A miscellany of Dorsetshire memorials
Jeremy Archer looks at memorials to the bravery of the Dorsetshire Regiment in all its forms throughout the world
Published in February ’10
Unsurprisingly, there are memorials connected to the antecedent regiments of the Dorsetshire Regiment all over the world. Some of these are regimental memorials, as distinct from individual gravestones. An example is this whitewashed obelisk in Antigua, commemorating the dead of the 54th Regiment of Foot (which in 1881 combined with the 39th Regiment of Foot to form the Dorsetshire Regiment) during their tour of duty on the Caribbean islands of Antigua, St Kitts, Dominica and St Lucia between March 1848 and June 1851. At one time this walled cemetery on Antigua’s Shirley Heights would have been full of grave-markers; because of the depredations of earthquakes, hurricanes and tree roots over almost 160 years, the obelisk, which has recently been restored, now stands alone.
On 16 November 1935 the 1st Battalion, the Dorsetshire Regiment was sent to Landi Kotal, at the Afghan end of the Khyber Pass. During the next twelve months, according to the Regimental History, the battalion ‘achieved a considerable reputation for its really remarkable proficiency in mountain warfare’. In common with many other regiments that served on the troubled North-West Frontier, the Dorsets left a finely worked regimental badge on the rugged hillside, framed in Dorset green.
Some of the fiercest fighting of the Normandy campaign of 1944 took place around Hill 112 near Caen. The brunt of it was borne by the 43rd (Wessex) Division, of which 4 Dorsets and 5 Dorsets were part. The 43rd Division memorial is on the top of Hill 112, while replicas have been erected at Mere in Wiltshire, at Wynyards Gap in Dorset and on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. Other reminders of the regiment’s part in the campaign include a Rue Dorset Régiment in Asnelles, a Place du Dorset Régiment in Hottot-les-Bagues and a Rue du Dorset in Maltot.
Meanwhile 2 Dorset was serving on the other side of the world, with the ‘Forgotten Army’ in India and Burma. Between 27 April and 13 May 1944, the battalion took part in the desperate battle for possession of the tennis court of the District Commissioner’s bungalow at Kohima, losing two officers and 72 men in the process. There is a small memorial to the Dorsets who died in the battles in and around Kohima, on which are the words ‘Who’s Afear’d?’, the motto of the County of Dorset. The battalion formed part of the 2nd Division, whose memorial bears the words: When you go home, Tell them of us and say: ‘For your tomorrow We gave our today.
In 1958 the Dorsets amalgamated with the Devons to form the Devonshire and Dorsetshire Regiment. Further change came in 2005, when the regiment became part of the Light Infantry as the Devonshire and Dorset Light Infantry. When 1 Devon and Dorset Light Infantry was on operations in Iraq during 2006, the Commanding Officer’s Rover Group visited the Basra Memorial. It commemorates more than 40,500 members of the Commonwealth forces who died during the gruelling campaign in Mesopotamia between 1914 and 1921, a campaign in which two battalions from each county’s regiment took part. Until 1997 the memorial was located on the main quay of the naval dockyard at Maqil, on the west bank of the Shatt-al-Arab, about five miles north of Basra. Since this was deemed a sensitive location, the memorial was moved and completely reconstructed on a new site some twenty miles along the road to Nasiriyah, in the middle of what had been a major battleground during the First Gulf War 1990/91.
Lieutenant-Colonel H Jones VC OBE, who was killed at Goose Green in the Falklands at the head of the 2 Para on 28 May 1982, joined B Company, 1 Devon and Dorset, commanded by my father, in Cyprus in 1960. He served with his parent regiment for more than twenty years before transferring to the Parachute Regiment on assuming command. H Jones is buried in Blue Beach Cemetery, which has a design based on that of a traditional Falklands sheep corral and a wonderful view over San Carlos Water. His younger son, Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Jones, is the current Commanding Officer of the 4 Rifles, based at Kiwi Barracks, Bulford Camp in Wiltshire.
1 Devon and Dorset was in residence at Abercorn Barracks, Ballykinler, Northern Ireland between 1983 and 1985 and again from 2002 to 2004. Corporal Gerald Jeffery and Lance-Corporal Stephen Taverner were both killed by terrorist bombs in 1983. A memorial bell dedicated to their memory stands outside the entrance to the Garrison Church of St Martin’s in the Mournes and acts as the natural focus during services of remembrance. Memorials to all members of the regiment killed during the Troubles in Northern Ireland are being concentrated together at Ballykinler.
On 1 February 2007 the old county names disappeared when the Devonshire and Dorset Light Infantry and a number of other county regiments were merged into a new regiment, the Rifles. The memorial that binds together all the forming regiments of the Rifles is the obelisk on top of the Greater Arapile, near the city of Salamanca in Spain. On 22 July 1812 a succession of French divisions were crushed in turn by the fury of Wellington’s assaulting troops and it was only a fighting rearguard action by Ferrey’s division that prevented complete disaster for the French. The antecedents of all the forming regiments of The Rifles played their part on what is now celebrated as the Regimental Day.
The final memorial brings us home again, to the Borough Gardens, Dorchester. This fine pink granite obelisk commemorates the non-commissioned officers and men who either were killed or died of their wounds during the Tirah Campaign on the North-West Frontier of India in 1897-98. The only Victoria Cross awarded to a member of the Dorsetshire Regiment was won during this campaign: Private Samuel Vickery not only rescued a wounded colleague on the Dargai Heights on 20 October 1897, but successfully fought off three Afridi tribesman – killing two of them – while performing a similar service in the Waran Valley on 17 November 1897. The words of the Regimental History apply equally well to the struggle being fought by the British Army in that part of the world today: ‘The Tirah expedition had been the largest yet attempted on the North-West Frontier and had involved some exceedingly hard fighting against a most formidable enemy, operating in country whose difficulties he utilized with the greatest skill.’