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War Memorials


Being the text of a talk given in Totnes on Wednesday March 21st 1888 by Lieutenant-Colonel Amery of Ashburton. 


We have grown accustomed to the men and women of our Territorial Regiments leaving home, family  and jobs to go to fight in the world's major battle zones. But how did the idea originate that amateurs should take part in war - how did it happen that the man (or, today, the woman in the street as well) should voluntarily put their lives is such jeopardy?

This reprint of a talk given in Totnes in 1888 by Lieutenant Colonel Amery explains the history of the Volunteer Movement in Devon which continues to this day when, instead of volunteering to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, men and women who volunteer to join Territorial Regiments must agree to go to wars wherever they may be; all part time soldiers being expected to do at least one tour of duty every six years. This is how their fine tradition began:


CAPTAIN WINDEATT presided over a good audience, and the lecture was much appreciated,
representations being also given of the old uniforms worn by the Volunteers and the old Devonshire Regiment in times gone by.
LIEUTENANT-COLONEL AMERY commenced his remarks by saying that nature has provided every animal with some means of self-defence, and the preservation of life in an individual may at any time depend on its ability to adapt this power to resist the danger of the moment. The same holds good for nations and communities whose very existence may at times depend on their power of combination and the application they can make of every means of resistance to an external foe. In the earlier ages of mankind the implements of agriculture, and the chase, which provided them sustenance and comforts in peace, became their weapons in war, when the most skilful hunter proved the most formidable champion. But as the arts of peace became developed on the one side, and those of war on the other, the implements and training of the one became unsuited and obsolete for the other ; men then continued to learn both in order to fulfil their two-fold duty of protecting their homes, and of subduing the land for the sustenance and comfort of the race.

The middle ages saw war made a profession by the great, and those whose wealth allowed them to obtain arms and armour, which rendered them invincible to non-professional soldiers. From the days of the Roman Legions to the Battle of Crecy, infantry was of little or no importance in war, and it was the use made of the English long bow in that famous field, which here- after placed the power of a nation in the hands of the middle classes, provided they could use with precision a projectile capable of piercing the armour of a man-at-arms or those of his horse, although they might know little or nothing of the use of other arms. The English have always been ready to come forward for the defence of their country, and the general arming at 'the time of the Spanish Armada, the Tercentenary of which will shortly be celebrated in our midst, showed how one and all could turn out in time of danger, each prepared to use that weapon with which he might be familiar. Should a similar occasion unfortunately occur, a like spirit would be exhibited, but the question arises what weapon of any real use do we, as a people, know how to wield with effect. On the answer to this simple question hangs the whole preamble of the Volunteer Movement of the present day. From Saxon times, the law esteems every man eligible to  be a soldier for defensive purposes, unless incapacitated by age or physical weakness, and his liability to be drawn in the Militia ballot of his Shire, for training in arms is remitted by Parliament yearly, for one year only, on its being shown that a sufficient number of men have come forward voluntarily for the service.

The Volunteer Movement offers an opportunity for persons to become efficient in the use of the best projectile weapon of the age at their own leisure, and in their own neighbourhood, arid so in time of peace to be trained with the least inconvenience, or I may say with the most pleasure to themselves in those simple military movements which will render them of real value for the defence of the country in time of peril.


No history of a county or district is complete that omits to record the part its inhabitants have taken in any great national movements of the past, or the position it is prepared to take in the present. I will, therefore, ask you to follow me while I endeavour to trace the Volunteer movement to the present time, and connect the past with "The Haytor Volunteer Battalion of the Devon Regiment," as represented by your local Company of that Battalion. Plymouth and its immediate neighbourhood is the cradle in which the spirit of Volunteer defence has been nurtured ; frequently before the 16th century have French and Spaniards made or attempted landings there for pillage or destruction, but in each case they suffered severely from the resolute resistance of the townspeople. 


In the civil war the inhabitants formed themselves into trained bauds and resisted the Royalist siege in 1745, when Prince Charley, the Young Pretender, landed in Scotland and gained the battle of Preston Pans, Plymouth again raised a body of Volunteers and in 1759 when France determined on a descent on England and had 18,000 men ready to embark on board the French fleet, Plymouth again raised two companies of Volunteers to strengthen the Militia, one of which undertook to clothe and feed itself. The destruction of the French fleet by Admiral Hawke, at the mouth of Quiberon Bay, and the decisive battle of Minden, where the 20th, or Ist Devon Regiment*, learned its celebrated  "Minden Yell," removed for a time the fear of French invasion. When, therefore, in 1779 the combined fleets of France and Spain held for a time the possession of the English Channel, and the gallant Elliot was holding the rock of Gibraltar against famine and bombardment, and most of our army was fighting in America, the Spanish and French fleets suddenly appeared off Plymouth causing great alarm for the safety of the Dockyard and the numerous French prisoners in the port, the inhabitants were agaiu ready to enrol themselves. Mr William Bastard, of Kitley, the great grandfather of the present Mr B. J. B. Bastard, the first Lieutenant Colonel of our existing Volunteer Battalion, offered to raise a force of 500 men as a Corps of Fencibles, and in two days had 1,500 young men to select from who wished for the honour of serving underhim. On 23rd August, 1779, he escorted 1.300 war prisoners to Exeter for safety, and on the 15th delivered them to the commanding officer there and at once returned with his regiment to Plymouth. I have been unable to find any traditions of this march preserved in the towns through which they must have passed, but we may be sure at the time it caused much excitement along the road and at the places they rested the two nights. 


The example of Plymouth  was followed by the citizens of Exeter who also raised a Volunteer Corps. For these services the King, on 24th September, signed a warrant for a baronetcy for Mr Bastard who, however, modestly
declined the honour. The supremacy in the channel was soon restored by the return of the fleet, and the victories of Admiral Rodney rendered our shores safe for a time.


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