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The 1/7th and 2/7th (Cyclist) Battalions (Territorial Force) The Devonshire Regiment in World War One


The 7th Devons were created in 1908 with the new Territorial Army.   The army had employed bicycles since the 1880s and many cyclist companies and sections had been formed.  After 1908 the 7th Battalion were converted into one of ten new cyclist battalions.  Based on Exeter, the 7th Devons had companies and detachments widely dispersed across the county.  The outbreak of war found them at camp at Curston Race Course, Paignton.  Units were quickly despatched to strategic positions along the south-west coast to help provide defence in the event of a German invasion.

By the autumn of 1914 the 7th Devons were helping to defend the coast north of Scarborough into Northumberland.   In November the Battalion witnessed the sinking of hospital ship Rohilla with the loss of 90 lives and they were able to help some of the survivors.  In December they saw the German navy’s bombardment of Hartlepool, where 127 civilians were killed.

From February until November 1915 the 1/7th were based in Devon, after which they moved to Kent.  Here they witnessed and aided passengers when the Dover-Ashford train encountered a landslip.  In 1916 and 1917 their area of operations spread north to Suffolk. 

Formed in September 1914 from the expanding 7th (Cyclist) Battalion, the 2/7th Devons became part of Southern Command.  Based at Totnes, they sent patrols and coastal reconnaissance parties along the coast from Lyme Regis to the River Yealm, east of Plymouth, and from Rame Head westwards to Polruan.  In November 1915 the 2/7th were moved to St Leonards-on-Sea in Sussex, where they remained until June 1916 when they moved to Sevenoaks.  Later they covered part of the North Sea coast and they ended the war at Maldon in Essex.

Both battalions sent many drafts overseas.  On 18th July 1916, for example, one draft from the 1/7th joined A Company of the 2nd Devons to fight in the Cuinchy sector on the Somme. But both cyclist battalions remained in England throughout the war.