (Melb, 1904)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • Warrnambool Standard, 6, 9 Mar 1945
  • personal records file (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Merrilyn Lincoln, 'Davidson, William St John Stevens (1870–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/davidson-william-st-john-stevens-5906/text10059, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 14 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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