Regiment’s sacrifice marked with poignant ceremony
PUBLISHED: 07:00 15 June 2018 | UPDATED: 09:12 15 June 2018
It was the most devastating military encounter ever involving the men of Devon.
An under-strength battalion of less than 600 found themselves unexpectedly up against 10,000 advancing German troops towards the end of World War One.
They held the line for a crucial 11 hours, allowing the allies to build up defences.
But it came at a terrifying cost in lives. Fewer than 30 men from the 2nd Devonshire Regiment made it back to safety.
Such was the valour shown at the Battle of Bois des buttes and the scale of the sacrifice that the entire battalion was awarded the French Croix de Guerre.
For two local men, the 100th anniversary on May 27 had a particular poignancy. Dave O’Connor, 76, chairman of the Sidmouth Royal British Legion went to the battlefield and took part in a commemorative event. At a linked service at Salcombe Regis, John Hill, 82, laid a wreath. His father was at Bois des buttes, a raw recruit of just 18.
During the battle, the Devonians ran out of ammunition. The officer leading the forward company, down to just 20 men, gave the order to fix bayonets for one last charge.
To the rear, the commanding officer Lt Col Rupert Anderson-Morshead DSO, son of the vicar of Salcombe Regis, who rose from captain in battlefield promotions, died in the fighting. He told his men: “There is no hope of relief. We have to fight to the last.”
At one point, the order even went out to search the pockets of the dead for any remaining ammunition. Lt Col Anderson-Morshead’s body was never recovered but a memorial stands in the Salcombe Regis churchyard where the anniversary service took place.
Dave O’Connor said: “I was glad I went but I would never go back.
“You see the films and the photographs but unless you go there and see it for yourself you just can’t comprehend the futility of war.”
John Hill said: “My father only talked about it once. He couldn’t take it. He was absolutely terrified. It was absolute hell.”
The 2nd Devons are now merged into The Rifles but the feat of courage is still remembered with the croix de guerre represented by a ribbon worn on the arm of their tunics.
Dave O’Connor returned with soil from the battlefield.
This week he and John Hill sprinkled the soil at the foot of the memorial in Salcombe Regis
“It’s like bringing him home,” said Dave.