50 year history of Sidmouth TA branch

ON November 14 1959 the Sidmouth branch of the Territorial Army - Delta Company - was formed as the 1st Rifle Volunteers.

ON November 14 1959 the Sidmouth branch of the Territorial Army - Delta Company - was formed as the 1st Rifle Volunteers.

Behind the formation, which was 50 years ago next month, was Dave O'Connor, now chairman of Sidmouth branch of the Royal British Legion.

"I was 18 when I founded it, and started from the Cadet Force," said Dave, who lives in Sid Park Road.

The company met at the now defunct Drill Hall on the seafront until it disbanded in 1967, forming the 1st Wessex Regiment which covered a wide part of the South West from Plymouth to Gloucester, Reading to the Isle of Wight and Dorchester.

Dave is pictured as a cadet on the 1963 cover of Sidmouth Parish Magazine, during the town's annual Remembrance Parade and Service.

At the time of this magazine, the rector of St Giles with St Nicholas was the Reverend Roderick King, who wrote: "...usually we have on parade in Sidmouth one or two men who fought in the Boer War over 60 years ago."

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Dave served with the 4th Battalion Devon Regiment, 1st Battalion Royal Hants Regiment, 1st Battalion Devons and Dorsets, 4th Battalion Devon and Dorsets and 1st Wessex Regiment, Rifle Volunteers when the 4th disbanded, ending as senior warrant officer.

"I served in Germany, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Denmark and Northern Ireland," said Dave, an infantryman specialising in anti-tank mortars.

Dave was a drill instructor, teaching soldiers how to handle nuclear, biological and chemical warfare, even putting on a film show in Sidmouth at the outbreak of the Gulf War.

While in the Territorials, Dave took part, for three years running, in the annual International Nigan march.

"Teams or individuals took part in the march, which was 100 miles in four days. I was in a team of 11, 50 percent of whom came from Sidmouth.

Dave's picture of the Territorials on exercise near Venn Ottery, in preparation for one of these marches, shows himself, front left, with Micky Preston and Ted Gorman and in the third row Tom Prowse, left, and Mike Prowse.

They were led by Commanding Officer Commander Major John Dixon (far left) who used to live in Ottery St Mary.

"During the Second World War he served as Lieutenant with 2nd Paras at Arnhem," said Dave. "He was second in command of the 4th Battalion Devon Regiment, and he wouldn't talk about the war.

The TA trained on Friday evenings, marching eight miles. On Saturday afternoon they marched 20 miles and on Sunday morning they set off on a 25-mile march.

"This happened for two-and-a-half months before going on the march," said Dave.

Speaking of his army service, he added: "When I was in Northern Ireland in the '60s there were no problems then, we were a peace-keeping force. I haven't seen any action, apart from chucking people out of the NAAFI late at night!"

Do you have any memories of Sidmouth Territorials? Contact Nostalgia on (01392) 888 500.