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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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War Memorials



On the day the 1901 census was taken, the writer of the letter below was home on sick leave - a fact carefully recorded on his mother's census return. He was a son of James and Isabella Wood and born in  Aveton Gifford in the March Quarter of 1872 but by 1901, his mother was a widow and living in Modbury.  Private George Edmund Wood of the 2nd Devonshire Regiment wrote this letter while at Chieveley Camp.


He refers to the deaths  of Lance Corporal George Henry Spearman who had 11 years service with the 2nd Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment and to that of Corporal George Pengilly (spelt in various ways), from Bigbury in the South Hams, who was from the same regiment. 


"I am sorry to tell you that my unfortunate regiment suffered very much, losing a lot of men. I am happy to say I escaped unhurt but I must tell you I thought my time had come, as I had men shot down on my right and left at the same time. Bullets were dropping all round me.


I am sorry to tell you that my chum, called Spearman, was killed on the spot. It quite upset me when he fell dead at my left side. He had said only a few minutes before "The bullets are dropping about like a lot of bees," little thinking he had only a few minutes more to live. Poor Pengelley of Yealmpton was killed on the spot, but he was too far away from me, so I did not see him fall. I never wish to witness such a sight as I did then.


There were about 30 of our men taken prisoners by the Boers, including Colonel Bullock, and several other officers and men of other regiments, and I was one of them. I can assure you it made me feel very uneasy to be in the hands of the Boers. They took all our rifles away from us and we were waiting to  be marched away to Pretoria, but as it was dark I thought of a plan. I got away from the rest of our men quietly, and lay down on my face and hands, and when I could see my way clear I crawled away like a cat as far as I could without being seen until I could see my way clear for another crawl; and believe me, or believe me not, I kept crawling like that until I got clean away from the enemy's hands; then I got on my legs and ran like a stag towards my camp. But I was wandering about until about three o'clock in the morning, when I lay down and went to sleep, being thoroughly done up.


It was about seven when I awoke and found myself tired and sore and drowsy a long way from home. Anyway, I got on my legs again, and trotted off to my camp, a distance of about three miles. I got into camp about ten o'clock, and I can assure you it quite frightened our men to see me come into camp, as they called the roll the night before and found I was one of the missing; and the officers congratulated me on being so lucky as to escape from the hands of the Boers."


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