Harold Davis

Full name:
Harold Reginald Davis
Born:

Died:

Occupation:
Labourer
Education:
Yarloop Primary School
Highest rank:
Private
Enlistment:
Decorations/ commendations:
Service Number:
WX14427
Conflict:
World War II 1939-1945
Military event:
Battle of El Alamein 1942
Unit:
2/32nd Australian Infantry Battalion

Harold Reginald Davis was born on 25 September 1916 in Northam, Western Australia. He was one of 11 children. His father, William 'Bill' Davis, was the son of a Sikh and an Aboriginal woman. Harold's mother, Alice McPhee, was the daughter of an Afghan-Aboriginal man and an Aboriginal woman. Both Harold's parents were born in the Pilbara.

In Harold's childhood, the Davis family moved from Northam to Waroona and then Yarloop as Bill Davis moved between various jobs as a boiler manager, farm manager and timber worker. As a school child, Harold was known for being athletic and a bit tough. However, he was thoughtful at home, often caring for his younger siblings.

Harold was particularly close with his younger brother Jack. In 1932, the 2 brothers were sent to the Moore River Native Settlement to learn farm skills. It was a period when the Chief Protector of Aborigines controlled the lives of First Nations people under the Aborigines 1905 Act (WA). Jack later described Moore River as a hostile environment. The buildings were infested with rats, and fights often broke out in the dormitories.

A year later, Harold and Jack were returned to Yarloop by the state department for Aboriginals. After their father's accidental death in 1933, both brothers left Yarloop to find work. Australia was still recovering from the Great Depression.

Jack found work as a stockman, and later became a renowned poet.

After working as a labourer for some years, Harold joined the Australian Military Forces at Claremont Showgrounds on 18 June 1941. He listed his mother, Alice Bennell of Brookton, as his next of kin.

First Battle of El Alamein

After 3 weeks of training at Naval Base, Cockburn Sound, Harold transferred to Northam Army Camp. Then in November 1941, he embarked with 2/32 Australian Infantry Battalion for the Middle East. There the battalion undertook further training in the desert near Alexandria, Egypt. They were bound for Palestine.

Between 1940 and late 1942, the British Empire and Dominion forces struggled against the German and Italian 'Axis' forces in North Africa as they tried to capture the Suez Canal and take control of the Middle East oilfields.

In July 1942, Harold's unit was called into battle to lead an attack against the German and Italian advance.

The battalion moved inland from the coast on 7 July, and the first major attack began on 17 July. After heavy fighting, they were able to capture the ridge line. The Germans, however, resisted and forged a counterattack with tanks.

During these attacks, the 2/32 Battalion suffered heavy casualties, with nearly half of its men either killed or wounded. Over 200 men became prisoners of war, including Harold.

Captured as a prisoner of war

In 1945, after repatriation to Australia, Harold wrote about his capture.

After making a night attack on a certain position which we captured from the Italians, and not being able to dig in owing to the fact that the ground was hard and strong, in the morning my company was surrounded by German tanks, and not having anti-tank guns ... our C.O. gave the order to surrender.

['WX14427 Harold Davis 2/32 Battalion', Department of Veterans' Affairs]

Harold was first held in a transit camp in Benghazi until October 1942. He was then transported across the Mediterranean Sea to Bari in southern Italy.

In late November, Harold arrived at Campo 57, a large prison camp at Gruppignano in north-eastern Italy. He later wrote that he was captured in his shorts, shirt and boots. It wasn't until he reached Campo 57 that a fresh issue of clothing was provided via the Red Cross.

Campo 57 was notorious for its harsh conditions. Food quality was poor, and the housing was crowded and unsanitary. Pneumonia and kidney disease were common, and medical treatment was scarce. Over the course of World War II, some 1,200 Australians and 1,000 New Zealanders were interned there.

Line of huts set back from a perimeter barbed wire fence. People walking in the distance.

Grupignano, Italy. 1941. The prisoner of war (POW) huts behind the inner fence of barbed wire at the Italian Prisoner of War Camp PG57 (Campo 57) in northern Italy. The camp, situated in a wide plain surrounded by mountains, was a large compound containing wooden huts about 90 feet long and 30 feet wide. AWM P02793.009

In April 1943, Harold was transferred with other Australian prisoners to Vercelli Camp 106. For 5 months, Harold worked 8-hour days on rice farms between Turin and Milan.

On 10 September 1943, Harold and some other Australian prisoners successfully escaped the POW camp. With the help of Italian partisans, Harold and his fellow prisoners survived more than 2 years behind German enemy lines, relying on the locals to provide them with food and shelter. Harold eventually made his way to safety in Switzerland, a neutral country.

The war in Europe ended when Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945.

After the war

Harold was recovered from Switzerland and flown to 1 AIF Transit Camp UK on 30 June 1945. He stayed in England for 2 months, then embarked for Australia on RMS Otranto, arriving in Fremantle on 21 September.

Harold was discharged from the Army on 6 November 1945. His war records show that he served 1,414 days in overseas service.

Harold later provided reports to the Australian Army on the living conditions in POW camps across Italy:

The General living conditions in the Camps were affected by wooden bedding, fair lighting, poor heating and very crowded. Rations were insufficient of poor quality and cooking facilities were poor. In Udine they were successfully receiving Red Cross comfort parcels. The Internment Staff were strict, but fair. The ordinary Italian soldiers were alright, but the fascists were apt to be a bit too strict.

[Jeffrey Pierce, Bunbury War Heroes]

Harold married Alice Luvinia or Lavinia at Wagin Methodist church in 1946. After the war, Harold played football for local clubs in Wagin and Narrogin.

Harold passed away on 26 October 1979, aged 63. He is buried in an official Australian war grave in the Bunbury General Cemetery.

Source

Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive (undated), 'Davis, Jack (1917–2000)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed 20 April 2023, https://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/davis-jack-17788/text29364.

Department of Veterans Affairs (2015, 31 August), 'WX14427 Harold Davis 2/32 Battalion', archived webpage captured 23 April 2017, TROVE, accessed 3 April 2023, https://webarchive.nla.gov.au/awa/20151021192525/http://www.dva.gov.au/i-am/aboriginal-andor-torres-strait-islander/our-mob-serving-country-100-years-and-beyond/wx14427

National Archives of Australia: DAVIS HAROLD REGINALD : Service Number - WX14427 : Date of birth - 25 Sep 1916 : Place of birth - NORTHAM WA : Place of enlistment - CLAREMONT WA : Next of Kin - DAVIS ALICE; B883, WX14427.

Peirce, Jeffrey A. (2014), 'DAVIS, Harold Reginald', Bunbury War Heroes, accessed 12 April 2023, https://bunburywarheroes.com.au/davis-harold-reginald/

Peirce, Jeffrey A. (undated), '24a. DAVIS, Harold Reginald – (WW2 Prisoner of War)', Bunbury Cemetery Heritage Walk, Bunbury Cemetery Board, accessed 12 April 2023, https://bunburyheritagewalk.com.au/24a-davis-harold-reginald-ww2-prisoner-of-war/

Tilbrook, Lois (1983). Nyungar tradition: glimpses of Aborigines of south-western Australia, 1829-1914, University of Western Australia Press, accessed online 8 May 2023, https://encore.slwa.wa.gov.au/iii/encore/record/C__Rb1008257

Western Australia Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages: McPhee Alice F Davies William M Northam 1911 Northam 4900059 1911; Singh Indar M 69 UNKNOWN UNKNOWN Yarloop Hospital 1933 Wellington 6600104 1933; Davis Alice F Bennell Bert M Brookton 1934 Beverley 400008 1934; Bennell Alice F 54 John MCPHEE UNKNOWN Brookton 1947 Beverley 400034 1947; Davis Harold Reginald M Jones Alice Luvinia F Wagin Methodist Church 1946 Katanning 3500086 1946; Davis Alice Lavina F 65 Unknown Unknown Fremantle 1991 Fremantle 2700795 1991.


Last updated: 12 May 2023

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2023), Harold Reginald Davis, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 9 June 2023, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/biographies/harold-reginald-davis
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