Davidson, James Samuel (James)
13th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles attached
108th Company Machine Gun Corps (Infantry), 36th Ulster Division
Killed in action on Saturday 1 July 1916 (aged 39)
Serre Road Cemetery No. 2, France (Grave XXX. E. 7)
Bangor and District War Memorial
Royal British Legion (Bangor Branch) Memorial Plaque
Comrades of the Great War (Bangor Branch) Album in North Down Museum
Davidson & Co Memorial Plaque
Holywood Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church
Mountpottinger Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church Belfast
Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI)
Campbell College Belfast
Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club (RNIYC), Cultra
Royal Ulster Yacht Club, Bangor
Royal Belfast Golf Club, Holywood
Royal County Down Golf Club, Newcastle, Co. Down
James Samuel Davidson was born on 9 March 1877 in Strandtown, Belfast and he was the only son of Samuel Cleland Davidson and Clara Mary Davidson (nee Coleman) who were married on 30 January 1873 in Second Presbyterian Church (Unitarian), Rosemary Street, Belfast. Samuel Cleland Davidson, a gentleman from Turf Lodge, Ballyhackamore, Holywood was a son of James Davidson, a merchant (deceased). Clara Mary Coleman from Crumlin Road, Belfast was a daughter of James Coleman, a gentleman.
The Davidson family lived in Seacourt, Princetown Road, Bangor.
Samuel Cleland Davidson was an engineer by profession and he founded the Sirocco Works in Belfast in 1881. He and Clara had five children including:
Clara Mary (born around 1875/1876)
James Samuel (born 9 March 1877 in Strandtown, Belfast)
Kathleen (born 13 November 1882 in Strandtown, Belfast)
James Samuel Davidson was educated at Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI) and Campbell College. He was a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and before the Great War he served as an officer with the 1st Battalion North Down Regiment of the Ulster Volunteer Force.
James Samuel Davidson was General Manager in his father’s business, Davidson and Company Ltd, before being appointed a Director and he accompanied his father to the 1904 World Fair in St Louis, USA to promote the Company.
James Samuel Davidson enjoyed the trappings of wealth and drove smart cars and sailed his own yacht at the Royal Ulster Yacht Club where the tea magnate and family friend Sir Thomas Lipton was also a member. From October 1910 to July 1911 James undertook a world trip to promote, evaluate in situ and sell Sirocco Machinery.
Also a keen tennis player and motorist he was a member of the Ulster Club, the Ulster Reform Club and the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club; he was a Governor of RBAI. When war was declared he applied for a commission and was appointed a Second Lieutenant with the 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles where he subsequently rose to the rank of Captain. His practical knowledge of engineering was identified and he was attached to the Machine Gun Section.
At the outbreak of war Samuel Cleland Davidson offered the employees in his gardens at Seacourt the same terms as his workers in the Sirocco Works in Belfast if they joined up – five shillings per week paid to the man’s wife, mother or sister throughout the war and reinstatement after the war.
Captain James Samuel Davidson died on 1 July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme. As Brigade Machine Gun Officer he had been held in reserve when the initial assault began at 7.30 am. He and his men were sent out shortly after 8.00 am in response to a request from Captain Matthew, a fellow director of Davidson and Company. James Davidson sent back a report at 10.20 am in which he said ‘am in B line and have got up 2 Vickers guns, am consolidating both. Cannot say how many infantry are in line but in this part there are only about 30 men of 13th, 11th and 15th Royal Irish Rifles. We cannot possibly advance and reinforcements, ammunition and bombs most urgently needed.’
Two hours later, and by then wounded in the knee, Captain Davidson sent a further message requesting urgent reinforcements. ‘I am holding the end of a communication trench in A line with a few bombers and a Lewis Gun. We cannot hold much longer. We are being pressed on all sides and ammunition almost finished’. By then the men still in the German trenches were virtually cut off.
Captain James Samuel Davidson was shot dead by a German sniper as he was helped back across no-mans-land by two of his men. One wrote: ‘The Germans were keeping up a very hot fire and it was open ground we had to cross, and the Germans could see anyone between our front line and theirs. We just got 20 yards from the wire when the Captain got shot through the head – he just fell and never spoke or moved. He died instantly – there was no hope.’
Captain Wilfred Spender, General Staff Officer with the Ulster Division, wrote to James Davidson’s father: ‘I am told that your son fell after gallantry which deserved the Victoria Cross and was killed when his men had at last persuaded him to consent to letting them carry him back. Though badly wounded, he had insisted on carrying on. If I may say so, I value the friendship of your son, and hope that I may be worthy to renew it later in another and better life.’
On 3 July James Davidson’s family received a letter that he had written on 30 June: ‘Only a few minutes to tell you that I am well. The dawn of tomorrow will be the critical time for us but I hope good luck will attend us. Mother dearest, I don’t want you to be too anxious about me but if I should have bad luck, will you give Eileen any of my little personal things she would like to have. I will send a postcard just as soon as I can if all goes well.’ Shortly before his death, James and Eileen had become engaged. In his will, James left £21,929 2s 11d, a sum equivalent to more than £1 million in today’s terms.
Captain James Samuel Davidson was 39 when he died and he was buried in Serre Road Cemetery No 2, France and there is an inscription on his CWGC headstone:
Son of Samuel Cleland Davidson of Seacourt Bangor Co Down Ireland
Captain James Samuel Davidson is commemorated on Bangor and District War Memorial; on the Royal British Legion (Bangor Branch) Memorial Plaque; in the Comrades of the Great War (Bangor Branch) Album in North Down Museum (Page 37); on the Davidson & Co Memorial Plaque and on the Memorial Plaques in Holywood Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, Mountpottinger Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI), Campbell College and the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club (RNIYC).
After Captain James Samuel Davidson died the Captain Davidson Memorial Fund was opened and some £550 was raised. The money was allocated as follows:
£200 to the Ulster Women and Children’s Hospital, Templemore Avenue, Belfast (two cots named the Captain J S Davidson cots).
£100 to the UVF Hospital for the equipment of a gymnasium commemorating his name.
The remainder to be used to perpetuate Captain Davidson’s memory through the erection of a memorial tablet in his former office and through the establishment of the Captain J S Davidson Memorial Exhibition – an engineering scholarship at the Belfast Technical Institute.
Captain James Samuel Davidson’s father, Samuel Cleland Davidson, was knighted in 1921 and, later that year, he died – on 18 August 1921 (aged 74). He was buried in Belfast City Cemetery (Grave D 245) alongside his wife, Clara Mary, who died on 30 April 1918 (aged 68).