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 War 1. 

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. 

Their 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". 

   Field 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 clean-chinned Army.

   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. 

Yet 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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