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12597 Pte. Richard Jarvis
2nd and 9th Battalions
Devonshire Regiment

      Richard Jarvis was born in 1889 at Bondleigh, the seventh out of nine children of Daniel Jarvis, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Elizabeth Piper who had been born in Winkleigh. Daniel had been born in Cheriton Bishop around 1849, but it is not known how he may have come north to meet his future wife Elizabeth Piper, who was from a Winkleigh family. Daniel and Elizabeth first went to Crediton, then to North Tawton to finally settle in Bondleigh. Elizabeth’s mother, also Elizabeth, was born in Iddesleigh as was her husband John Piper, an agricultural labourer, and they came to live in Winkleigh. They had five children all born in Winkleigh and lived at Penson, the last of whom was Elizabeth born about 1852. However, by 1861 her father had died and Elizabeth was living together with just her widowed mother still at Penson. Her two brothers were carters at the nearby East Luxton farm. The two Elizabeth’s were still at Penson in 1871, but now with daughter Elizabeth’s illegitimate son John age 2 who had been born in Bondleigh. Daughter Elizabeth married Daniel Jarvis later that year and they immediately moved away. By 1881 Elizabeth had moved next door from Penson to Clapper, and with her was her daughter's son John, who was never recorded with his mother.

      When Richard's father, Daniel, died in 1909 aged about 60, his mother moved in with her daughter Emma, recently married and living at Newland Cottage, Winkleigh. As with the majority of the labouring families in Winkleigh, after leaving school at 13 or 14, the boys began work on farms, while the girls (unless they stayed at home to help care for younger children or the family) usually went into domestic service, living away from home with their employers. In 1901 Richard had just left school, and was already working as a horseman and carter for Josiah Miller, a farmer at Gray’s Bridge. We are unsure if he was still working there when he enlisted in 1914 to join the Devons. After basic training at the regimental depot in Exeter, Richard was posted to the 2nd. Battalion. His younger brother Edward followed his example, and was posted to the 9th (Service) Battalion, only to be killed in September 1915 at the battle of Loos. His story is recorded on the details of the Memorial Cross.

      Sadly, Richard's documents recording the details of his war service did not survive the London blitz. We have his medal card, and further details of medal awarded (the Silver War Badge) as well as his transfer to the 9th Devons, probably (but we can't be sure) after wounding. With that and the 2nd Battalion war record we can begin to reconstruct the story.

      We know from his medal card that Richard went out to France from the Exeter Depot, where he had been given basic training, on 2nd February 1915. The 2nd Battalion was by then in desperate need of reinforcements. When war broke out the 2nd Battalion was in camp just outside Cairo, but after a short spell guarding the Suez Canal, it embarked at Alexandia for the UK on September 10th. The newly formed 8th Division, composed entirely of units brought back from the Empire gathered at Hursley Park near Winchester, and finally embarked for France on November 5th 1914, and was almost immediately pushed into trenches opposite the Messines Ridge, but were soon moved to an area to be attacked in the battle of Neuve Chapelle, opposite the Moated Grange. It was an active part of the line, trenches very close to the enemy, waterloged, and requiring a great deal of patrolling into no-man's land, constantly harassed by snipers and machine-gun fire.

      The Devons remained in the same sector, suffering from the dreadful weather – cold, heavy rain, flooded trenches all of which increased the sickness level due to 'trench-feet', frost-bite, rheumatism and other ills. The waterlogged communication trenches meant reliefs had to be brought up above ground, usually swept by machine-gun fire. By February there was urgent need of reinforcements. Drafts of 7 officers and 550 men had already been absorbed, but more were needed, when the Battalion finally went into 'rest' on the last day in February. Richard Jarvis was therefore part of the draft of reinforcements that joined the battalion in camp at the Forest of Nieppe.

      Sir John French planned his first major offensive of 1915 at Neuve Chapelle, opposite the Moated Grange, as soon as the ground had hardened and made this possible. It was to be carried out by the 8th Division in conjunction with three Indian Army disions, two of them in support. The attack was launched at dawn on March 10th: the Devons in support of the Scottish Rifles and the Middlesex. When they moved into the front line, they found the trenches were choked with dead and wounded, the German trenches virtually intact. In spite of this, the Devons 'A' and 'B' companies pushed forward up to the German second line. Neuve Chapelle itself had been taken, the Devons 'C' and 'D' companies were still virtually intact and still uncommitted but futher advance was made impossible by a total failure of communications and the British artillery failing to 'lift' at the precise moment. A brilliant opportunity was lost and the Devons dug in on the line they had secured. A heavy German counter-attack was repulsesd on 12th and on 13th a further planned attack was cancelled at the very last moment. Nothing more could be done. On 14th the Devons were relieved and went into reserve at Pont du Hem. 10 officers and 270 men were killed or wounded in the battle. Richard might have survived intact, but if he had been wounded it is possible that he would have been posted after recovery to the 9th Battalion.

      For the 2nd Battalion, Neuve Chapelle was followed by two months rest, re-equipping and absorbing the drafts that had arrived. Meanwhile Sir John French planned his next attack, at Aubers Ridge, again employing the 8th Division in an attack to the left of Neuve Chapelle. The attack was meant to coincide with a big French effort north of Arras, but the shortage of shells meant a month's delay, allowing the Germans to prepare and greatly strengthen their line. The battle of Aubers Ridge began on 9th May 1915: the 23rd Brigade, including the 2nd. Devons, were this time in support. However, the battalion lost 200 casualties merely moving into the front line above ground, only to find it crowded with men, wounded and dead, and with almost no officers. The Devons made no advance at all, but total loses were 67 men killed or missing, and 6 officers with 167 men wounded. Again, we can suppose Richard Jarvis had survived, this time to 'enjoy' 3 months in the same area, which now, by complete contrast, had become almost totally peaceful.

      September and the battle of Loos hardly affected the 2nd Devons. In October there was a temporary transfer to the 23rd Division to help train newcomers, and then from November 24th till after the New Year the whole Division went into rest as Army reserve, round Blaringham. Many men were able to be granted leave; hopefully Jarvis was amng them. On January 1916 the Division returned to its now very quiet area near Neuve Chapelle, and here they stayed until April 5th when the battalion moved to take up position on the Somme.

      The 8th Division occupied part of the line in Mash Valley just north of the Albert – Bapaume road, opposite Ovillers la Boiselle, with the German front line in front of Becourt. No-man's land was wide and a maze of old trenches: the enemy held the higher ground overlooking the British line and the defences were formidable. Out of the line large working parties were called for to prepare for the offensive, building roads, new trenches and dug-outs, laying cables and water-pipes, and building light railways. Twenty new subalterns joined the battalion, and occasional drafts.

      On 30th June the 2nd Devons, part of the 23rd Brigade, occupied the front-line assembly trenches. On the 1st July 'A' and 'B' Companies moved forward just before zero hour and when the guns lifted dashed forward but were caught in a tornado of fire from the front and both flanks, taking terrible casualties. ' C' and 'D' Companies soon followed, and were equally slaughtered. In a very short wile the 2nd Battalion Devons had almost ceased to exist. 11 officers and 221 men were killed or missing, 5 officers and 194 men wounded, in all 431 casualties. No ground hd been taken. Four days later the remnants of the 2nd Devons entrained at Longeau for transfer to the First Army for what was hoped to be three months' respite. However, they were sent to the Cuinchy sector to face mining, bombardments and trench raids. Another move in August brought them to the Loos sector, again combatting mning and trench raids. The month's casualties were 2 officers and 15 men killed, 50 wounded. October saw another disaster. A gas attack and trench raid failed completely which brought 40 more casualties. This was followed by a return to the Somme on October 22nd, S.E.of Flers. The battalion was in Divisional reserve, employed carrying up stores, and moving into the front line on 28th for two days before moving into rest near Meaulte. The ground was now a sea of mud and shell holes, any movement was exhausting, making any advance impossible.

      Turning to the entry on Richard Jarvis' medal record (see attached document) we must consider the addition of '9th Devons' to his service. This entry does not appear on his medal card, which seems to indicate that a posting to the 9th was very late in his service history. The huge casualties to the 2nd Battalion on July 1st 1916 indicate very strongly that wounded, Richard Jarvis was then hospitalised, re-graded for home service after recovery, posted to the 9th Battalion depot and then discharged in December 1916.

      Without any surviving records we simply have no means of knowing for certain. His medal card shows that he was discharged on 20th December , 1916, and besides the three medals of the Mons Star, Victory and War medals was also granted the Silver War Medal, often called 'the wounds medal'. We can picture Ricard Jarvis finally returning to Winkleigh, just before Christmas, a wounded hero, to be honoured and to have survived his part in a terrible war.

1st Deceember 2018

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