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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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War Memorials


by Richard Pearse Chope

(Published 1911)


"The Devonshire Regiment under its present name, dates only from 1881, when the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 11th or North Devon Regiment, and the 1st and 2nd Devon Militia, were formed into a new "territorial" regiment which included also five volunteer battalions. But the 11th has always been "territorial" from the time it was first raised in 1685 by the Duke of Beaufort among the loyal men of Devon, Somerset and Dorset. Its first service was in Ireland, where it fought with credit under the personal command of William III at the battle of the Boyne. In 1703 it was sent abroad to take part in the campaigns of the famous Duke of Marlborough, himself a Devonshire man, and it was engaged in the capture of various fortresses and towns held by the French. It suffered severely with other regiments in the fierce battle of Almanza, 1707. In 1715, it returned to Scotland and fought at the battle of Dunblane, which practically ended the rebellion of that year, and in 1719, at Glenshiel, it defeated and captured a body of 400 Spaniards who had invaded Scotland on behalf of the Pretender.


The word "Dettingen" on the colours of the regiment records a victory, important in its results, and memorable as being the last battle in which a British monarch was personally engaged. This was in 1743, and two years later the regiment shared in the defeat at Fontenoy. The following year, at Roncoux, it was ordered with another regiment to hold a hollow way against a French force six times as great as their own; they were successful in spite of numerous attacks, and their thinned ranks bore eloquent testimony to the noble way in which they carried out their orders. We next find the regiment campaigning in Germany, 1760 - 63; and in 1793 it was engaged in the Toulon expedition.


During the Peninsular War, 1809 - 14, under the great Duke of Wellington, it won great distinction, and had the following honours added to its flag: "Salamanca", "Pyrenees", "Nivelle", "Nive", "Orthes", "Toulouse", and "Peninsula". In all these victories the 11th played a gallant part; but perhaps the greatest gallantry was displayed at Salamanca, where it advanced with the 61st at the critical moment, when the fate of the battle was trembling in the balance, and fighting desperately against artillery, cavalry and infantry, forced the French to give way. So fierce was the struggle that only four officers and 67 men could be mustered at the close of the action, to hear words of praise addressed to an individual regiment.

One exploit of the regiment towards the close of the war deserves special mention. On the night of 16 January 1814, the British army was lying in front of bayonne, one of the advanced picquets being composed of 2 officers and 40 men of the Devonshire Regiment. In the front of this picquet was a barrack in which was stationed a French out-post, the men of which had piled their arms outside, trusting to the watchfulness of the sentries they had posted. The captain of the Devonshire regiment resolved to surprise them, and accordingly sent forward a small party, who cautiously approached the French sentries and effectually quieted them,  when the remainder of the picquet dashed forward and secured the arms of the French. After a short resistance the French surrendered, and upwards of 200 prisoners were triumphantly marched into the British lines by the 40 Devonshire men. At the battle of Toulouse, as at Salamanca, the Devonshire Regiment was called upon at a critical moment of the fight when things were looking black for the British and again it responded nobly. With the two other corps of their brigade they charged with a terrible shout, and after a short but desperate strife the French turned and fled, and the victory was secured. This was the second time during the war that the regiment had the distinguished honour of sharing the supreme effort which turned the tide of victory when everything was in confusion in the other parts of the field.

After the Peninsular War the Devonshire Regiment had little fighting to do for more than half a century, but in 1851, when it was serving in Australia, the men proved the truth of their motto "Semper Fidelis" in such a remarkable manner that the incident is worth recording. It was the time of the gold craze and it became necessary to send a detachment of troops to keep order at the diggings; but it was prophesied on all sides that the temptations to desert were so great that the detachment would soon vanish. However, the Devons soon showed the stuff of which they were made; they re-established order and marched back without the loss of a single man.

The next war service was in Afghanistan in 1878-9 where the hardships and privations the regiment sustained in this bleak and rocky country were rewarded by the addition of "Afghanistan" to their colours. From 1890 to 1892 the regiment was in Burma, engaged in dispersing and capturing the numerous bands of Dacoits that over-ran the country of the disbandment of the Burmese Army. In 1895 a detachment was sent to the North - West Frontier of India, and in 1896 a detachment was furnished to accompany the expedition to the West Coast of Africa. For the service in Burma, and for that in India a medal with clasp was awarded, and for that in Africa, a bronze star. In 1897 the regiment formed part of the celebrated Tirah Field Force, which was engaged in one of the most arduous campaigns ever undertaken by Indian troops against the warlike tribes of the North-West Frontier of India and was rewarded with the distinction "Tirah"on its colours.

Both battalions were engaged in the Boer War and went through it with a reputation for gallantry second to none. The 1st battalion had been summoned from India and when war was actually declared, it was stationed at Ladysmith. Its first engagement with the enemy was at Elandslaagte on 21 October 1899. The Boers had taken up a position on a ridge which rose some 800 feet above the plain, and our troops had to climb this height in the face of very heavy fire. At the moment of the final advance a torrent of rain lashed into the faces of the men. and amid the hissing of the rain there came the fuller more menacing whine of the Mauser bullets, and the ridge rattled from end to end with rifle fire. Men fell fast, but their comrades pressed hotly on. The line of advance was dotted with khaki-clad figures, some still in death, writhing in their agony. The cool and steady advance of the Devons was much admired, and the gallantry of the troops was rewarded on this occasion by the complete defeat of the Boers, who lost 450 in killed, wounded and prisoners, including their leader, Koch."


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