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The 2nd Battalion The Devonshire Regiment in the Boer War

The 2nd Battalion

The 2nd Battalion were based in Aldershot in the summer of 1899. They received orders to stand by for field service on 22nd August 1899 but did not depart from Southampton until October 21. Tringham commented dryly that "they don't seem very quick to mobilise in England, they need to learn something from India". In the intervening period a total of 583 reservists had re-joined to make up numbers. Of those men actually serving, to be eligible for service in South Africa they had to be at least 20 years old, with one year's service and had to have completed a recruit's course in musketry. When finally mobilised they had a total of 1037 Warrant Officers and Other Ranks. Of these, 35 men, under Lt Radcliffe, formed a mounted infantry detachment and 304 men were deemed ineligible for service and remained in Aldershot.

The men were feeling excited; the local people jingoistic. On 19 Oct the Regiment underwent General Hildyard's final inspection. An un-named solder recalled:

"General Hildyard said that every man in the Devons would uphold the honour of England ... Everyone was in the best of spirit ... Wellington Avenue was filled with spectators and they too joined in heartily with the cheering."

On the following morning the Battalion marched from the barracks to the station for Southampton.

"The streets from the barracks were lined with people ... on reaching Southampton the crowds were immense and from the time we left the train until we left the dock on board the Manila, the people stayed and cheered and waved their handkerchiefs."

Once on the Manila things changed. "We were packed in so tight we could scarcely move" Some men had to sleep on tables. The ship's engines broke down and the sea was extremely rough:

"The vessel tossed about throwing everything and everybody around in a marvellous manner. Men, kits and dinners were all mixed together…if a man was lucky enough to come into contact with a table he would hold on like grim death."

During the voyage attempts made to get reservists to fire a musketry course by shooting at boxes thrown over the stern. On reaching Cape Town preparations for disembarkation were cancelled and the ship re-routed to Durban 4 days sailing away - where it ran on to a breakwater. When they did disembark, they disembarked quickly. Here the cheering began again:

"There were crowds of people around the docks to cheer us; the bands were playing "Britons never shall be slaves". There were stalls where they were given bread, tea, bananas and coffee. People were throwing tobacco, cigarettes, cigars and matches. How glad everyone was that they had landed amongst such friends."

The troops were crammed into coal trucks and headed towards the Mooi River where:

"almost every tiny isolated homestead showed families waving in the day bright moonlight"

The 2nd Battalion The Devonshire Regiment were to become part of General Clery's 2nd Division. They took part in the Battles of Colenso and Spion Kop, and were involved in action on the Tugela River, Cingolo Hills and the Assault of Monte Christo. They were to be amongst the troops involved in the Relief of Ladysmith. 3654 Private H Davis recalled the events of 1st March 1900:

"We marched off towards Ladysmith. Just as we got to Nelthorpe Station the message was passed from one Company to another 'Ladysmith is relieved' Then arose the Hurrah and deafening cheers and tears of joy trickled down many a brave soldier's eye including my own."

Afterwards

On their later return to England both Battalions of the Devonshire Regiment were welcomed home to Devon and the people of Devon presented them with four silver drums, each inscribed "Presented by the men and women of Devon to the 1st and 2nd Battalions The Devonshire Regiment to record the County's pride in the valour of her sons, 1900".

The Devon's action at Ladysmith and Wagon Hill has never been forgotten. On 6th January 1941 after the fall of Bardia (Libya), Winton Churchill sent a telegram to General Sir Ian Hamilton which read "I am thinking of you and Wagon Hill when another 6th of January brings news of a fine feat of arms."

The Battle of Wagon Hill is still commemorated with a special dinner on the 6th January every year.