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27th (Devonshire) Company, the 7th Battalion, the Imperial Yeomanry 

The Royal Warrant

 

Having decided to wage a campaign in an attempt to control the Boer farmers in South Africa, the War Office got a nasty shock. It had been agreed between the men at the top ( who had not fought in a war for a very long time)  that the thing to do was to quell the trouble by sending an enormous body of men, horses and equipment to South Africa to intimidate the Boers. Unfortunately,  for a number of reasons, Great Britain found it simply did not have enough men to mount a campaign of this kind and had very little time to prepare such a force.

 

For some time, military medical officers, almost to a man, had been  complaining of the lack of fitness in men who enlisted. One of the worst affected regiments was the Devonshire Regiment which  had served in India.  The plan had been to pull them out and send them  to the coast to be transported directly to the front line in South Africa  without returning them to England. As the embarkation plans began so did the deaths. More officers and  men than other regiments had lost in major battles became casualties - seriously sick to the point of.death.  It was the 2nd Battalion who were the worst affected.  Over the years they had spent in India, their diets had been very poor and most had suffered  from the affects of climate and tropical illnesses. Medical advice was to return them to England for rest and recuperation. 

 

This left a terrible gap which had to be filled somehow and the War office turned to the Yeomanry for a solution. But were they any fitter? Every medical inspection showed most of the men underfed and undersized - enthusiastic, yes -but no match for the strong and healthy Boer farmers and their sons.. Throughout the country, the search was on for young men who were fit, strong and healthy - young men who had been well-fed, were experienced riders and good shots - young men who were the sons of the yeoman farmers of England - surely, more than a match for the Boer farmers?

 

In December 1899, by Royal Proclamation, a new army came into being and with it, a new military concept - the men and officers who served in this army would all be volunteers. It was an ill thought-out concept with many complications. How did you discipline such a body of men? Could you expect them to stand their ground on the battlefield and fight to the death if that was called for? How would they behave, these dashing would-be young heroes , on their first trip away from home and most important of all, how could you keep them in South Africa - if they changed their minds and  rode down to the ports and bought a passage home, could you risk antagonising their anxious parents back home by suggesting they were deserters?  The reason nobody thought through these questions was that everybody in the War Office thought the "war" would be over by Christmas and that the mere threat that they held large numbers of men in reserve would be quite enough to send the Boers back home. 

 

Yeomanry Battalions were not a new invention but they did attract young, fit men who were good riders and good shots - just the skills that were needed. It's true that not every man attracted to the Yeomanry was a top-notch rider or deadly accurate shot, but that hardly mattered - this problem over in South Africa wasn't going to last long and probably the war would be over even before they had to be sent. The important thing was that they would be holding hundreds of men in reserve and that would give everyone loads of time to do more training and  hone their skills. The over-riding   factor   was that they would be men of the right type who  would do their duty and show self-discipline.

 

|But the war was not over by Christmas 1899, so 500 officers,  20 battalions and four companies of men arrived in South Africa in the first quarter of 1900. Here, in Devon, the popular (Territorial) Royal Devon Yeomanry mobilised some of their own troops to form the 27th Company, the 7th Battalion the Imperial Yeomanry and also contributed men to the Rough Riders* Battalion. But even so, insufficient men of the "right" calibre could be found so the net was widened and men from other walks of life were encouraged to apply. Consequently, descendents are sometimes indignant when they  read the words "discharged" or "inefficient" in soldiers' records of the period but it is a fact that many young men whose lack of skill made them a liability on the battlefield had to be sent back - enthusiasm just was not enough.. 

 

* Rough riders were men who could stay in the saddle over a long period of time and could cope with horses which had had very little experience of carrying riders, especially riders who were carrying and firing a rifle from the saddle

 

Every newspaper published in the county published this, the Royal Warrant, at Christmas time in 1899:

A NEW FORCE

VOLUNTEERS FOR THE FRONT

(OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT)

At an early hour yesterday morning, we received the following important document from the War Office, conveying the announcement that the Government have decided to raise a mounted infantry force for service in South Africa.

I. YEOMANRY

1. Her Majesty's Government have decided to raise for service in South Africa, a mounted infantry force to be named "The Imperial Yeomanry

2. The Force will be recruited from the Yeomanry, but Volunteers and civilians who may possess the requisite qualifications (as given below) will be specially enrolled in the Yeomanry for this purpose.

3. The Force will be organised in companies of 115 rank and file, 5 officers being allotted to each company, viz: 1 Captain and 4 Subalterns, preference being given to Yeomanry officers.

4. The term of enlistment for officers and men will be for one year, or for not less than the period of the war.

5. The officers and men will bring their own  horses, clothing, saddlery and accoutrements. Arms and ammunition, camp equipment and regimental transport will  be provided by Government.

6. The men will be dressed in Norfolk jackets of woollen material of neutral colour, breeches and gaiters, lace boot and felt hats. Strict uniformity of pattern will not be insisted upon.

7. The pay will be at cavalry rates, with a capitation grant for horse, clothing, saddles and accoutrements. All ranks will receive rations from the date of joining. Gratuities and allowances will be those laid down in the  Special Army Order of May 10th 1899.

8. Applications for enrolment should be addressed to Colonels Commanding Yeomanry Regiments or to General Officers Commanding Districts to whom instructions will be immediately issued.

2. QUALIFICATIONS

a) Candidates must be from 20 to 35 years of age and of good character.

b) Volunteers who are  civilian candidates must satisfy the Colonel of the Regiment through which they enlist that they are good riders and marksmen according to  Yeomanry standards.

c) The standard of physique to be that for Cavalry of the Line.

3. VOLUNTEERS (OR TERRITORIALS)

Her Majesty's Government have decided to accept offers of service in South Africa from the Volunteers.

A carefully-selected company of 110 rank and file, officered by one Captain and three subalterns will be raised (one for each British line battalion serving in, or about to proceed to, South Africa) from the Volunteer battalions of the territorial regiment. These Volunteer companies will, as a general rule, take their place in the line battalion of its company serving as mounted infantry.

The Volunteer Battalions from which a company is accepted will form and maintain a waiting company in reserve at  home. The selection of men from the Volunteer battalions for service with the line battalions in the field will devolve on the commanding officers of Volunteer battalions. The terms of enlistment for officers and men will be for one year or for not less than the periods of the war.

Full instructions for the information of all concerned will be issued with the least possible delay through general officers commanding districts.

 

 

 
 
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