First of many who went ‘over the top’

"First of the Volunteers", dated August 1914

Sunday, May 18, 2014
2:00 PM

As the centenary of the start of World War One approaches, Nostalgia looks back at the men from Sidmouth who served King and Country on the battlefields of Europe.

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The picture, entitled first of the Volunteers, was supplied to the Herald by a Sidmouth resident, and apparently shows the first group from the town to volunteer for military service in August 1914.

They would have likely gone on to become part of the Devonshire Regiment, as was the practice at the time - and could have shipped out to France as early as November 1914.

Lieutenant-Colonel Geoff Nicholls, of the Regimental Association of the Devonshire Regiment, explained that if the men in the picture had no special skills, they would have probably been trained as infantry and assigned to either of the regiment’s regular army battalions – the 1st and 2nd.

“Although if they had any special skills they would have been assigned to specialist units,” he said. “For example a mechanic, in those early days of motor vehicles, would have been rare, so they would send him off to a different unit.”

“The 1st battalion set off for Le Havre in August, so it was probably too soon for the men in that picture to head out with them. It’s more likely they would have joined the 2nd.”

“At that stage they would have gone through two or three months worth of training, but of course later on in the war it became much less.”

The 2nd battalion, which returned to England from Egypt in October, 1914, would ship out to France on November 6.

Both regular battalions of the Devonshire Regiment would spend the majority of the war in France, and take part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

On the first day of the battle, the 2nd went ‘over the top’ at Ovillers, suffering 221 casualties, with a further 431 wounded.

The battalion was withdrawn from the front line later the same day, after failing to make a dent on the German positions, but were sent back in mid-October.

Do you recognise any of the faces in the picture? Please email harvey.gavin@archant.co.uk or call 01392 888503.

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