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Phillip Davey

Monday 23 March, 2015

Premier’s Anzac Spirit School Prize

by Ben Francis, Scotch College


Australians at War – The Gallipoli Campaign

Phillip Davey VC

Phillip Davey VC

The word Anzac does not just refer to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp. It is a word that has been a part of Australian thought, culture, language and life since April 25th 1915. That is the day that the ANZAC’s helped to establish their countries reputation in the world through qualities of extreme strength and bravery when faced with adversity. There are five main qualities that emerged from the ANZAC’s, which continue to live on in Australians today. The ability to remain cheerful with a good sense of humour, even in the most difficult of times; the ability to be resourceful when supplies are lacking, for example, making hand grenades from empty tin cans; the spirit of mate-ship in which a soldier would risk his own life for his mate’s; ‘Australian courage’, which was shown on the very first landing at ANZAC Cove where the soldiers continued to charge up on to the beach straight into the line of Turkish fire; and the notion that all people deserve the same amount of respect… “a fair go”, no matter what their backgrounds is.


At the time of World War I, Australia had strong connections with Great Britain. They had promised to “defend England to our last man and our last shilling.” Australian volunteers rushed to enlist and to swear allegiance to Britain. By April 1915, nations had been fighting for eight months. Britain and France were facing Germany on the Western Front, Russia was fighting Germany and Austria-Hungary on Eastern Front and Turkey had joined forces with Germany. The British and the French agreed to land troops on the Gallipoli peninsula, which separated Europe from Asia. The aim was to move overland and attack forts which were overlooking the Dardanelles strait, and to seize the Turkish capitol, Constantinople (now Istanbul). This would enable allied ships to provide supplies to troops in Russia, put more pressure on the Eastern Front, and with some good fortune, take Turkey out of the war altogether.


Phillip Davey, from Unley South Australia, was born on the 10th October 1896. He was the son of William George Davey, and his wife, Elizabeth (neé O’Neil). He was educated at Flinders Street Model School and Goodwood Public School. Phillip grew up with his parents and two brothers: Richard Davey (born 19/3/1894), and Claud Davey (born 28/8/1895). Davey was working as a horse-driver at the time of his enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force, which took place at Morphetville on the 22nd December 1914. Like so many others, Davey believed the war would be a big adventure… a chance to prove that he was a man. His AIF documents show that Davey was 5’9 inches at the time of attestation. He was deemed fit for active service.


Phillip Davey embarked with the 10th Battalion on 2nd February 1915 from Melbourne, and proceeded to Egypt to undergo training and meet with other troops and battalions. It was here that the Australian Imperial Force joined forces with the New Zealand equivalent, to form the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). The first of the missions assigned to the ANZAC’s was the Gallipoli Campaign. The plan was that the first wave of troops were to secure the beach and seize the high ground. This was vital for success. Later troops would push their way inland towards forts of Dardanelles, and remaining troops would be sent ashore to move inland under protection of the first waves troops.


The reality was far from the relatively smooth operation they had expected. In the dark, waiting on the ships, the men could not have known of the challenges that they were soon to face. The ANZAC’s knew that many of their comrades would fall in this battle, however, they remained determined that they would not show cowardice. When the boats grounded, 30 metres from the shore, the Turks opened fire on the ANZAC’s. However, despite their mates and colleagues falling around them, and the naval guns keeping up a barrel of fire, their mindsets were not changed. Their only objective was to “get at them” (the Turks). Newly landed men helplessly stepped on the wounded, constantly trying to move forward. By dusk, the ANZAC’s were ordered to dig in. They lost 2000 men, but gained Turkish ground and remained resolute to their cause.


Phillip Davey was invalided from the peninsula after four days of heavy fighting, with Enteric fever, despite the inoculation he had to prevent it as part of his enlistment in December. Davey was sent back to Egypt, and underwent treatment at the 1st Australian General Hospital in Heliopolis. He returned to Australia in January 1916 to convalesce. On the 27th June of the same year, Davey re-embarked with the 10th battalion’s 18th reinforcement. He proceeded to England and joined the rest of his battalion in France in September, just before they moved into line at Hill 360 in the Ypres sector. On 3rd of January 1918, at Warneton, Belgium, Davey crawled into no-mans land under heavy fire, to rescue a badly wounded comrade. Davey was awarded the Military Medal, a military decoration awarded to personnel of the British or Commonwealth Country Army for bravery in on-land battles. On the 24th April 1918, Phillip Davey was promoted to Corporal. Soon after, he was wounded while capturing an enemy gun and using it to repel a counter attack. He was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration eligible to any rank in naval, military, and air forces of UK and Commonwealth countries for this conspicuous bravery and daring act of valour, self sacrifice and extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.


On the 19th October 1918, Davey was sent back to Australia. The following month, Turkey and Austria-Hungary signed an armistice which consequently ended the war. Davey was discharged from the Australia Imperial Force in February 1919. Corporal Phillip Davey was an exceptional example of an Australian soldier who showed true ANZAC characteristics and values. His resilience, persistence and sense of duty was shown when he returned to battle after recovering from Enteric fever, with renewed fortitude, despite now knowing the horror he would face. The loyalty he showed to his mates, was evident when he crawled under heavy machine-gun fire to rescue a severely wounded comrade. The bravery of using a captured gun to continue to repel enemy fire despite being badly wounded. His actions were recognised through the Military Medal and Victoria Cross. Phillip Davey, and soldiers like him, gave Australia the legacy of Anzac, a trait we continue to remember and respect at all times and honour at ceremonies every year.


William and Elizabeth Davey were delighted at the return of their son, Phillip, but the Davey family were grieving the loss of his two brothers, Claude and Richard. They too had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force when the war began. They were both awarded the Military Medal for their bravery but were both killed in action on the Western Front. Many families, like the Daveys, had to overcome these great losses. Communities were decimated through the loss of breadwinners, sons who would have taken on family farms or businesses and looked after their parents in their old age. Trades and skills were difficult to maintain because of the numbers of young men who did not return or returned too injured, physically or mentally, to be able to pursue what they would have normally. Nevertheless the Daveys and other families took comfort and pride from the recognition their sons received for their bravery and communities remained united and resolute in their belief in the necessity of their actions and loyalty to the Empire.


Phillip Davey married Eugene Agnes Tomlinson on the 25th August 1928. They had no children. Davey continued showing the Anzac spirit by contributing to his community as much as possible. He worked as a labourer and a linesman with South Australian Railways for many years, despite suffering bronchitis and emphysema. He suffered a heart attack and passed away at the Repatriation General Hospital in Daw Park on the 21st December 1953, at only 57 years old.


For references please view this PDF Philip Davey by Ben Francis


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