Dr Davies was born in Liverpool in 1942, and educated at Alsop Grammar School, the University of Wales, Bangor and in Fleet Street. As a journalist, he has written for, among others, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Daily and The Sunday Telegraph, and the London Evening Standard. Upon discovering the archive of the much-loved soldier-writer, ‘student of human nature’ and Somme fatality Donald Hankey, he split his time between Fleet Street and Oxford writing a doctoral thesis, published as A Student in Arms: Donald Hankey and Edwardian Society at War.
‘The journalist in me relishes bringing back worthwhile “lost” writers, popular in their times, but of value in ours for leading lives and producing books, journalism, plays or poetry that is of interest because it opens a window onto dramatic episodes in our history. The academic in me regrets that too many academics play safe, confining their studies to the usual suspects, recycling the familiar.
‘For me, the key is strike out and to find a writer’s personal papers. Piece together an author’s own story, and it is possible to alert and interest new readers. Too often a writer’s papers are mistakenly assumed to be lost just because they’re not registered in any archive.
‘This I found to be true when in I began to chip away at the mystery of how so little was known about Donald Hankey, a favourite author of mine. Nothing and nobody in our forebears’ experience prepared them for the savagery of the Great War. It was to Donald, more than anybody else – certainly the newspapers or the Church – that soldiers and civilians they looked for help in making sense of, enduring or fighting the Great War. Yet the war overt, Donald fell into a hole in history, a victim of ‘the winnowing flail of time’ because no personal papers apparently survived to make him ‘live’.
‘But that was just because nobody had looked hard enough. The Hankey papers some 5,000 of them, are now safe in the Imperial War Museum. They raised a large sum at auction, immediately donated to Felix Fund: The Bomb Disposal Charity in memory my daughter Holly Angharad Davies.
‘Today, I don’t have to go looking for ‘lost’ writers or their papers. It’s as if they come looking for me. That’s how it was with the war poet, Drummond Allison. I suggested a book on someone else to a publisher, who said no, but he’d long wanted a book on Drummond. I’d not heard of this poet before, sometimes a good starting-point for a book if you like what you then do hear.
‘After I gave a lecture on Drummond, a member of the audience came up urging me to write the Stephen Haggard story. Haggard – actor, novelist, playwright and war poet – was also a name new to me. And the Haggard papers? They turned out to be hidden in… well, Haggard’s is another story, the most dramatic yet.’