David was born in early 1877 in Cirencester, Gloucestershire which is surprising as his parents were thoroughly Welsh. His father, also David, was a Congregational Minister and many non-conformist ministers led a bit of an itinerant life and we can only assume his father was ministering to the good folk of Cirencester at the time of his birth. His mother started life as Elizabeth Annie Chiles and Chiles was bestowed on David junior as a given name. Later in life, possibly after the death of his father, he seems to have adopted it as part of his surname and he appears in reports, articles and the medal roll associated with the Welsh Hospital as Mr/Dresser D B Chiles Evans, sometimes hyphenated, sometimes not.
By the time of the 1881 census the family had moved back to Wales and were living in the village of Pembury which abuts Burry Port, the latter became famous in 1928 when Amelia Earhart and her two companions made it their landing place and Amelia became the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic. For those still geographically lost in south Wales, Pembury & Burry Port lie a few miles west of Llanelli, home of The Scarlets.
The family were still living in Pembury at the time of the 1891 census which shows David junior was an only child. Aged 14 he would presumably have already been showing prowess on the rugby field as later in life he was to play for both Swansea & London Welsh RFCs but never The Scarlets.
David went to Aberystwyth University College of Wales (as it was called at the time) to study medicine but interrupted his studies when he volunteered to serve in the Welsh Hospital in South Africa during the Boer War of 1899-1902. So, on 14th April 1900 he boarded the SS Canada along with the rest of the Welsh Hospital staff bound for Cape Town.
All reports except one put him as one of the nine Dressers who were all volunteer medical students. One of these reports adds “(registrar)” after his name and the exception report says he was a “medical clerk”. So, besides his medical duties he probably had some added responsibility for the keeping of medical records. When the Welsh Hospital was transferred to the Army at the end of October 1900 many of the staff stayed on to work in the Officers’ Hospital which replaced it and it is probable David was amongst these.
When he eventually returned to Wales he completed his studies and qualified as a doctor which allowed to put the letters M.R.C.S and L.R.C.P. after his name. After qualification David initially worked as a doctor in the Infirmary that was part of the Swansea Workhouse. In 1910 he set up in practice on his own account in the Landore area of Swansea. The 1911 census shows him living at Mile End, Landore, Swansea. He gave his occupation as “Medical Practitioner”. Living with him is his 60 year old widowed mother. The return tells us that David & his mother could both speak English & Welsh.
In 1914 David enlisted in the R.A.M.C. and was appointed as a Medical Officer attached to the 1st Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. The battalion arrived in France on 10th September 1914 and proceeded to the Western Front where they were to be involved in some of the thickest of the action over the next two years including the Battle of Loos & the Battle of the Somme. David was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for what he later described to a newspaper reporter as “a little bit of action involving a gas attack at Loos”. Despite the encouragement of the reporter he declined to elaborate. He was wounded during the Battle of the Somme at Ginchy on 23rd September 1916 and invalided home. It was while he was recuperating in Landore in October 1916 that he was interviewed by the newspaper reporter a few days after he was invested by King George V with his D.S.O.
Not long after he received his D.S.O. David returned to France and in March 1917 was promoted from Captain to Lieutenant-Colonel in command of the 3rd (Welch) Field Ambulance. On 23rd April 1917 he was killed in action during the Battle of Arras and buried in the Bethune Town Cemetery about 20 miles north of Arras. He was also mentioned in despatches, three times.
Reports of David’s death in local Welsh newspapers show he was a much respected and loved Doctor despite him only having been a general practitioner for about 4 years. His probate shows he left an estate worth just over £3,000 to his widowed mother. His mother died two years later and her son figured highly in reports of her death.
David was to again make the papers in 2006 although in the account I have read his actual name was quite rightly not given. David had treated Private Harry Farr three times for shell-shock, each time signing him off sick for a limited period. Whilst David was recuperating in Landore, Harry refused to go into action and was arrested. Harry’s trial occurred about the time David received his D.S.O. for bravery so David could not give evidence. Harry was denied the help of a “soldier’s friend” and the trial lasted less than an hour. Harry was found guilty and shot the next day at dawn. In 2006 Harry was officially pardoned. We shall never know if David’s presence at the trial would have changed Harry’s fate.
As is common with soldiers who died in WW1 you can find several on-line write-ups on David – none recognise his service in the Boer War.
Where is he commemorated? – on the Burry Port & Pembury War Memorial (left below), in the Welsh National Book of Remembrance to be found in the Temple of Peace, Cathays Park, Cardiff (centre) and the Aberystwyth University War Memorial (right). He also gets some sort of recognition within the grounds of Swansea RFC.
I did not have to go far to find the two War Memorial photos above – they both carry the name J D Vaughan. Captain John David Vaughan M.C. was born and raised in Burry Port and attended Aberystwyth University. While David was a GP in Landore, John was a schoolteacher at Elmfield College (a boarding school for the sons of Methodists). Just before John started teaching at Elmfield my great-uncle, John Fletcher Redhead was a pupil there and he and J D Vaughan now appear side by side on the School War Memorial.