Devonshire Cemetery, Somme Battlefields, France
At the end of the first day of the Battle of the Somme over 160 of men of the 9th and 8th Devonshire Regiment were retrieved from where they had fallen in action in No-Mans-Land and the German positions. They were carried back to the British Front Line trench position for the start of the day, and were buried in a section of this trench near a small wood called Mansell Copse.
The graves were left in this position when the cemeteries were rebuilt after the war. 163 graves are now contained in the cemetery. Ten are unidentified burials and only two are not men of the Devonshire Regiment. The cemetery is named “Devonshire Cemetery” after the men of this regiment buried here.
Lieutenant William Noel Hodgson, MC
The poem Before Action by Lt Noel Hodgson was published on 29 June 1916 in The New Witness weekly paper. Two days later Noel went into action on 1 July 1916 with the 9th Devons. It makes very poignant reading as Lieutenant Hodgson did not survive to see the end of the day. He was killed aged 23 and was one of the Devons' bodies brought in that night from where he fell in action. He is buried in Grave reference A. 3.Poem “Before Action”
Captain Duncan Lenox Martin
He was commander of “A” Company of the 9th Devons. As the preparations for the Battle of the Somme offensive were progressing, Captain Martin grew increasingly concerned about the known location of a German machine gun in the French civilian cemetery on the southern outskirts of Mametz village.
This machine gun was opposite the British Front Line from where the Devons were to make their advance. Captain Martin was aware that the German machine gunners would have a clear view of his men when they began the attack across the 400 yards of No-Mans-Land toward the German Front Line. He went on leave before the battle and made a plasticine model, examining the field of fire that the machine gun would have from the cemetery.
On the morning of 1 July Captain Martin was one of the many Devons officers to be killed by the ferocious German machine gun fire as he advanced across the open valley towards the German line and Mametz village.
Captain Martin is buried in Grave reference A.1.
“The Devonshires Held this Trench, The Devonshires Hold it Still”
On 4 July 1916, three days after the first day of the Battle of the Somme, a ceremony was held at the burial site of the 161 Devonshire Regiment men. A wooden cross was put up at the time by the survivors of the 9th and 8th Battalions of the Devonshire Regiment. The following words were carved on the wooden cross: “The Devonshires held this trench, the Devonshires hold it still.”
In the 1980s Lieutenant-Colonel Graham Parker was leading a tour of British Army soldiers and officers to the Somme battlefields, some of whom were officers from the Devonshire Regiment. He told them the story of the wooden cross with its famous motto, and that it was presumed that it had been stolen as it had disappeared after remaining at the entrance to the cemetery for many years after the First World War.
The Devonshire Regiment officers decided to do something about this and immediately they returned home they started a collection to pay for a permanent monument to be put in the place of the missing cross. The stone memorial which now stands at the entrance to the cemetery was placed there soon after.
The words “The Devonshires Held this Trench, the Devonshires Hold it Still” once more stand in proud memory of the men lying in this cemetery.
Latitude N 49° 59' 18" ; Longitude E 2° 44' 9"
Access into the cemetery is only possible using a set of steps. Wheelchair access is not available.
A lay-by has been provided to enable visitors by car and coach to park safely away from the D938 Albert-Péronne road. Visitors are reminded that although this road is not particularly busy, vehicles can be travelling fast and care should be taken if crossing the road.
Before Action - William Noel Hodgson and the 9th Devons, a Story of the Great War
by Charlotte Zeepvat
Published by Pen & Sword Military (5 Dec 2014); ISBN-10: 1783463759 and ISBN-13: 978-1783463756
Find out more about Noel Hodgson and the book about him, published in December 2014, by author Charlotte Zeepvat. Charlotte has researched Noel and the 9th Devons for over 30 years.