BROTHERS JOHN & ENOCH DAVIES ENOCH & NEPHEW, GWILYM IDWAL
It was from his sojourn in the Orient that John Davies got his nickname John “China”, as he had captained the Klukiang and the Foochow. Whilst at Shanghai, he met other Borth captains who were employed there for a time, Thomas H. Dutton 1865-1915 and Captain David Thomas of London Cottage. After John Davies’ return, he was appointed captain of the Margam Abbey, which was owned by Williams and Morley of Cardiff, a company that he remained with until the end of 1916, when this ship was torpedoed in the Bay of Biscay. He and the crew, which included Borth men, Rowland Ellis and John Davies of Trigfan House, were landed safely at Barry by the Italian steamer Antonia Silesia. By 1918, he was engaged in what was euphemistically termed “work of national importance”.
Captain John Davies was continually involved in ship ownership and made the transition from sail to steam effortlessly, in fact, even as late as 1920, he was buying schooners, one the Brandon, was sunk by enemy fire in 1918, and another the Industry was wrecked on the Irish coast in 1921. After that he concentrated on steamers, and as is mentioned in Captain L. J. Herbert’s memoirs, his father-in-law Captain Davies, took his own vessel the Myrtis to work on the east Coast of Canada and the Great Lakes, where in winter they often had to dynamite their way through the ice. When dense fog enveloped the St Lawrence Seaway the fog horn was sounded and its echo was timed to gauge if they were still in the middle of the seaway.
According to Captain Herbert, who was then first mate on the Myrtis, part of the cargo taken from Canada to the United States was alcohol…this was during the time of the American prohibition. Captain Herbert later swore his own son-in-law, Ken Caswell, not to relate the nature of that particular cargo to Mrs. Herbert (the daughter of Captain Davies), as she would be mortified because the family was strictly teetotal. Apparently to the initial mystification of First Mate Herbert, they docked at three in the morning at an unscheduled berth in total darkness. Suddenly warehouse doors opened and out stepped men wielding firearms. In the dim light provided the cargo, cases of alcohol, were quickly unloaded. Doors were closed and the armed men melted away. The ship then moved to arrive at their designated berth to unload a legitimate cargo. Captain Davies had obviously cast a convenient blind eye over that particular cargo as the proceeds went towards a successful business sojourn in Canada that eventuated in him purchasing land in Newfoundland. Captain Herbert’s daughter Jean relates that some of this land was sold to the Canadian Government to facilitate road building, but there is still some left which the family would like to sell off.
Aran Morris recalls that the captain was a coastguard in the Second World War, and that when a mine was washed ashore he took charge of things. His eyesight by this time was failing, and he led a group of Home Guardsmen who fired at the mine with the idea of detonating it! As Aran Morris said, “Thank God we did not hit it, otherwise it could have blown half of Borth away”. Common sense prevailed and the bomb disposal people defused it. At this time Captain Davies had built himself a little wooden hut on the foreshore opposite Maesteg House where he kept his telescope and binoculars for coast watching, as well as several herring nets that he used to set on the beach in the time-honoured tradition.
Captain Davies was founder member of the Borth Sea Scouts and taught the youngsters navigation. Borth carnival benefited from his enthusiastic support and organisational skills. He was a fine vocalist and at the reunion of the Master Mariners of the counties of Cardigan and Pembroke in June 1937, he is listed on the programme as singing eight solos, most of which were shanties. At this same gathering Borth’s Captain Richard Jones also sang a shanty.