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David was born in Sedgley on 7 April 1887, the son of Isaac Phillips and Enma Massey. His parents’ address at the time of his birth was given as 11 Gozzard Street, Bilston. David was one of eight children, with siblings Jane, Florence, Mary, Elizabeth, Isaac, Caroline and Lillian. They were at the same address in 1891, but had moved to 5 Duncan Street, Wolverhampton, by 1901. Before joining the Navy he was an errand boy.

On 8 September 1903 he joined the Royal Navy, serving on the HMS Impregnable. By 1911 he was an Able Seaman on the HMS Exmouth, serving in the Mediterranean. David’s parents both died in 1914. He rose through the ranks, to become Leading Seaman (number 227886). He served aboard the HMS Black Prince, which was sunk on the night of 31 May 1916 during the Battle of Jutland, killing all aboard.