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New Book! Devotion to Duty: Review

Devotion to Duty – Gallantry Awards won by the Devonshire Regiment and the Dorset Regiment 1919-1958
A review by John Gaye

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Regimental and military histories can be exceedingly dull. Fortunately most of our more prolific and successful military historians - Max Hastings, Saul David, Richard Holmes, John Keegan to name but a few – are all wonderful story tellers and so bring to life military history by telling us about the actions of individuals rather than just the dry military units and formations.

This particular principle seems to have been deployed to its full extent in Devotion to Duty. This is no dry account of a regimental history since 1919 but rather a compendium of individual acts of great bravery in very demanding circumstances. Although it is all about the individual, it also highlights much of what the country regiments of Devon and Dorset got up to between 1919 and their eventual amalgamation in 1958. And is it quite some story.

The book starts in Russia where both regiments contributed one company each as part of the North Russia Relief Force. It is a fascinating story about which I knew nothing. Although everyone involved suffered from the most appalling conditions, extreme cold in the winter and a nasty mosquito infested summer, it was the Devons who saw the most action, thus winning 8 gallantry awards. Each individual’s story is told and the citation for the award written up in full.

The action moves on to Southern Russia, then to Mesopotamia, to Ireland, India and on to Palestine before we arrive at the Second World War and the Retreat to Dunkirk.

Of course the bulk of the book revolves around both regiments’ involvement in WWII, in so many different theatres of the war. Through the stories of the 308 men, listed with their medals and citations in this book, the magnitude of the contribution by the regiments of Devon and Dorset becomes clear.

This is a regimental history told through the stories of individuals’ gallantry. It makes for powerful reading and brings home the humanity of the people, of all ranks, involved in the recent history of Great Britain.

The authors have done a vast amount of research to compile these stories, for which they are to be congratulated. But most importantly, they have presented the results of their research in an extremely readable and fascinating account of the lives of some real heroes.

Many thanks to John Gaye for his review.

Alexia: 8th Jul 2016