Ernest Ware was born about 1896, the third son of Thomas Ware, a skilled farm labourer, and his wife Ellen who had been born in Coldridge. There were six children, four sons and two daughters. In the 1901 census Thomas is described as a ‘yardsman’. Three of the sons, William, Ernest and Arthur all went on to serve in the 6th Devons, a proud record for any family, and all survived. In 1911, Ernest, now aged 16, was assisting in Thomas Letheren’s bakery business from his private house in Fore Street. He joined the 6th Devons Territorials, based in Barnstable before the war, with his name proudly listed in the Chumleigh Deanery magazine for October 1914 as already serving. At some time during his army career he was promoted acting sergeant.
Sadly, Ernest Ware’s military documents did not survive the London blitz, but we do have his medal card, although not in itself very revealing. Ernest was about 19 when war broke out, so was eligible for service overseas. On August 4th 1914 the 1st /6th Battalion, in common with the 4th and 5th Battalions, were encamped for the annual summer camp at Woodbury Down, from where they moved to on 9th August. It very soon became apparent that in spite of the fact that the Battalion could be classed as no more than only very partially trained, they were going to be asked to volunteer for overseas service. This was certainly not what the Territorials had been enlisted for, having been repeatedly assured they would only be required for home-service. In fact, the vast majority of men were eager to go and if they had not been given the opportunity many would undoubtedly transferred to the regular of New Army battalions, thus ruining a fine and established Territorial battalion. By mid-August the change had been made, and the vast majority of the 6th stepped forward to volunteer to a man, though quite a number failed to pass the required medical tests. Those who did not, or could not volunteer returned to Barnstaple to form a second line nucleus, the 2nd/6th Devons. On September 15th the 6th were told they were going to France, but to their huge disappointment the order was cancelled; together with the 4th and 5th Territorial Battalions they were instead destined for India, to ‘replace’ the 2nd regular Battalion, on their way back to land in France. They were ‘consoled’ by a special telegram from the King which stated that in taking on this duty the 6th Battalion was ‘helping him and the kingdom as much as if they had gone straight to the front’. The King himself inspected the Wessex Division on 28th September, following an earlier inspection by Lord Kitchener. The whole Division then was sent on embarkation leave before embarking at Southampton on 9th October, the 6th Battalion on the troop-ship ‘Galeka’, one of ten transports in the convoy, escorted by two British cruisers as far as Gibraltar. The French navy then took over for the next stage of the journey to Suez where the Division was detained for some days owing to the outbreak of war with Turkey (see the special topic on this subject attached to this account). Passing Aden, and learning of the sinking of the German cruiser ‘Emden’, it was possible for the ‘Galeka’ and the ‘Nevasa’ (transporting the 4th and 5th Devons) to make their way unescorted to Karachi. On disembarking, the 6th Devons made their way to Lahore, where they stayed until December 17th 1915 when orders were received to mobilize for Mesopotamia.
The whole journey out must have been a hugely exciting adventure for the battalion, some compensation in fact for their change of posting. A series of exciting adventures and experiences, albeit in exhausting conditions now awaited these Winkleigh men whose lives hitherto had been confined to a tiny area around the Winkleigh district and for whom, in the old days, a visit even to Exeter or a summer day’s outing to Ilfracombe or Wollacombe would have seemed a real treat. Many indeed had joined the Territorials in order to secure a paid two-week summer ‘holiday’ with plenty of sport for example on Woodbury Down, but here was the astonishing world of India with its colour, heat, smells and sights suddenly in their grasp. All this was to change, of course, when the reality of service in an Indian summer and an exhausting training schedule became apparent, but at the start at least many would have found their war hugely enjoyable.
The additional information on the history of the 1st/6th Battalion is attached to this account. It is practically certain that Ernest Ware would have embarked with the battalion on 9th October, but without further information from family sources his subsequent experiences are unknown. However, his second army number, 265493 gives a clue. Men who had enlisted (or who had already enlisted pre-war) directly into a Territorial unit, and were therefore not subject to the Military Service Acts (conscription) of 1916 were given new army numbers on 1st March 1917, by an Army Council Instruction published on 23rd December 1916. Each corps of Infantry was allocated a block of numbers starting at 200001. The allocation for each infantry corps was then broken into smaller blocks for each battalion. Those men who had enlisted in a Territorial Army 4th Battalion, for example the 4th Battalion of the Devons (the senior Territorial Battalion in the Devonshire Regiment), were allocated numbers 200001 to 240000, those of the 5th Devons 240001 to 265000, and so on. From Ernest’s number 265493 it seems likely that he was still serving in one of the 6th Devons battalions, which were numbered from 265001 to 290000. It is interesting that the new number follows in sequence his younger brother Arthurís new number 265492.
Of great interest in Winkleigh was the order in which men were demobilized. Before the New Year only schoolmasters and students were released but in January 1919 married men with four years overseas went first, then coal-miners and men over 41. There were in fact 371 men with the Battalion who had had four years overseas since August 4th 1914, and three officers and 110 men with three years. On March 30th the remainder of the Battalion left for Karachi, but disappointment followed, as the Battalion was expected to be reinforced and dispatched for duty on the North-West frontier against Afghan tribes who had broken out in revolt. In the end the duty was canceled but not before the men had endured a hot and weary summer, and did not finally leave Bombay until July 27th reaching Plymouth on August 16th. On the 19th they reached Barnstaple to be given a warm reception at the Guildhall attended by the Lord Lieutenant, the Mayor and Town Council, before its members dispersed to their homes.
It is a sad reflection on the attitude of Kitchener to service in India and Mesopotamia, regarded then as a ‘sideshow’, and in spite of the King’s encouraging telegram to the Battalion before their departure, that the 1915 Star Medal (for all those who had volunteered and saw service in France, Belgium and Gallipoli 1914-1915) was not awarded either to those who served in India or who had already seen action in Mesopotamia. The war-diary reports that when this decision was announced to the battalion, there was great disappointment and protests were made to re-consider the situation, but to no avail. As a result acting sergeant Ernest Ware received only the Victory and British medal.
In the Second World War Ernest served in the Winkleigh Home Guard platoon and the photo of him that is attached to the site is taken from a group photograph at that time.
28 February 2015