^ Home
< Back
? Search
Print this page




Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

Directory Listings





Parish Records




War Memorials



From the Devonian Year Book 1911:

By Richard Pearse Chope*

"The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Devonshire Regiment were engaged in the 2nd 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, 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 a fuller, more menacing whine of the Mauser bullets, and the ridge rattled from end to end with the 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, some writhing in their agony. The cool and steady advance of the Devons was much admired, and the gallantry of the troops was rewarded by the complete defeat of the Boers, who lost 450 in killed, wounded and prisoners, including their leader General Koch.

On 24 October, the Devons were again in action at Rietfontein to prevent the Boers from interfering with the march of General Yule's force from Dundee to Ladysmith, and on 30 October, they took part in the battle of Ladysmith. Following this, the siege of that town began and here for four calendar months ( from 2 November 1899 to 28 February 1900) the Devons and their comrades resisted every effort of the immensely superior Boer force, suffering much from the scarcity of supplies and the harassing and often deadly shell fire. Horse flesh was boiled down to make "chevril", eggs cost 4s each, vegetable marrows 28s, a pot of jam was 32s 6d, tobacco 11s per ounce, and whisky £12 per bottle! On one single day, the Devons had 9 officers killed or wounded by one shell alone.

On 6 January 1900, the Boers made their most determined attack on the defences of Ladysmith - " an onfall so gallantly made and gallantly met that it deserves to rank among the classic fights of British military history". Eighteen heavy guns were trained upon the ridge, 3 miles long, one end of which was called Caesar's Camp and the other Waggon Hill. At both ends the night attack came as a complete surprise. The outposts were shot or driven in, and the stormers were on the ridge almost as soon as their presence was detected. The line of rocks blazed with the flash of their guns, For house, desperate and often hand to hand fighting ensued. At four o'clock a huge bank of clouds which had towered upwards unheeded by the struggling men burst suddenly into a terrific thunderstorm, with vivid lightning and lashing rain and hail.

"Up the greasy hillside, foul with mud and with blood, came the Boer reserves, and up the northern slope came our own reserve, the Devon Regiment, fit representatives of that virile county"

The fire of the Boers was "like the crackle of a piece of gorse in a blazing fire." All the officers, except the Colonel, were put out of action, and the companies were led by non-commissioned officers. Captain Lafone was wounded and died, Lieutenants Walker and Field were both shot through the head, while Lieutenant Masterton, who had volunteered to deliver an essential message to the Imperial Light Horse, was severely wounded in both thighs, but crawled on and succeeded in his task before he fell exhausted in the trench, for which brave action he received the VC.

The Devons continued to advance and swept the Boers before them. The cheers of victory heartened the weary men at Caesar's Camp to a similar effort, and that position was also cleared. "Wet, cold, weary and without food for twenty six hours, the bedraggled Tommies stood yelling and waving amid the litter of dead and dying." Queen Victoria cabled: "Greatly admire conduct of Devonshire Regiment." It was a near thing. Had the ridge fallen, the town must have followed and history, perhaps have been changed. After this defeat, the Boers did not again  venture on an attack, but restricted themselves to the daily bombardment.

Meanwhile the 2nd battalion had arrived in Natal, and with the gallant army under Sir Redvers Buller had been making heroic efforts to get through to the relief of their beleaguered comrades in Ladysmith. This battalion took part in the Battle of Colenso on 15 December 1899 and two companies under Colonel Bullock made a vain attempt to save the guns which caused such a terrible loss of life, including that of Lord Roberts' only son, and were finally abandoned to the enemy. Undaunted by this reverse, the Devons shared in the Spion Kop and Vaalkranz operations and took a leading part in the capture of the hill of Monte Christo on 18 February 1900, which was the first step in the final operations that opened the way to Ladysmith, as it forced the Boers to abandon their position at Colenso.

On 27 February, the battle of Pieter's Hill was fought, and the Boers, with a loss of some 500 men, fled northwards, and the relief of Ladysmith was practically accomplished. On 3 March 1900 the relieving force marched through the shell-swept streets between the lines of the emaciated garrison, and the two battalions of Devons met under conditions which can be more easily imagined than described - one exhausted by hunger and privation, the other exhausted by fighting and marching. "The relief of Ladysmith" says Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "Stirred the people of the Empire as nothing, save perhaps the subsequent relief of Mafeking, has done during our generation."

Subsequently, the Devons took part in Buller's operations at Laing's Nek and Belfast, and distinguished themselves by the capture of the Mauchberg, a formidable ridge near Lydenburg. Some 300 of them, under Colonel Bulloclk, gallantly defended themselves at Honing Spruit for seven hours against a furious attack by De Wet with 700 riflemen and 3 guns.

Lieutenant- General W. Kitchener, their commander for many months says:

"I cannot call to mind any single occasion on which the Devons were ever flurried or even hurried. their imperturbability of temper, even under the most trying conditions could not be surpassed. They were essentially a self-help corps and a more determined crew I never wish to see, and a better regiment to back his orders a general can never hope to have."

* Some of the credit for this article should go to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle whose book "The Great Boer War" clearly inspired it and provided a number of quotations.


The Devons in action near Ladysmith


This photograph was taken on the battlefield and shows the Devonshire Regiment facing Pepworth Hill, firing from behind boulders which provided for an effective cover.

Courtesy of "With the Flag to Pretoria" by H. Wilson pub. 1902


^ Home
< Back
? Search
Print this page