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The Wider Regimental Family and TA 1958-1967

The amalgamation of the two regular battalions in May 1958 had been comparatively easy to achieve, driven as it was by a military imperative. Drawing together the more complex threads of the wider Regimental family proved more time-consuming and was necessarily handled with great tact and sensitivity. It had been agreed in 1958 that Regimental Headquarters (RHQ) would be at Topsham (now Wyvern) Barracks at Exeter. Major General Hugh Borradaile, formerly a Devon, acted as Deputy Colonel to Major General Wood, before succeeding him as Colonel of the Regiment in 1962, when Brigadier 'Speedy' Bredin, formerly a Dorset, became his Deputy. In 1967 Brigadier Bredin became Colonel of the Regiment and, in this way, the former Regiments took the Colonelcy in their turn. Meanwhile, Princess Marina remained Colonel-in-Chief until her death in 1968.

It was decided at the outset that the Old Comrades' Associations of the two former Regiments would retain their independence for the time being and the responsibility for keeping the flag flying in the counties rested with them and with the two Territorial Battalions. Thus it was that the Devon Old Comrades' Association, numbering no less than 670, held a reunion at Exeter, including a memorial service in the Cathedral just two months after amalgamation. The Devons continued to mark such events as the 60th Anniversary of the Relief of Ladysmith in 1960, the laying-up of the old Devon Regiment Colours in 1962 and regular reunions, including one in a marquee at Wyvern Barracks in 1965 during which six Boer War veterans sat together!

It was a similar situation in Dorset, where reunions were centred on Dorchester. Mr W G Hand GC MM was present in 1961, the year that he died. He was one of four Dorset Regiment soldiers awarded Empire Gallantry Medals 'for services rendered in connection with military operations in Malabar, 1921-1922'. This was the largest number ever awarded to a single regiment; they were subsequently exchanged for the newly-instituted George Cross, with which CSM Hand was invested by HM King George VI on 3 February 1942. In October 1961 the Colours of both 2 Dorset and 3 Dorset were laid-up in Sherborne Abbey. Three years later there was another large gathering at Sherborne, including The Dorset Regiment (TA), for the laying-up of the Colours of 1 Dorset.

The above gatherings illustrate the desire - perhaps even the necessity - for these old soldiers to retain their own links. However, as time went on, it became evident that there was also a pressing requirement for a Devonshire and Dorset Regimental Association, which was duly formed in August 1962. Within just four months there were over 400 members and the first AGM was held at Plumer Barracks in June 1963. Another initiative was the so-called Half-Day's Pay Scheme, whereby every serving man contributed to the Association in order to help those in need. By 1965 membership was approaching the 500 mark and the Devonshire and Dorset Regimental Association was running in parallel with the Old Comrades' Associations of the former Regiments.

The Territorial Army (TA) also played a most important role in fostering Regimental loyalties. At the time of the amalgamation there were two Territorial battalions in the counties: 4 Devon (1st Rifle Volunteers) and 4 Dorset. From November 1959 the battalion numbers were dropped and the two battalions became The Devonshire Regiment (TA) and The Dorset Regiment (TA), which is how the situation remained until 1967. Like the Old Comrades, the Territorial battalions articipated fully in county activities, as well as training hard. With the Cold War at its height, the nuclear threat could not be totally discounted and civil defence was one of the key roles. In 1958 4 Devon did their civil defence training at Millom while 4 Dorset camped that year at Plasterdown. The following year it was 4 Dorset that went to Millom while 4 Devon participated in amphibious training at Chickerell and Arne. In 1960 the Devonshire Regiment (TA) went to Wretham on Stanford Training Area while the Dorset Regiment (TA) travelled to Barry Budden in Scotland. There was much friendly rivalry between the two battalions and a competitive rifle match took place every year, held either at Sydling St Nicholas in Dorset or at Straight Point, near Exmouth.

As with the 1st Battalion in the early 1960s, the CO, Company Commanders and many of the senior Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) had seen active service in the Second World War. As a consequence, many of the exercises had more than a little spice about them. In 1960 Lieutenant Colonel Tony Lewis, who had been a Commando CO in his twenties, took command of The Dorset Regiment (TA). The battalion's exercises the following year were forged from his own experiences: Ex Breakneck, an amphibious approach and cliff assault at Worbarrow; Ex Wessex Wadeon Alderney and Ex Navarone at Ringstead. Later the Battalion was put through its paces on Ex Hard Facts on Salisbury Plain, with a nuclear setting. In 1961 the Devons went to their annual camp at Shorncliffe aboard the destroyer, HMS Decoy, and won the China Cup at Bisley. Part-time these battalions may have been, but they were nonetheless extremely proud and professional.

Combined with their training activities, the 'weekend soldiers' also held their heads high within the counties at ceremonial events such as the laying-up of 5 Devon Colours in 1958, the participation of both battalions in the TA Jubilee celebrations in London, the laying-up of 3 (Militia) Devon Colours in St Andrew's Church, Plymouth, in September 1959, the laying-up of 6 Devon Colours at Barnstaple a week later, the laying-up of 2 Dorset and 3 (Militia) Dorset Colours in Sherborne Abbey in 1961 and the Freedom of Exeter parade in 1962. Both battalions also worked hard to foster links with the junior element of the Regimental family by, for example, including CCF and ACF personnel on some of their exercises, as well as by frequent visits to schools and detachments. They played a key role in maintaining the Regimental presence in the two counties while the 1st Battalion travelled the world.

Within months of being chosen as the Regimental Depot, Topsham Barracks at Exeter was redesignated the Wessex Brigade Depot, serving the five regiments of the Wessex Brigade: The Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, The Gloucestershire Regiment, The Royal Hampshire Regiment, The Wiltshire Regiment and The Royal Berkshire Regiment. It was some consolation that the Depot remained in the West Country and, fortunately, was co-located with RHQ. Wyvern Barracks, as it was then renamed after the Wessex Brigade symbol, was in urgent need of refurbishment and, from August 1961 to April 1964, the Depot moved to the dilapidated Heathfield Camp at Honiton.

On its return to Exeter both the Depot and RHQ were well placed to contribute to the Regimental presence and influence within the counties, to support the TA and Cadets and to develop local links. Thus they were able to provide a firm base just as the old TA battalions faced radical change.