Medal Society of Ireland

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John Graham Devenish

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John Graham (sometimes spelt Greham) Devenish was born in Waterford ‑ where his father was a Church of Ireland Curate1 ‑ on 27 June 1879. His family had come originally from Roscommon, and although worthy people (his aunt was married to a Major General in the Indian Army), there was only one really notable antecedent. She was Olivia Marianne Devenish (1771 ‑ 1814), the daughter of John's great, great grand uncle, who married, first, Dr Jacob Fancourt. On his death, she married, as his first wife, Stamford Raffles, the legendary founder of Singapore. It was believed that before she married Raffles she was the inamorata of Thomas Moore, the great Irish poet, who addressed "many of his amatory elegies to her"2. As the wife of Raffles she was to make him very happy, and her early death in Java in 1814 was a great grief to him.

Long after Olivia, Robert Jones Sylvester Devenish married, on 5 February 1877, Rosamond Price of Waterford. They had a daughter and three sons ‑ the first of whom was John, the subject of this study.

John was educated at St Columba's College, Dublin, from 1893 and it would appear that he left there circa 1896, when he is recorded as entering Trinity College Dublin ‑ it is not clear if he ever completed a degree course. He was commissioned into the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers as a Second Lieutenant from 4th Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment (Militia), on augmentation, on 18 October 18993.

He joined the 1st Battalion at Mullingar too late to be included in the photograph of the officers, but he did sail with the Battalion from Queenstown (Cobh) on 5 November 1899. He fought with the Battalion at Colenso at few weeks later, on 15 December, where he was severely wounded. It is not known what type of injuries he suffered, but they were clearly not bad enough for him to be evacuated to England as other officer ca­sualties (like A J Hancocks and W W Meldon) were.

On 23 February 1900, Devenish took part with the rest of the Battalion in the Battle of Inniskilling Hill. Once again, he was severely wounded, being shot in both legs. Unable to walk, he spent a freezing night out on the veldt, in danger of being shot if he moved, and listening to the cries of the wounded and the dying. The next day, the Battalion's Medical Officer, Lieutenant Inkson RAMC, carried him off the battlefield. This incident rates few lines in the Battalion's various acounts of the Boer War, but it was a feat of gallantry striking enough to earn for Inkson the Victoria Cross4


"On the 24th February 1900, Lieutenant Inkson carried Second Lieutenant Devenish (who was severely wounded and unable to walk) for three or four hundred yards under a very heavy fire to a place of safety. The ground over which Lieutenant Inkson had to move was much exposed, there being no cover." 

Without wishing in any way to denigrade Inkson's actions ‑ which, after all, were carried out in full view of an enemy who had proved that he was quite prepared to kill anyone who moved ‑ it is of interest that Devenish was quite a small man. He was just five feet, eight inches tall, weighed some 108 pounds, and was of a very slight build.

It is not recorded where Devenish went to recover from his wounds ‑ these were noted, years later5 as "bullet wound (scars) on left thigh in front, and on right hip in front." He, once again, cannot have been repatriated to England as he re­turned to the Battalion on 11 April 1900 ‑ Capt Auchinleck6 recorded in his diary that "Major Brannigan" (the MO, wounded at Colenso, for whom Inkson was doing locum) "and Devenish returned this morning ‑ Devenish quite recovered from his second wound." In the same diary entry, Auchinleck refers to the departure from the Battalion of Lieutenant Inkson "to the great regret of every man in the Regiment. He got a tremendous send‑off, and we are all dreadfully sorry to lose him." It is ironic that when Inkson's VC was announced the following January, the Regiment appears to have taken no note of it7. 

Devenish took part in the Battle of Belfast on 27 August 1900 where, for once, he escaped unscathed. On 2 September he, according to Auchinleck, "had a pretty warm time" after the Battalion crossed the Crocodile River and passed Badfontein Hotel. Sadly, neither Auchinleck nor the regimental history clarifies what happened here, but it is possible that whatever he did led to him being Mentioned in Despatches a year later8.

Devenish was promoted Lieutenant9, with effect 20 Septem­ber 1900 in the place of Lieutenant James Lowry, who died of blood poisoning, on 19 September, in London (having been medical­ly evacuated from South Africa). 

He transferred to the 2nd Battalion sometime after its arrival in South Africa (in February 1902) and, by March 1903, was seconded to the Mounted Infantry. But before he left the Battalion he was recorded10 as coming third in the officers' mule race at the Mafeking Garrison Sports (including the Army, the Cape Police and the British South Africa Police) on 18 Febr­uary 1903. How long he remained with the Mounted Infantry is not known, but he was back in the 2nd Battalion in Egypt by March 1904. Around that date he was in command of A Company, handing over11 to Captain E J Buckley. He can be found in two photo­graphs in the Regimental Museum ‑ on St Patrick's Day 1904 in Egypt, and when the Battalion was inspected by the Duke of Connaught, in Cairo, in January 1905. In both, he can clearly be seen wearing his two medals for the Boer War12. Promoted Cap­tain on 7 January 190613 he finally left the Army in September 1907, and effectively disappears from Regimental sight.

His entry in Burke's14 refers merely to him as "Captain, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, served in South African War 1899‑1902, and in World War I, 1914‑1918," but, frustratingly, gives no further details (apart from his date of death). However, the St Columbas' Roll Of Honour15 provides the clue as to at least part of his movements after leaving the regiment, when it refers to his WWI service as a Sergeant, 5th New Zealand Reinforcements ‑ twice wounded. 

New Zealand Defence Force Records16  were able to fill in details of his WWI service. He joined the Expeditionary Force on 11 December 1914 at the age of 35 years, where he admits to service in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, but without giving a rank. It is intriguing to note that the recruiters do not appear to have attempted to clarify his previous regular service, or to query the scars of bullet wounds on his legs. It is very possible that Devenish wished to play down his background ‑ he refers, for example, to his father simply as R J Devenish, not as "Very Reverend." He gave his own occupation as “self employed contrac­tor” and an address at Pembroke House, Grey Street, Auckland. The doctor noted that he had a tattoed Japanese girl on his right forearm ‑ it is amusing to speculate that he may have acquired this en route to New Zealand (or, at least, after he left the Army) as it is unlikely that he would have sported such an emblem while still serving with the Regiment.

He was initially posted to G Company, 5th Reinforcements17, on 8 January 1915, as a Sergeant, and would appear to have been a Company Sergeant Major by 30 June. However, when he joined 16th Company, 2nd Bn AIR18 in the Dardanelles on 8 August (1915) he did so as a Private. Just five days later, on the 13th , he was wounded by a bullet in his left leg, and was evacuated to St David's Hospital, Malta, on the 20th.  On 5 September he was posted to the New Zealand Advanced Base at Mustapha from which, on the 15th, he embarked at Alexandria for the Dardanelles. Arriving there on the 21st, he was again admit­ted to hospital, this time at Mudros, suffering from diarrhoea, on 9 October. On the 21st, diagnosed as suffering from dysentry, he was sent to England where, on the 28th, he was admitted to the 2nd Western General Hospital in Manchester. On 14 January 1916 he was attached to the New Zealand Base Depot at Hornchurch, before joining 1st Bn AIR at Ismailia on 1 March. Five days later he was appointed Lance Corporal, and a month later (on 5 April) he rejoined the 2nd Battalion. On 8 April the Battalion embarked, from Alexandria, on the HT Ascania, for France. At Rebecq, on 23 April, he was appointed Temporary Corporal, being given substan­tive rank, at Armentieres, on 14 May. 

On 7 June 1916, Corporal Devenish was wounded for the second time ‑ by a gun shot wound in the right thigh. Admitted initially to No 13 Stationary Hospital in Boulogne he was evacuated to the 2nd Scottish General Hospital in Aberdeen on the 12 of June. On 16 August he joined the New Zealand Convalescent Camp at Horn­church, before being invalided to New Zealand, and struck off the strength of the Expeditionary Force, on 28 October 1916. I wonder if he had been able, while at Hornchurch, to travel to Ireland for the funeral of his father, who died on 16 September?

Back in New Zealand, he was discharged ‑ no longer physical­ly fit for war work on account of wounds received in action ‑ on 26 May 1917. This is hardly surprising, when one considers that he was twice wounded in both legs ‑ it is a wonder that he was able to walk at all. For his service in Gallipoli and France he was awarded the 1914/15 Star, British War and Allied Victory medals ‑ all named to him as 12/2271 Corporal J G Devenish NZEF. 

After the war, Devenish ceased being a contractor, and is recorded19 as a Clerk, living at 29 Hayden Street (and, later, at 31 Upper Vincent Street), Auckland Central. The last morsel of knowledge of him is that he died, unmarried, at Epsom (a suburb of Auckland) on 1 June 1947.  His youngest brother Robert, Arch­deacon of  Lahore 1934 ‑ 1940, had two daughters. The middle brother, William, sometime Vice President of Canadian National Railways, did have a son but he died as a Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Engineers in World War II. So, John was the last of the Devenish men, and with him the line died out. 


Extract from J G Devenish's Record of Service

Invalided to New Zealand per HS Maheno, from Southampton, and struck off strength of NZEF, 28 Oct 1916 


Extract from "The War Effort of New Zealand" p.133

On Oct 28th (1916), 328 New Zealand sick and wounded were embarked (on the HS Maheno) at Southampton, and voyaged home uneventfully except for delay at Albany, due to a coal strike in New Zealand.



1.     Later (1883 ‑ 1886) Prebendary in Waterford Cathedral; Vicar of Cahir 1886 ‑ 1913 and, from 1913 to his death in 1916, Dean of Cashel.

2.     According to Lord Minto, quoted in "Raffles" by Maurice Col­lis, published Singapore 1966

3.     London Gazette 17 Oct 1899 p.6265. Officers from Militia regiments were commissioned into regular regiments going to South Africa, to bring them up to war establishment

4.     London Gazette 15 Jan 1901

5.     In Devenish's recruit form when he joined the New Zealand forces for WW1

6.     Captain Dan Auchinleck, KIA 20 Oct 1914

7.     Inkson's VC was never included in the list of VCs to the Inniskillings until I pointed out that, as he rescued an officer of the Regiment, while actually serving with the Regiment, he should be counted among our VCs. This has now been done, and ninety years after the event, Inkson's gallantry is remembered by the successors to the Inniskillings, The Royal Irish Regiment.

8.     London Gazette 10 Sep 1901 p.5942

9.     Announced in the London Gazette 12 Mar 1901 p.1766

10.   "The Donegal's Own" Journal May 1903

11.   "The Donegal's Own" Journal Mar 1904

12.   Queens' South Africa medal with clasps Cape Colony, Tugela Heights, and Relief of Ladysmith; and King's South Africa medal with clasps South Africa 1901 and South Africa 1902. All are named to him as a Lieutenant.

13.   Army List 1907 p.743

14.   Burke's "The Landed Gentry of Ireland" 1958 pp.232/233

15.   For WW1, published by the Old Columban Society

16.   Letter from Dr M J McNamara dated 30 Mar 1993

17.   The 5th Reinforcements (2299 in total) left New Zealand on 3 ships on 13 June 1915. They all sailed for Suez, but they appear to have arrived a week apart. It is likely that Devenish tra­velled on the Aparima, which arived in Suez on 6 August,  two weeks after the first trooper (the Maunganui), which arrived there on 24 July

18.   This was the 2nd Battalion the Auckland Infantry Regiment  

19.   According to the 1925 and 1931 Electoral Rolls

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 September 2016 18:07  

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