In 1908, when the Volunteers became part of the newly formed Territorial Army, two longstanding Devon volunteer units merged to form the 5th (Territorial Force) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. Based on Plymouth, the 5th recruited from the south-west of the county. The outbreak of war found them at their annual camp on Woodbury Common, Exeter. They never returned.
Training on Salisbury Plain in the first weeks of war, a second battalion were formed. Known initially as the 5th (Reserve) Battalion, they became the 2/5th, and they were formed of the relatively few Territorials who did not volunteer to serve overseas and the huge number of new recruits to the rapidly expanding wartime army. The 2/5th Devons remained in England until September 1915 when they were sent to Egypt, where they performed garrison duties until disbanded in June 1916.
Meanwhile, the 1/5th were sent to India in October 1914. They spent two years at Multan, supplying drafts to units in operational theatres, including 50 men who in 1915 were sent to join the 2nd Dorsets at Kut el Amara. In March 1917 they left for Egypt and early May found them at El Arish. In June they crossed into Palestine, where the newly-appointed General Allenby was planning how to capture Jerusalem by Christmas. Their baptism of fire came on 8th July at Samson’s Ridge, near Gaza, when they were heavily shelled. On the 20th they suffered 80 casualties from shelling at Umbrella Hill while supporting the Bedfordshire Regiment’s attack.
After Beersheba was captured in late October the Battalion took part in the advance towards Jerusalem. Their march was often a torment of heat, dust, thirst and exhaustion. On 13th November they advanced under heavy fire and took the Turkish positions at Junction Station, suffering 57 casualties. On the 19th they took the town of Saris at a cost of another 39. In another attack on the 23rd at El Jib the Turks’ machine guns reduced the Battalion’s attacking force to six officers and 120 men, who were pinned down behind the stone walls surrounding an old vineyard. Now mustering only 250 men, the 1/5th continued the advance above Jerusalem in torrential rain and in late December received a welcome influx of reinforcements. In April 1918 the 1/5th fought perhaps their most successful action at Berukin, capturing the town at a cost of 88 casualties.
In May 1918 the 1/5th were ordered to France where they fought on the Marne. Capturing the village of Bligney on 28th July took a toll of 388 killed and wounded. From late August they took part in the rapid advances around and beyond Havrincourt south of Cambrai. On 25th September at Marcoing they took 350 prisoners but, by early October, their strength had been depleted to just 10 officers and 194 men.
The Armistice found the 1/5th behind the line at Monplaisir after 30 months’ fighting in Palestine and France which had cost the lives of 342 of their comrades and won the two battalions ten battle honours.