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THE DEVONSHIRE REGIMENT

 

DevonshireRegiment Memorial in Exeter Cathedral

The 1914 - 1918 Memorial to the officers and men of the 

Devonshire Regiment  in Exeter Cathedral

Our thanks to Roy Hewitt for this article

It was not for nothing that the Devonshire Regiment`s earlier nickname was "The Bloody 11th ". It was earned after its costly, but successful, participation in the Peninsular War battle at Salamanca. This was just one of the many battles fought in by Devon`s County Infantry Regiment.

Initially, the Regiment was formed as the Duke of Beaufort`s Musketeers in Bristol 1685 to help to suppress the Duke of Monmouth's Westcountry rebellion. In 1689, the regiment fought in Ireland at the Siege of Londonderry and the Battle of the Boyne. The first battle honour was gained at Dettingen when in 1743 it fought with the numerical title of the 11th Regiment of Foot. During the Peninsular War, serving under Wellington , the Regiment fought at Albuera and Salamanca and participated in many other parts of the campaign to drive Napoleon`s army out of Spain.

During Queen Victoria`s reign the 11th Foot served in places around the British Empire including participating in campaigns in Burma. During the Boer War it lost heavily at Spion Kop and at Ladysmith where Lt. Masterton gained the Regiment`s first Victoria Cross. It was at Ladysmith that Gandhi acted as a stretcher-bearer for the Devons.

When the British Army was reorganised with regiments being amalgamated and County names being allocated instead of numbers, the 11th of Foot became the Devonshire Regiment. It was under this title that the Devons went into the Great War. During 1914 to 1918, the Devons expanded from the peacetime  strength of 3 Battalions to 25 Battalions which took an active part in the war whilst other battalions were raised for home service. Kitchener`s 1914 call for recruits saw many men of the county respond but as the  war progressed the ranks of the Devon`s were filled by recruits and replacements from other parts of the country notably from the Midlands.

The Devons fought on both the Western Front and in Mesopotania. Battles at the Aisne (1914), Loos (1915) , the Somme (1916) were just three of the hard fought battles that were to earn 63 Battle Honours during the course of those four bloody years. Private T. Veale was to earn the regiment`s second VC at High Wood ( Somme) on 26th July 1916. The Devon`s losses for the first day of the Battle of the Somme at Mametz were to be marked by the establishment of the Devonshire Cemetery where the dead of the 8th and 9th Battalions were buried in the remains of their frontline trench To this day, a memorial stone at the entrance to the cemetery bears the words:

"The Devonshires held this trench. The Devonshires hold it still "

These sentiment were to be echoed again on the 28th May 1918 when the 2nd Battalion were ordered to make a last stand at Bois de Butte on the Aisne in order to buy time for the British front line to be stabilised after heavy German attacks. The Battalion lost 23 officers and 528 other ranks killed, wounded, missing or taken prisoner. The French awarded the 2nd Devons the Croix de Guerre. In 1918 Lance Corporal Onions was to gain the third VC for the Devons.

In the Second World War, eleven battalions were raised and they were involved in many theatres of the war. One battalion was linked with a battalion of the Dorsets during the defence of Malta throughout the heavy bombing campaign. There were also garrison duties in Gibraltar. The Devons took part in their first amphibious landing in Sicily (1943) and were involved in heavy fighting before participating in landings in Italy. They were withdrawn back to the UK in preparation for D Day and the Normandy campaign where, again, they were operating in conjunction with the Dorsets.

It was for D Day that the 12th Battalion was converted to being a glider borne battalion. After Normandy this battalion was involved in the crossing of the Rhine. The Devons war in Europe finished at Bremenhaven. Across the other side of the world, Japanese forces were threatening India. The Devons were involved in heavy fighting at Imphal near the Burma - India border where, at last, the Japanese advance was stopped.

It was in May 1958 that the illustrious military history of Devon`s County Infantry Regiment was brought to an end when as a result of Government review of the Army, the Devons were amalgamated with the Dorsetshire Regiment with whom it had shared many a battlefield.

©Roy Hewitt

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