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The 1/4th and 2/4th (Territorial Force) Battalions The Devonshire Regiment in World War One

In 1908, when the Volunteers became part of the newly formed Territorial Army, two longstanding Devon volunteer units merged to form the 4th (Territorial Force) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment.  Based on Exeter, the 4th recruited from the south-east of the county.  The outbreak of war in August 1914 found them at their annual camp on Woodbury Common, Exeter.  They never returned.

Embodied in the army, they moved to Salisbury Plain for training.  Here, in August 1914, a second battalion were formed.  Known initially as the 4th (Reserve) Battalion, they were later called the 2/4th, and they were formed of the relatively few Territorials who did not volunteer to serve overseas and the huge number of new recruits to the rapidly expanding wartime army.  Based at first in Exeter, the Battalion moved to Exmouth in October.

The 1/4th were sent to India and were stationed near Lahore, until they were sent to Mesopotamia (now Iraq) in early 1916.  They arrived on 28th February and moved up the Tigris to join the 14th Indian Division at Sheikh Saad a month later.  Although shelled by the Turks, their most dangerous enemy was disease caused by the climate.  In the summer of 1916 400 men were admitted to hospital.

On 3rd February 1917 the 1/4th Devons and 1/9th Gurkhas led a dazzlingly successful attack on the Hai Salient in the Turkish line south of Kut.  Victory came at a price: of 15 officers and 403 men who attacked, only 5 officers and 186 men emerged unscathed.  The survivors of the 1/4th spent the rest of the war in Amara and Baquba (north of Baghdad) building roads, guarding prisoners and administering refugee camps.

The 2/4th Devons followed the 1/4th to India and remained in Madras, training and despatching drafts to the 1/4th in Mespototamia, until October 1917, when they were sent to Palestine.  In December they arrived at the front near Ramleh, where they joined 234 Brigade. 

On 14th March 1918 the 2/4th took over and extended the line near Deir Ballut, holding the position until the end of the month.  Their losses from sickness far exceeded their casualties from shell, machine gun and sniper fire.  In July 1918 they were withdrawn from the line and a month later the 2/4th Devons were disbanded.  Although their war experience had been limited, two officers and 26 men had been lost their lives in action.

The 1/4th did not survive their sister battalion by very long.  Having themselves lost 80 officers and men killed in action, they were reduced to a cadre in March 1919 and returned home in August.  In their single, gallant action they had won two battle honours for the Devon Regiment: Kut El Amara 1917 and Mesopotamia 1916-18.  The two Battalions won five battle honours overall.