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Davis, Charles Herbert (1872–1923)

by J. K. Haken

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

Charles Herbert Davis (1872-1923), soldier and lawyer, was born on 4 June 1872 at Kilmore, Victoria, third son of William Davis, London-born bank manager, and his wife Ellen Mary Josephine, née Hayes, from Ireland. The family moved to Sandhurst (Bendigo) when Davis was 3 and he was educated at St Andrew's College and Bendigo Grammar School. Articled to a Bendigo lawyer in 1889, he attended the University of Melbourne's articled clerks' course in 1890-92 and was admitted to practice in 1895.

Davis was commissioned in the 4th Battalion of Infantry, Victorian Defence Forces, in 1896, and was promoted captain in 1900. At short notice he commanded the guard of honour at the opening of the first Commonwealth parliament in Melbourne in 1901. In 1904 he was promoted major in the Australian Infantry Regiment which in 1908 formed two battalions; as lieutenant-colonel in 1910, Davis commanded the 2nd Battalion at Bendigo.

With the reorganization of the forces in 1912 Davis became officer commanding the 67th Infantry, later the 67th (Bendigo) Infantry, until transferred to the unattached list in 1913. On the outbreak of war in 1914 he was appointed senior assistant censor, and then censor (cables) and censor (Melbourne) until transferred to temporary command of the 17th Infantry Brigade in 1915. In February, 1916 he joined the Australian Imperial Force and was appointed commanding officer of the 38th Battalion. It arrived in England in August and after training reached France in November, experiencing its first action in the Armentières sector in December. In recognition of his command of large raiding parties, including the most important ever undertaken by Australians on the Western Front—at Houplines on 27 February 1917—he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (4 June). His battalion also saw service at Ploegsteert Wood, Messines (June 1917), Ypres and Passchendaele (October), with subsequent holding of the line at the Douve River, Amiens (April 1918) and the Ancre River.

In 1917 and 1918 Davis had temporary command of the 10th Brigade several times before transferring on 18 June as colonel to take charge of the Australian General Base Depot, which was established to facilitate movement of almost 100,000 Australian troops to England for repatriation to Australia. Davis was also commandant of Australian Base Depots, France, until January 1919: he retained command of Australian Base Depots (Le Havre) until July when the depots were closed. He was thrice mentioned in dispatches and was appointed C.B.E. in June 1919. After service in London he returned to Australia in October. His appointment in the A.I.F. was terminated in November although he remained on the reserve of officers.

Described as deliberative, calm and invariably courteous, in civilian life Davis was a leading Bendigo lawyer and citizen. He was secretary of the city's art gallery (1897-1914, 1920), and of the Benevolent Society. Interested in literature and music, he wrote verse, was a talented pianist, and composed for piano and voice.

Davis had married Emily Beatrice Deloitte at St John's Anglican Church, Balmain, Sydney, on 25 April 1907. In 1920 he moved to Sydney where he worked as a representative of a Victorian firm until his sudden death on 11 January 1923 from a perforated ulcer of the bowel. He was buried in the Anglican section of Northern Suburbs cemetery. His wife, two sons and a daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Fairey, The 38th Battalion, A.I.F. (Bendigo, 1920)
  • Australian Base Depots, Le Havre, Digger, 1-2 (1918-19)
  • Sabretache, Oct-Dec 1979
  • Punch (Melbourne), 11 May 1916
  • Bendigo Advertiser, 12 Jan 1923
  • records (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

J. K. Haken, 'Davis, Charles Herbert (1872–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/davis-charles-herbert-5913/text10071, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 16 November 2018.

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

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