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The 2nd Battalion The Devonshire Regiment in World War One

August 1914 found the 2nd Devons in Egypt, where their first task was to protect the Suez Canal.  Arriving at Southampton in October, they absorbed drafts of reservists before landing in France on 6th November.

By mid-November they were at Messines (close to the 1st Devons) where, in  two tours in the trenches near Neuve Chapelle, they suffered 20 casualties and lost another 70 men to sickness (mostly frostbite).  In December they captured a German position known as the Moated Grange cost 128 casualties.  They remained in this area until March 1915, when they lost heavily in an attack on the German lines on the 10th before next day repulsing a German counter-attack.  Their losses in March totalled 284 men.

An attack on Aubers Ridge in May 1915 cost another 250 casualties.  Remaining in this sector until April 1916, they moved to the Somme to prepare for the offensive.  On 1st July, the 2nd Devons attacked between Ovillers and La Boiselle, losing 232 killed and 199 wounded, many of whom fell to German machine guns in what they called Mash Valley.  On 18th and 29th July at Cuinchy they repulsed two German attacks before being withdrawn to rebuild their shattered Battalion.

Returning to the Somme, on 8th/9th November they captured and consolidated a ridge near Le Transloy before being rested at Vergies.  In early 1917 they followed up the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line.  In March they lost 25 casualties attacking Heudecourt and on 13th April another 45 attacking Villers Guislands.

In June 1917 they moved north to Ypres and prepared for an offensive due to start on 31st July.  At 0350 on the 31st the 2nd Devons attacked from Railway Wood.  That morning their Colonel was killed and 12 of their 20 officers and 230 of their men were killed or wounded.  On 1st August they repulsed a determined German counter-attack.  On the 16th they renewed the attack, suffering another 93 casualties.  After rest and reinforcement, the 2nd Devons returned to Ypres at the end of November and took part in a successful attack before repulsing a German counter-attack.  This action cost 34 lives, including those of their new Colonel and Second-in-Command.

The German offensive on 21st March 1918 found the 2nd Devons in reserve.  Rushed to Peronne, on the 24th and 25th they held off several German attacks, suffering 322 casualties before conducting a fighting withdrawal covered by their field gunners. On 27th May at Bois de Buttes their Brigade was overwhelmed by a huge German attack and, to buy time for the rest of the Corps, the 2nd Devons stood and fought.  This action cost the 551 killed and missing.  Among those killed was their Colonel.  To recognise their courage the French awarded the Regiment the Croix de Guerre, whose ribbon all Devons wore on their sleeve. 

In late October 1918 the rebuilt Battalion’s last battles were near the River Scheldt.  They were at Mons when the Armistice ended the war that had cost them nearly 1400 lives and earned them 11 battle honours.

Biographies

Captain Claude Alexander Lafone DSO, 2nd Battalion The Devonshire Regiment

Regimental Sergeant Major Frank Herbert Radford DCM, 2nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment

Private Ernest Lawrence - Shot at Dawn