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Plymouth 1961-1963

The 1st Battalion sailed into Plymouth Sound on 30 August 1961 and moved into an almost-derelict Seaton Barracks and then, shortly afterwards, into Plumer Barracks. The first priority was a spell of leave since many members of the Battalion had been abroad for almost three years. With National Service now being phased out, one of the most important challenges was recruiting. No longer did companies have strengths of 140 to 160. A Company was given North Devon as a recruiting area while C Company went to Dorset. Appropriately-named 'Satisfied Soldiers' visited towns across the two counties while specially selected NCOs were attached to Army Information Offices. Combined Cadet Forces (CCF), Army Cadet Forces (ACF) and Youth Clubs were given demonstrations and help with training while special displays were mounted at major county occasions such as the Devon County Show. Recruiting was not simply a concern for the 1st Battalion, the problem was Army-wide. Frustratingly, many West Country recruits were siphoned off to battalions higher on the manning priority list. Recruiting would remain an issue until the late 1960s.

There were two high-profile events in late 1961. On 21 October the 1st Battalion provided a Colour Party and Guard of Honour for the laying-up of the Colours of 2 Dorset and 3 Dorset in Sherborne Abbey. Then, on 20 November, the city of Plymouth gave a civic reception in honour of the 1st Battalion. Interspersed with these red-letter days were low-level training commitments at Roborough, Ringmoor, Tregantle and Willsworthy, coupled with basic infantry/tank co-operation at Tidworth, something for which there had been no requirement since leaving Minden.

In March 1962 the 1st Battalion took part in 51 Brigade's Ex Swan Song, their first formation level training. Starting on Salisbury Plain, before moving to Stanford, the exercise involved defence and river crossings, as well as the use of helicopters against a nuclear backdrop. Ex Swan Song was followed by the 1st Battalion's Rifle Meeting at Tregantle. Spring was devoted to ceremonial events, of which the first was the granting to the Regiment of the Freedom of the City of Exeter on 11 May 1962. After the formal presentation was over, the 1st Battalion marched through the city 'with band playing, bayonets fixed and Colours (the old 1 Devon and 1 Dorset Colours) flying'. This was followed on 26 May by the presentation of new Colours to the 1st Battalion, the first stand for the new Regiment, by the Colonel-in-Chief, HRH Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, at a spectacular parade on Plymouth Hoe. Princess Marina had been Colonel-in-Chief of The Dorset Regiment since 1953 and graciously agreed to become the first Colonel-in-Chief of The Devonshire and Dorset Regiment. Her appointment stemmed from the close association that the 54th Foot, and later The Dorset Regiment, had enjoyed with the House of Kent since 1802. On Christmas Eve of that year the 54th Foot had remained staunchly loyal to the Duke of Kent, then Governor of Gibraltar, as drunken soldiers from other regiments broke into their armoury and ran amok in response to the Duke's tightening-up of discipline and closure of some of the town's more disreputable drinking establishments. In gratitude the Duke presented a silver punchbowl to the 54th Foot, on which is recorded his 'high sense' of the Regiment's 'steady discipline and good conduct'. The Presentation of Colours took place in front of thousands of spectators, including Mr TWH Veale, formerly with 8 Devon, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for rescuing a wounded officer under fire at High Wood on 20 July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme.

By August 1962, with the last National Serviceman gone, a seriously-depleted 1st Battalion was reorganised on a two-company basis, A Company and C Company, just as Lieutenant Colonel John Randle, took over as CO from Lieutenant Colonel Willcocks. The new CO was immediately faced with a demand from Records for a draft of 120 junior NCOs and men to be sent to another battalion of the Wessex Brigade about to depart for Malta. He appealed to the Director of Infantry, Major General Gleadell, about the state of the Regiment, since such a drastic measure would have reduced the 1st Battalion to less than a company. The appeal succeeded. However, the 1st Battalion was obliged to deploy C Company to Benghazi later in the year. That summer and autumn two platoons participated in Ex Pond Jump in Canada while a small expedition went to Norway and Sweden and, during Ex Massif II, members of the Battalion canoed across France to the Mediterranean. The Battalion also carried out field-firing at Sennybridge and provided enemy for 51 Brigade's Ex Cross Belton Salisbury Plain.

During the bitterly cold winter of 1962/63, the worst since 1947, the 1st Battalion, now without C Company, was involved in rescuing young soldiers from snow-covered Dartmoor as well as the successful recovery of many sheep and cattle. The latter effort resulted in a special RSPCA ward. In January 1963 A Company went to the Cairngorms on winter training, followed by a Battalion deployment to Denmark on Ex Magic Carpet, since the Gurkhas had been pulled out of the exercise at short notice. By mid-February Battalion HQ found itself in command of a rifle company of the 1st Battalion with one company apiece of Gurkhas and Danes, operating against two Danish battalions with supporting tanks. While it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and much hospitality was offered and gratefully accepted, it clearly demonstrates the manning pressures within the British Army at that time.

It was altogether warmer in Benghazi, where C Company, commanded by Major Hollingshead, enjoyed unaccustomed independence. The early weeks involved range work and field-firing at Derna and acting as enemy to both the Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry and the Royal Green Jackets on the well trodden Charruba/El Mechili Track. Suddenly, on 21 February 1963, with key personnel away, the Barce earthquake shattered the calm. For the next five days members of C Company worked desperately hard rescuing those trapped in dangerous buildings, escorting personnel and equipment from Benina airfield to Barce and unloading and distributing urgently required humanitarian stores. C Company was much praised for its efforts, including a personal message from Princess Marina. With the excitement over, they went back to their pre-planned exercises, as well as expeditions into the desert, to Giarabub and the British Petroleum oil rigs.

By April, C Company had returned to Plymouth where, after a much-needed break, they joined the rest of the 1st Battalion on Ex West End, an amphibious landing at Carlyon Bay, a helicopter lift to Davidstow and a night attack on Brown Willy, all in torrential rain. Such exercises offer much scope for British humour! A Company then acted as enemy for 130 Brigade's Ex No Hiding Place while C Company went on Ex Colonel Bogey, a reserve demolition guard on Salisbury Plain. The major sporting triumph of 1963 was winning the Army Hockey Cup: the early promise of the 1st Battalion's hockey team had been carefully nurtured and there were some impressive victories as the team progressed through to the final. After the normal round of farewell parties, the 1st Battalion left for Palace Barracks, Holywood, just outside Belfast, in July 1963.