Scout Frank Davis
1923 - 1940
For his conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty as a voluntary Air Raid Warden during heavy air raids on London
Bronze Cross medal citation, 5th February 1941
The information in this article is as known on 19th November 2015. Research is ongoing and we would be delighted if those who know more about the story could get in touch (especially family members)
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It is London, 1940 and Nazi Germany is trying to bomb the United Kingdom into submission. As part of the Port of London, Bermondsey was an obvious target with its warehouses full of goods to support the war effort and keep the population fed. To the South lay Bricklayers Arms railway goods depot, another prime target for the bombers to hit.
"The Boy Scouts of Bermondsey gave outstanding services. Immediately on the declaration of war they provided the Messenger Service at Wardens' Posts and other strategic points, and they maintained that invaluable help throughout the whole period. During the blitzes these Messengers went everywhere, traversing the bomb-blasted streets with complete disregard of personal safety"
Scouts Working in
World War 2
Scouts trained for and undertook a huge number of roles from collecting waste paper for recycling to working in farmer's fields and even assisting in hospital operating theatres! In the middle of air raids they would be watching for, and reporting, fires as well as rushing to put out incendiary devices. They could only be put out by being smothered with sand. It was dangerous work.
Frank's role was as a Messenger. Messages were sent between the ARP (Air Raid Patrol) posts as written notes carried by messengers, even when the bombs where dropping and exploding all around them. It was extremely dangerous work. Once the message had been given a reply would usually have to be taken back with the messenger having to risk death and serious injury once more.
After 100 hours of war work, Scouts were entitled to the Scouts' National Service Badge. There is more in this BBC article
The Scout Association
published a booklet
about their work
What We Know
Frank Davis was born in March 1923 to Frank & Alice Davis (nee Booker) who lived, certainly at the time of his death in 1940, at 6 Parkers Row, Dockhead close to the Most Holy Trinity Church.
He was a Scout at the 11th Bermondsey & Rotherhithe (St James) Scout Group based at St James Church on Jamaica Road (now Old Jamaica Road) in Bermondsey, South East London.
From around August 1940, Frank volunteered to become an Air Raid Patrol Messenger and worked alongside his father who was a full time Air Raid warden. He was described as being well liked and keen on his work as a Messenger.
Frank had one brother and three sisters with some family still living in South East London.
In the "Daily Mirror" on 12th March 1941 his mother, Alice, was quoted as saying "He meant to get on in life - but he wasn't too busy to give the other chap a helping hand".
8th December 1940:
Frank reported to his post at the Most Holy Trinity Church, Dockhead.
That night there were heavy air raids and the church was bombed. Frank managed to extricate himself from the rubble. He then found out another Scout was trapped. Frank went back into the church's ruins and helped rescue him.
Details vary between newspapers and a book printed at the time.
The "South London Press" of 13th December 1940 reported "Warden Davies (sic) had just been back to the post to report, and was then leaving the post, when the bomb fell and he was caught by its blast"
The "News Chronicle" of 12th March 1941 said "killed by a bomb soon after saving two people pinned under the debris of a house".
The "Daily Mirror" of 12th March 1941 said "The Blitz was fierce that night last December. Davis, a warden, was on his beat when he found a fellow A.R.P. worker with a serious eye injury. He gave him first-aid treatment, took him to a post for further attention. Then he set out for his usual patrol - and was killed"
"The Times" of 18th March 1941 reported "was killed after rescuing a wounded fellow-messenger".
"The Left Handshake" by Hilary St George Saunders published post-war in 1949 records on page 48 "Six Holborn Scouts won awards for gallantry and thirty Bermondsey Scouts, of whom one, Scout Frank Davis, aged seventeen, was killed in the rescue of a fellow passenger who had been wounded. For this he received a posthumous award of a Bronze Cross."
"Southwark News" reported in a feature article on 2nd January 2015 "Warden Frank James Leopold Davis was just seventeen years old when a bomb hit Holy Trinity Church in Dockhead on Dec 8 1940. Initially he survived the bomb but one of his friends, a fellow messenger, was trapped under the rubble. Fearless Frank rushed back in and managed to save his friend but was himself killed in a further explosion"
No doubt there is truth in all the stories printed. But the most comprehensive version of events was in a newspaper cutting held by Frank's sister Joyce.
He and a friend on their way to their post, ran to smother a shower of incendiary bombs. Flying splinters injured the friend's eyes. Carrying him to a First Aid Post , Frank ran back to finish the job. Two bombs fell.
Working through that night with the bombs exploding all around, Frank returned to his duties as part of the Air Raid Patrol.
It was then that Frank was caught in bomb blasts and was killed.
Frank was 17.
Roll of fatalities, Holy Trinity Church* Warden Frank James Leopold Davis (17) of 6 Parkers Row
8th December 1940
* John Henry Hadlow (38) of 52 Parkers Row
* William George Munday (48) of 22 Arnold's Estate
* George Clement Page (17) of 9 Parker's Row in Dockhead Church Crypt (died same day in Guy's Hospital)
* William George Mason (20) of 7 Arnold's Estate (died on 10th December in Guy's Hospital).
Source: Southwark Local History Library
13th December 1940:
Funeral & Burial
Frank's funeral was held five days later at St James' Church Bermondsey and he was then buried in Nunhead Cemetery. St James' archives are lodged with the London Metropolitan Archives, but there are no surviving records covering his funeral. The South London Press ran the article below detailing the funeral.
Frank's entry in the burial register for Nunhead Cemetery. Pictures of the grave site as it is today are in a section below.
5th February 1941:
A number of newspapers carried news of Frank's decoration along with some details of the story. Wartime censorship though meant that only the most general detail was carried as the British Government was worried the Germans would study British Newspapers for details of how successful their bombing was.
15th March 1941:
At 4:30pm, Manor Church in Galleywall Road, Bermondsey was the venue for the presentation of Frank's medal to his mother and father. It was presented by the Scout Commissioner for London, General Sir John Shea with Councillor George Henley in attendance. The emotion of the presentation is plain to see in the picture below. At the same event, a number of other Scouts were also given awards.
The presentation was recorded by British Movietone and published on 20th March 1941. The clip starts a few seconds in after pressing play.
The Bronze Cross
The Bronze Cross is the highest gallantry award the Scout Association can award and is known as "The Scout's VC", a reference to the well known Victoria Cross; the highest British Military Decoration.
Like other organisations, Scout awards are made against a set of criteria as shown in the extract from Policy, Organisation & Rules (POR) which contains everything the Scout Association members are governed by.
A recommendation would of been passed to the Awards Committee containing all the detail of his actions. Sadly, the original recommendation has been lost, only the commendation survives which is far more vague in detail.
The Scout Booklet "They Were Prepared" (see earlier) published a list of Scout Association awards so far granted as of 30th June 1941. Although they didn't know it then, in 1941 they were only about a quarter of the way through the war. Bermondsey groups are a feature of the list.
In the same way that British military medals are graded, so are the Scout medals. So like a Victoria Cross is senior to a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, so the Bronze Cross is senior to the Silver and Gilt Crosses.
The Defence Medal was awarded to those not in direct combat during World War Two, but who made a contribution to the defence of the United Kingdom at home or overseas. It was created in May 1945 to be awarded to the military and workers in the listed civilian occupations.
The medal ribbon is flame red bordered by green to signify the enemy's attacks and destruction wrought on the green and pleasant land with the thin black stripes signifying the black out when no lights could shine outside at night for fear of guiding enemy bombers.
Greatly paraphrasing the criteria for awarding the Defence Medal, Scouts like Frank would be entitled to the medal if they met the following:
1. Civil Defence service in non-operational areas subjected to air attack
2. Completed three years of service between 1939 and 1945
3. If service was brought to an end before the period of three years service has been completed, either by death due to enemy action when on duty, or by injuries entitling the candidate to a Wound Stripe
"One thing which always pleased me was the cheery, scouting way in which they tackled everything, and that despite bombs and flying-bombs or rockets, scouting in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe never stopped. Sometimes meetings had to be held in shelters, etc., but we kept our scouting going. I was very proud of that." Mr H.K. Wiggell, Albany (Southwark) Scout District Commissioner
Frank's Resting Place,
Nunhead Cemetery Today
Fittingly, Frank's grave is immediately adjacent to the memorial maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission detailing the names of WW2 combatants who are buried in Nunhead.
The circle with a dot is the tracking sign for "Gone Home" and is on Robert Baden Powell's grave in Kenya. Baden-Powell, or BP, found the Scout movement and was the first, and only, Chief Scout of the World. "Gone Home" is used to signify a member of the Scout movement who has died.
There are so many stories of Bermondsey's experiences in World War Two, yet it is still surprising that not more is known about what Frank did which is why the research continues.
There are no local memorials that we know of, but Frank's name is recorded on the roll of honour held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and in the WW2 Roll of Honour on-line at http://www.scoutsrecords.org
Southwark News published an article on 2nd January 2015 which outlined the story as it was known at the time.
Frank is also remembered on the Greater London South website as well. Details there will be updated with the information that has been discovered in this research.
A file with all the information in it is also going to be deposited at the Southwark Local History library so that it is more accessible.
Don't forget that Frank is only the best known of the Scouts who were killed in service. There are at least two further Bermondsey Scouts that were killed in 1941 shortly after Frank's award, Scout Harry Hughes (17) and Scout Fricker, not to mention the large numbers who must have been injured.
The leaflet "They Were Prepared" also listed British decorations members of the Scout Association had received as of 30th June 1941.
There are two other well documented tales of bravery at Dockhead.
The Priest's house at Dockhead was the scene of more destruction and exceptional bravery later in WW2 in 1945. A V2 rocket landed on Parker's Row and destroyed the building killing three priests instantly. One priest and the house keeper lay trapped within the building. One of the Heavy Rescue Squad, Ted Heming, was lowered into the ruins, hanging upside down for some considerable time as he worked to release them. For this he was awarded the George Cross.
Gillian Tanner was in the Auxillary Fire Service and based at Dockhead Fire Station. She drove a lorry containing petrol through the bombs and fires of the Blitz for hours on end keeping the fire engines topped up so that they could continuously pump at the huge fires that burned following the bombing raids. For this she was awarded a George Medal.
Research & AcknowledgementS
I had thought this was going to be really easy, researching what happened to a recipient of Scouting's highest award. In the end, I ended up talking with people in the local area and across the world who are listed below in no particular order
The memories of local people
16th Bermondsey Scout Group
1st Facebook Scout Group
Southwark Local History Library and John Hook's air raid documentation
London Metropolitan Archives
Scout Association Awards Committee
British Library sound archive
Rotherhithe & Bermondsey Local History Society, notably Stephen Humphrey
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Vicar of St James' Church Bermondsey
The Most Holy Trinity Church Dockhead
London Screen Archives - Nothing found
British Movietone News on YouTube
Neil Bright who found newspaper articles at Southwark Local History Library
"Bermondsey at War" by James D. Stewart
"They Were Prepared" published by the Scout Association in 1941
"The Left Handshake" (1949) - Book about the work of Scouts in WW2
Frank would still recognise Scouting today, but that is not to say we are stuck in the past - Scouting continues to evolve teaching a mixture of skills for the Internet age mixed in with traditional Scout skills.
Scouting provides a stimulating environment where children from all backgrounds join together in a life of adventure, discovery and learning.
The skills they learn will serve them well in their adult life.
If you are in Southwark go to http://www.southwarkscouts.org.uk/join-us/ and find out about the sections, all of which take boys and girls. If you are anywhere else in the UK, go to http://www.scouts.org.uk