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Lt-Col Nathaniel Newnham Davis

In summer 2019 a sign appeared near the gate to St. Mary’s Church, Silchester, which reads “At this location there is a Commonwealth War Grave”.  This refers to the grave of Lieutenant-Colonel Nathaniel Newnham Davis, who was buried in the churchyard on 4th June 1917.  His is classed as a “war grave” by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission because he died whilst in service during the period 4th August 1914 to 31st August 1921.

Born on 6th November 1854 at 5 Kent Terrace, Marylebone, to Henry and Mary Newnham Davis, Nathaniel was the first of nine children.  He attended Harrow School and in 1873 became a Lieutenant in The Buffs (East Kent Regiment, 3rd Foot) subsequently being seconded to the Imperial Mounted Infantry in South Africa. 

On 24th January 1879 he wrote a letter home from Rorke’s Drift, the day after 150 British soldiers had held off an attack by 4,000 Zulus.  In that letter he says how he was lucky to have avoided the massacre of over 700 of his fellow soldiers on the 22nd at the Battle of Isandlwana, as he was out on patrol.  He wrote of sleeping that night on the battlefield, lying amongst the dead.

Nathaniel received the South Africa medal and clasps 1887-1888-1889 and was mentioned in dispatches twice.  He went on to serve in the Straits Settlement, in China and also in India, where, for three years, he served in the Intelligence Department in Simla. 

He retired from the army in 1894 with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and became a journalist with the Sporting Times, as well as editor of Man of the World.  He was also a playwright and an author, publishing fiction and writing the story for several ballets, as well as co-authoring a show, Lady Madcap.  He was best known for his writings about food and wine, particularly in The Pall Mall Gazette, and his publications included Dinners and Diners – Where and How to Dine in London and The Gourmet's Guide to London.  By the time the latter was published in 1914 he was said to have launched a restaurant revolution, demystifying the protocol of restaurant dining and what he called “the spider web of a carte de jour”, for hundreds of middle-class people – enabling what he referred to as the “Respectable Classes” to venture out to a restaurant.

Nathaniel was a lifelong bachelor and whilst he appears to have never lived in Silchester, by time of his death, his family were firmly established here.  His maternal grandfather, Henry Newnham, who had served as a civil servant in the East India Company for 39 years, is said to have retired to Silchester, although where he lived is currently unclear.   His mother, Mary, died in 1909, and sometime in the next year or so, Nathaniel’s brother Alfred (a solicitor) bought a new house in Silchester called Newtimber, which was later renamed Romans.  Alfred and two other brothers, Stanley and Stewart, lived there right through until the late 1940s.  Another brother, Henry, and his wife Eleanor, moved into The Grange sometime between 1911 and 1921.  And so Silchester became the family’s home.

In 1915, at the age of 60, Nathaniel applied for active service, returning as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the RoyalDefence Corps., in charge of prisoners of War at Alexandra Palace.  He dies at home in Clarence Gate Gardens, Regents Park, of natural causes on 28th May 1917.  After a funeal service with full military honoiurs in London, his coffin was carried on a gun carriage to a special train in Paddington.  At Reading West, it was joined by the band of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, along with some 150 officers and men.  At Bramley, the coffin was loaded onto another gun carriage and the contingent processed to Silchester Churchm where "Uncle Natty", as his niece wrote, was laid to rest, with the Last Post played by a bugler and one verse of Abide With Me played by the band.