Sometimes today you can come across convoys of military vehicles moving men and equipment around Dartmoor during their training exercises. I think it would be fair to say that such a sighting is not one of the most memorable and exciting experiences. But just imagine witnessing a whole regiment along with its supplies, equipment and marching band wending its way along the moorland roads in 1859 – wouldn’t that be a sight to behold.
On the 6th of August 1895 the Devon & Exeter Gazette announced that the 2nd battalion of the Devonshire Regiment would the following day march through the county of Devon on their way to a new station in South Wales. The regiment was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel D. T. Kinder along with 17 other officers. Eight companies of the regiment were on the march totaling 720 men. They departed from Plymouth on the 7th of August and reached Barnstaple on the 15th where after an overnight stay they were to embark on a steamer heading for Pembroke Dock. On reaching Exeter the regiment was met by members of the Engineers and Artillery along with the depot band on the outskirts of St. Thomas. From there a ceremonial march was held through the city to the Militia Camp at Topsham Barracks. The regimental Officers were then guests of a citizen’s luncheon at 2.30 p.m. that same day. On the next day(Sunday) a military parade was held at Exeter Cathedral prior to resuming their march the following day.
Thankfully a correspondent from the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette was embedded with the regiment for the Plymouth to Exeter section of the route. This now gives an insight to the sights and sounds of the march thus enabling us today to experience something which otherwise would be left to one’s imagination.
“At Yennadon Down Dousland, where the 2nd battalion of the Devonshire Regiment had encamped of Wednesday afternoon upon the completion of the first stage of the route march from Plymouth to Ilfracombe, reveille was sounded yesterday morning at 5 o’clock. Breakfast took place about two hours later, tents struck half and hour afterwards, and the men paraded at 8 o’clock for the resumption of the journey. Owing to the drenching rain of the previous afternoon and evening, the night had not been an altogether pleasant one for the men, much of the bedding having been pretty well moistened, while those members of the Battalion who had been dilatory in using greatcoats had had their uniforms well-nigh soaked. But the brightness of the morning, too bright to augur well for the fine weather during the afternoon and evening, and the sweet and wholesome moorland air, served to rouse the spirits of the men, and by half-past 8 they had fairly set out on their second day’s march, a distance of nine miles to Postbridge.
Turning away from the magnificent view obtainable from Yennadon Down of the whole stretch of the country between Dartmoor and the Cornish hills, the Battalion struck into the main road to Princetown. Sheepstor, the fabled haunt of the Devonshire fairies and pixies, was left on the right, Horrabridge and Samford Spiney, “a church and a house high up in the air,” on the left, and the troops gradually forged their way across the heart of Dartmoor, that vast expanse of some 130,00 acres of wild scenery, evidences of primitive customs and habitations, and possessing a folk-lore no less weird than the Forest itself. Tors bristled in all directions, but the chief landmark was Great Mis tor, rising to an altitude of 1,760 feet, which, viewed during the march, certainly appeared to be worthy of the reputation of being one of the grandest hills in the county. Under Mis Tor lay the halt for refreshments took place, and half of the day’s march was completed. On therefore, over the rugged road, freed by the recent rains from the slightest suspicion of dust, and across which the most refreshing breezes, bearing the scent of gorse and heather blew, the Devons wended their way. As on Wednesday, the fife-and-drum and brass bands, numbering some 70 or 80 performers in all, played on route, and the men sang or chatted as they will. Princetown, with its celebrated prison, erected in 1809, at a cost of £127,000 for the accommodation of French prisoners of war, was reached about half-past 10 o’clock. The inhabitants turned out in strong force to witness the arrival of the Devons, and one resident, at least, displayed bunting. There was no organised reception, but the visit occasioned considerable commotion and interest. Half an hour’s halt was made for the purpose of refreshments – nothing stronger than water and bread and cheese. When they restarted, the Devons were accompanied by many Princetown folk, but the majority of these had tailed off ere Two Bridges was reached. Around Princetown hundreds of acres of the Forest have been reclaimed, and the admirable arrangements and results attracted general notice and commendations. Now and then gangs of convicts could be seen at work on the land, watched and directed by armed warders. One gang was drawing a heavy springless cart. Another gang was engaged in haymaking. All labour practically seemed performed by hand. They might look and wonder at the march, but no more, silence is part and parcel of their punishment. The prison lands and conning towers, whence any hapless fugitive might be discerned, were speedily left behind, and shortly before reaching Two Bridges the Tavistock – Moretonhampstead road was entered. Two Bridges is merely a hamlet in the neighbourhood of the great central morass, and not far from the lonely old wood of Wistman supposed to be a remnant of the Forest which traditionally covered Dartmoor. The inhabitants, of course, turned out en mass, and the youngsters – healthy, noisy, and always numerous – showed great anxiety to secure odd coppers. Continuing their route, the Devons, about noon, reached the end of their second days journey. They turned into Leggis Down (???) , in the occupation of Mr. Irish, overlooking the East Dart, and in the vicinity of Crockern tor, where by Charter of Edward I., the tinners of Devonshire assembled for the ancient “Stannary House of Parliament.”
Arms and accoutrements were at once stacked, pipes lit, and a quarter of an hour later tents were up in lines for the rank-and-file of the eight companies, the officers having the usual separate camp accommodation. Preparations for dinner were then made, and hundred weights of beef and potatoes found their way into the large boilers – “dixies” is the camp term – which were placed in rows over the fires built on the ground. Water was pumped up from the East Dart, close to one of the most interesting Celtic remains on Dartmoor, an ancient bridge of cyclopean architecture, formed of rough granite slabs and blocks, and having a roadway of table stones, each 15 feet in length and 6 feet in width. The water appeared to contain considerable vegetable and mineral matter, and to demand boiling before consumption. Dinner was served between two and three o’clock, a great improvement on Wednesday.
The weather yesterday held fine until about 2 o’clock, and there were only two or three withdrawals from the ranks., the younger members of the Battalion, many of whom had never previously done a day’s march, benefitting by the introduction of Wednesday. About 2 o’clock, however rain commenced to fall heavily, and continued throughout the afternoon and evening. The weather was worse than at Yennadon Down, and the Devons may well imagine, in accordance with a popular rhyme, that clouds hover in the neighbourhood ready to relieve each other as the wind may shift – for thus a poet has sung of the climate of Dartmoor:_ “The west wind always brings wet weather – The East wind wet and cold together; The south wind surely brings us rain, The North wind blows it back again.” So far, the Devons have been extremely unfortunate in this respect, and a change is ardently desired. Under such depressing circumstances, it is difficult to be cheerful and pleasant, and those taking part hardly regard route marches with much favour. A “smoker” was on the cards for last night, but the men will be glad when they leave Dartmoor, and reach Exeter.
During their location in the three towns the Devons earned a reputation, as regards efficiency and general soldier-like qualities and capabilities, of which any Battalion or Regiment might feel proud. In shooting, cricket, football and athletics, as well as other manly games and pursuits, they always come out well. One of the objects of the route march now being undertaken is to create additional interest in the Territorial Regiment of Devonshire, to stimulate recruiting, and the reputation of the Regiment should satisfy any young men that its ranks afford a highly reasonable introduction to the British Army.
The route marches of the 2nd Devons are distinct innovations in the way of military transfers, and involve considerable time and labour, owing to the vast number of details involved. Captain Curry, superintends the commissariat arrangements and some idea of the extent of the transport may be gathered from the fact that about 15 two and three-horse waggons are employed following the troops throughout, in addition to which there are water, ambulance, and other conveyances.
Today the Devons march to Moretonhampstead 8½, arriving about noon. The itinerary issued by Colonel Elmes, Assistant Adjutant-General, shows that leaving Yennadon Down yesterday the Battalion marched to Postbridge. Thence they proceed to Court Park, Moretonhampstead, and from Court Park on Saturday morning to the Militia Field at the back of Topsham Barracks. On Monday they will go to Blagdon Farm, Crediton. On Tuesday the camp will be pitched at Ford Farm., Eggesford, and on the next day on the recreation ground, South Molton, and on Thursday on the Sports Ground, Barnstaple. The camping ground at Ilfracombe will be Hillsborough Hill. the shortest marches are those to Postbridge and Court Park, but much of the road is very hilly. The longest march is from Moreton to Exeter, 14 miles. The marches on the subsequent days vary from 10 to 13½ miles.
The contractors for the supplies at Moreton are Messrs. A Crump, S. Bellamy, and W. Carr. At Exeter, the bread will be supplied by Mr. S. Mitchell, and the fuel by Mr. J. Skinner, but oddly enough, the meat will come from Mr. Knowles of Newton Abbot. At Crediton, the contractors are Messrs. S. Jones, E. J. Shopland, and T. Loosemore. The Eggesford camp will be supplied by Messrs. Hodge, J. A. Kempe, and Messrs. Sanders and Mountjoy; and at Barnstaple, by Messrs. H. Toms, F. Chanter, and C. Symons. At Ilfracombe, the contractors will be Messrs. J. Delve, W. Day and Son, and J. Ellis.” – The Devon & Exeter Gazette, August 9th 1895.