1892 - 1917
JAMES DEVENISH was born in the summer of 1892 in Great Waltham, the son of Jo(h)nathan and Emily (also known as Emma) (née Wallis). His parents were married in the summer of 1877 in the Chelmsford area. Emily was born in Felsted and Jonathan was born and lived in Brick Cottage, Chatham Green, Great Waltham. Jonathan was employed for many years by Mr Lewis Campen at Stonage Farm.
Their first child, Sarah Ann was born shortly after their marriage in 1877. Census and Parish records show that Emily and Jonathan had seven children in total. James was their fifth child and second son. He was baptised on the 7th August 1892 in the Parish Church, in Great Waltham.
In the 1911 Census, James was living with his parents at Chatham Green, aged 19 years old and working as a Farm Labourer as was his younger brother Arthur. Ernest, the youngest at 12 years was at school.
James enlisted in the Territorial Force 5th Battalion of the Essex Regiment as a Private, Regimental number 1259 around the beginning of 1910, probably at Chelmsford in A Company. The 1/5th Battalion became a unit of the 54th Division, 161st Brigade and in August 1915 landed in Gallipoli and fought there until November when the Battalion was evacuated and sailed to Alexandria, Egypt. The Brigade came involved with the Senussi Campaign and when relieved from duty in March 1916, moved into the No. 1 (Southern) Section of the Suez Canal defences. In April they moved northwards to counter a Turkish thrust at the Canal resulting in the Battle of Romani.
James’s Regimental number was renumbered in 1917 to 250057.
In mid January 1917 the division assembled for the opening of the Palestine Campaign. It took the whole of February for the Brigade to cross the Sinai Desert in stages.
The first battle of Gaza, 26-27 March 1917, was an unsuccessful British attack on Gaza, designed to clear the way for an invasion of Palestine later in 1917. The key defensive position at Gaza was the Ali Muntar ridge, east of the town. This would be the target of the British infantry attack. Behind it Gaza was protected by a maze of thick cactus hedges. The British plan came close to success. During the morning of 26 March the British cavalry screen was established, and by noon the 53rd division was engaged on the Ali Muntar ridge.
On the morning of 27 March, the two British infantry divisions were formed up back to back on two of the ridges south of Gaza. An attempt to recapture Ali Muntar ridge briefly held the top of the ridge before a Turkish counterattack drove the British back. That evening the British pulled back to the Wadi Ghuzze, five miles south west of Gaza.
Towards the end of the day the Essex Brigade was ordered to take Green Hill. Despite heavy fighting the attack was a complete success and the brigade held the whole position by nightfall. However, confusion set in, and 53rd Division withdrew during the night. The men of 161st Brigade were enraged by the order to withdraw. The following day patrols showed that the Turks had not reoccupied the position; 1/7th Bn was sent up to support the patrols, but a violent Turkish counter-attack finished the battle. The battalion's casualties at Green Hill were 228, of whom 68 were missing after the fighting withdrawal.
Death and Memorial
James is recorded as missing, presumed dead on the 26th March 1917 aged 24 years old.
He is ‘Remembered with Honour’ on the Jerusalem Memorial in Israel
Index MR 34. Part 1 A-L
James is also remembered on the War Memorial in Great Waltham.
Jonathan, his father was his next of kin and he received the total sum of £24.13s. on the 28th September 1918 with a further War Gratuity payment on the 19th October 1919 of £12.