6359 ~ ANTHONY DEVLIN – EAST LANCS. REGT ~ WEST YORKS. REGT
To say the trail for this soldier’s identity has been a long and winding road is an understatement.
In October 2014 I received a Boer War Queen’s South Africa medal with clasps TRANSVAAL, ORANGE FREE STATE, CAPE COLONY from Ana B. of Waimamaku. Ana said the medal had been found in a family farmhouse that had belonged to her brother for many years and upon arranging its demolition, Ana had discovered the medal (minus ribbon).
The medal was named to 6356 Pte. A. Devlin E. Lancs. Regt.
Devlin is a common name in the British Army so trying to find out what the initial “A” stood for was the first hurdle. My initial investigations through Ancestry and the Anglo-Boer War website were not greatly helpful. I started the research on the basis the named recipient had lived in or been to NZ either as an immigrant or worker. Given the area the medal was found, gold prospector or gum digger were my first thoughts, and there were Devlin families in the Whangarei area at the turn of last century. Electoral Rolls indicated several Devlin families, the earliest immigrating to the Kamo area in about 1865 but the trail went cold as I could not positively identify Pte. Devlin’s first name.
All NZ based Devlin records in that area at the time hinged around one ‘Arthur Devlin’ however after extensively exploring his lineage throughout NZ I could not establish any link with a UK family. Further searches of existing Pte. Devlin files from UK records did not provide anything useful since without reference to a first name, regimental number or a date of birth, it would be a very expensive exercise to access to all A. Devlin files from the Boer War and WW1 to try and make a link. So the research got shelved for a period whilst MRNZ re-located to Nelson.
After re-settling in Nelson, I reviewed what little information I had on Pte. Devlin, my next option being to research the East Lancashire Regiment records. For these I first turned to the Anglo-Boer War website. I found two A. Devlin soldiers listed on this website but neither recorded a regimental number nor were they from the East Lancashire Regiment. I then found the medal rolls for the East Lancs. Regt. on Ancestry and discovered entries for a 6356 Pte A. Devlin, for the award of both the Queen’s South Africa medal (with 3 clasps) and the King’s South Africa medal (two clasps). I was on the right trail but still no evidence of a forename, or any indication of age (birth date) which I really needed to link him with UK census records if I was to locate Devlin’s town of origin.
The “Remarks” column on the medal rolls had been annotated with “M.R. Border Regt.”, what was this Regt – a unit perhaps Pte. Devlin was going to be posted to within South Africa or elsewhere?
After having had no meaningful help from several Ancestry Devlin family tree authors from Ireland, Scotland and England whom I had attempted to contact, it was then I discovered ROOTSWEB/Rootschat … what a revelation!
Within the a short space of time after posting an on-line call for help to identify my “A. Devlin” I had a flurry of helpful responses. It was the annotation of “M.R. Border Regt” that made the breakthrough – Ken (km1971) managed to unearthed a military file for, 1576 Pte. Anthony Devlin, born in Newcastle abt 1877, whose family lived in Carlisle and who had enlisted in the Border Regiment for part-time (militia/territorial) service.
Proof that this was the same person as 6356 Pte. A. Devlin came from a handwritten annotation in the top corner of one page on his file which contained a small number/letter combination – 6356ELR, meaning: regimental number – 6356 and, East Lancashire Regiment. Suddenly the East Lancs. Boer War medal roll annotation of “M.R. Border Regt.” beside the A. Devlin name made sense – “Militia Reserve of the Border Regiment” – this was the home unit Anthony had been enlisted from, and was being returned to.
1576 Pte. A. Devlin’s file showed that he had been originally attested in 1895 for the Border Regt. at 18 years of age; he was then re-attested in 1899 for full time active service in South Africa as 6356 Pte A. Devlin and had been transferred to the East Lancashire Regiment – militiamen were transferred to various regular regiments wherever there was a need.
Now to prove his descendant family connections – whilst there are many “A. Devlin’s” listed in the UK censuses, only three named Anthony Devlin were listed as being born in Northumberland between 1850 and 1904, one had died as an infant, the other two as it happened came from the Newcastle-Carlisle area in what is now Cumbria. Of these two , one Devlin had died in 1918 and the other would have only been 10 years of age at the outbreak of WW1. Problem solved ? – no !
A Private A. Devlin had been buried in the Carlisle Cemetery on 06 March 1918 however the cemetery inscription stated his unit as being the West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales Own) Regiment. This regiment had never featured in any of 1576 / 3563 Pte. Devlin’s records and with no regimental number on the cemetery records I began to doubt this man was the Anthony Devlin I was looking for – perhaps this one had been a late WW1 casualty? Correct identity was essential for the medal to be returned to the correct descendant family – and there are many, many Devlin families in Cumbria and not all are connected !
It was at this point I wrote to the Editor of ‘The Cumberland News’ (Trevor Jones) seeking help to confirm the identity of the soldier in the Carlisle Cemetery and hopefully to locate his descendants. Trevor very kindly posted an article in the newspaper with the details. This generated a positive response within the week and contact with Helen Strickland, a Carlisle based researcher who proved to be a mine of useful information.
The immediate questions I needed answers for were:
- If the soldier in the Carlisle Cemetery was my man, why did the West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales Own) Regiment feature as his unit and not the Border or East Lancs. Regiments ?
- This Pte. Devlin had died in March 1918 (WW1 was not yet over) at 41 years (almost too old for WW1 enlistment). There was also no indication on the files of 6356 / 1576 that Pte. A. Devlin had any other service other than his Boer War service – he had been discharged with a gratuity in September 1902.
It was apparent that finding a connection through the regimental number of the Pte. A. Devlin buried in the Carlisle Cemetery was critical to solving the identity questions. Once his number was confirmed all other information that related Pte. Devlin, birth date and places of residence, could then be cross referenced to any other military records (give or take minor variations that could occur for such things as manipulating enlistment ages for overseas service.
So how could I be sure we had the correct man?
Helen cross referenced all the ‘A. Devlin’ and ‘Anthony Devlin’ census records and military listings in the UK and found evidence that proved the Pte. Devlin buried in the Carlisle Cemetery was in fact 23006 Pte. Anthony Devlin of the West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales Own) Regiment, late of the Border and East Lancs. Regiments.
The attestation details for 23006 Pte. A. Devlin were the same as for 1576 & 6356 Pte. A. Devlin. His records showed the same parents, date and place of birth, occupation, and the clincher – former service with the Border and East Lancs. Regts. This record showed Pte. Devlin had been attested for military service for a third time in 1914, was assigned a third regimental number and posted to his third different unit – the 1st Garrison Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment.
Pte. Devlin had embarked for service in Malta with the 1st Garrison Battalion, West Yorks Regt. in 1914. Whilst in Malta he contracted Tuberculosis and in early 1918 was invalided back to England where he subsequently died aged 41 years in Carlisle on 06 March 1918 at his enlistment address, his family home at 36 Duke Street, Carlisle. A service burial was conducted by the Regiment at Carlisle Cemetery. For his war service in Malta, 23006 Pte. Devlin was awarded the British War Medal.
The identity elements of 1576 / 6356 / 23006 Private Anthony Devlin, Border Regt. / East Lancs. Regt. / West Yorks. Regt, the recipient of the Queen’s South Africa medal that I was holding, finally all hinged together – birth dates, locations, parents, siblings, military numbers, units and service, and now death and burial location – now I had the correct soldier!
My next problem was to find Pte. Devlin’s descendant family as he had been a bachelor when he died in 1918. With this information I was then able to confirm Anthony’s nominated next of kin had changed on the death of his mother Mary, to his elder brother James Devlin who had been living at 36 Duke St, Carlisle. Through James’s lineage I was also able to drill down into the UK records and found a family tree named to the ‘Jacobs Family’ which contained a direct connection to Anthony Devlin’s brother James. From this, I was able to determine James’s two grandsons and a grand daughter were the last direct descendants, Agnes Ellen WRIGHT (nee Devlin) being the last listed who had died in 2011.
Ellen’s daughter Marilyn WRIGHT had married Lesley Joseph GRAHAM and it was their son Kieron whom was the author of the family tree I was consulting, and fortunately for me, the family’s historian. I had my ‘Pte. Anthony Devlin’ descendant at last!
So how did the medal wind up in a farmhouse in New Zealand – possibly a gift, a find, or a purchase by Ana’s brother – we are no closer to resolving whether there is was any New Zealand Devlin family connection to this medal – the evidence to date would suggests not.
Given that Pte. Devlin died in 1918 his QSA medal could well have been sold to help the family through the tough times of the Great Depression since these medals had a high silver content and were often melted down for cash. This could also have been the fate of his KSA and British War Medal, or they could still be in circulation somewhere?
The medal (with ribbon) is now on its way to the UK to Pte. Devlin’s third cousin, Carlisle residents Kieron Graham and son Jacob who will be the next family custodians of Pte. Devlin’s medal.
The family is still looking for the King’s South Africa medal with two clasps named to 6356 Pte. A. Devlin, E. Lancs Regt., and his British War Medal named to 23006 Pte. A. Devlin, W. Yorks. Regt.
My thanks to Ken from Rootschat for making the breakthrough, Trevor Jones of the Cumberland News, and especially to Helen Strickland of Carlisle, without whose collective diligence and expertise to resolve this mystery I could not have successfully reunited Pte. Devlin’s medal with his descendants.
The reunited medal tally is now 38.