The Royal Naval Division - 1914 to 1919
The Lecture, given by Kim, is called “Sailors in the Trenches” and is the extraordinary story of the Royal Naval Division in World
Formed of sailors who fought as infantrymen at Gallipoli and the Western
Front, this was a unique military formation that had to fight 2 enemies – the
Germans and the British Army High Command!
Now almost completely forgotten,
this is a story that should be told in the Centenary of the Great War.
Winston Churchill was
First Lord of the Admiralty at the time of their creation and here is part of
his description of the RND.
Regrettably some of his predictions of their enduring memory have not been fulfilled. Kim is trying to reverse that!
Winston Churchill wrote:
“The foundations of the
Royal Naval Division were laid before the First World War began. It was
perceived that, on mobilisation, there would be at least twenty or thirty
thousand men belonging to the Reserves of the Royal Navy for whom there would
be no room on any warship that went to sea.
The Royal Naval Volunteer
Reservists, and others in the various elements of which the Division was
composed, had set their hearts on serving afloat. It was with much disappointment,
but with boundless and unflinching loyalty, that they devoted themselves to
their deadly work ashore.
By their conduct in the
forefront of the battle, by their character and feats of arms, they raised themselves into that glorious company of the seven
or eight most famous Divisions of the British Army in the Great War.
reputation was consistently maintained in spite of losses of so awful a
character as to sweep away three or four times over their original number.
Their memory is established in history and their contribution will be
identified and recognised a hundred years hence.
Deriving as they did
their nomenclature, ceremonial, traditions and inspiration
from the Royal Navy, they in their turn added a new aspect to their parent body
of which it will ever be proud.
From Dunkirk to Belgrade,
Antwerp to Gallipoli, the Somme and Ancre in 1916 to the Drocourt-Quéant switch
in 1918, through every bloody battle and always in the brunt of it,
they marched and suffered.
Again and again they were shot to pieces,
always rising, unconquerable, never failing, never faltering. In the end
their story stands out as an epic that is impossible to erase and is fortified
against the ravages oftime.
It was a Naval Division.
It had different rates of pay, ranks, customs, methods and traditions
from those of the British Expeditionary Army. Its officers and men used Naval language on every possible occasion. For instance:
To leave their camps, in which the White Ensign flew and
bells recorded the passage of time, men requested
"leave to go ashore". When they returned they "came aboard"and, when they did not, they were reported as being "adrift."
Men were"rated" and ”disrated"- instead of being promoted or demoted.
Instead of Sergeants and Lance-Corporals they had "Petty
Officers" and"Leading Seamen".
Anchors were stencilled on their limbers, and emblazoned on
their Company flags, and their regimental badges were in the form of the crests
of the Admirals - whose names their Battalions bore.
When ill or wounded they attended the"Sick Bay".
kitchens were the "Galley".
In the "Wardroom" the King's health was drunk sitting down. Officers wanting
salt are even reported to have been
heard asking their neighbours to: "Give
it a fairwind".
All Wrights were"Shiner"
and all Clarks were”Nobby."
Many of the men and some of the Officers requested "Leave to grow" and paraded
creditable beards in the faces of a
When going aboard the
train which was to take the RND to Antwerp in 1914, Anson and Hood Battalions
were warned that, in case the train was attacked during the night, Anson was to "fall out" on the"Port"side and Hood on the"Starboard"
side of the train.
It needs scarcely be said
that these manifestations inspired, in a certain type of military mind, feelings
of the liveliest alarm. To this type of mind anything which diverged in
the slightest degree from absolute uniformity was inexpressibly painful.
these very peculiarities of the Naval Division, this consciousness they had of
partnership with the great traditions of the Royal Navy, these odd forms and
ceremonies, this special nomenclature, which were cherished and preserved so
punctiliously by both Officers and their men, few of whom had ever been to sea, were in
fact the mainspring of their exceptional prowess."
Long may their memory endure, lest we forget.
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