My paternal grandfather, being resident in Exeter at the time, enlisted on 7 September 1914 at the age of 19 in the 8th battalion of the Devonshire Regiment under a Lieutenant-Colonel Grant.
Among the artefacts are:
- a regimental cap badge
- a battalion lapel pin
- his original soldier’s small book (issued to all new recruits)
- his record of service.
After about 9 months training in various camps, the battalion arrived in Southampton on 25 July 1915, accompanied with great fanfare by a band of the 11th Hussars. The artefacts include the brass cigarette box issued to all serving soldiers and the New Year card sent by the then Princess Mary.
By September 1915 the battalion was in position just east of Vermelles as part of a very wide front forming the battle of Loos. I have a map showing the exact disposition of the units at the time, and I have personally visited the site – totally flat and completely open. It is hard to imagine now that the area was riddled with trench systems as far as the eye could see and being constantly raked by machine gun fire.
At 5.30 a.m. on 25 September, the bombardment began from the British lines. For the first time in the war, gas was released along the front but was not very effective since it blew back onto our own lines – though my grandfather never mentioned this bit. The main attack began at 6.30 a.m. The 8ths’ immediate objective was a German gun trench called Breslau, about 200 yards away. This was eventually taken, but at great cost, with many officers including the commanding officer Colonel Grant being killed. My grandfather was badly wounded by shrapnel but was rescued by German prisoners though quite how this was organised is not known. He was moved back from the line and eventually shipped back to England on a small steamship called Brighton of which we have a painting. He was sent to a hospital somewhere in Manchester, where he was visited by the Queen, and at some stage shared a hut with a Corporal Veal who had been awarded the V.C.
The other artefacts we have are his service medals, which were awarded some time later, and some embroidered postcards, which were available for soldiers to buy as souvenirs or to send home.