BRITISH INFANTRY DIVISIONS
OF THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918
SHORT HISTORIES BY PAUL REED
PART 2 - THE REGULAR ARMY: 5th - 8th DIVISIONS
5th Division - In August 1914 the units of 5th Division were in Ireland, with the divisional headquarters at the Curragh. However, it responded quickly to mobilisation and was in France by 17th August 1914 as part of II Corps (Haig). On the left flank of 3rd Division, it fought at the Battle of Mons on 23rd August, and was one of the key divisions at Le Cateau on 26th August when five VCs were won by members of 5th Division in one day. Some units were all but wiped out - 2nd Suffolks and 2nd KOYLI in particular. Service on the Aisne was followed by a move to French Flanders, where the division was in action at Neuve-Chapelle to La Bassée October-November 1914. By November, 5th Division had suffered 5,000 casualties. It stayed in this sector until a move to the Ypres Salient. During Second Ypres, 5th Division defended Hill 60 where four VCs were won in a day - three of them by soldiers of the 1st East Surreys who were heavily engaged in the fighting, and the fourth by an officer of the Queen Victoria's Rifles - the first territorial officer to get the award. It also served on The Bluff at this time. In mid-1915 it went south to the Somme, and took over the line at Carnoy before moving to Arras. In July 1916 it returned for the Battle of the Somme. By this time it had a number of New Army battalions attached to the division, among them the 'Birmingham Pals' and the Gloucester City Battalion. 5th Division was heavily engaged at High Wood, Guillemont and Morval, and by September 1916 had suffered over 11,000 casualties on the Somme.
In March 1917, after service in the Bethune sector, 5th Division was attached to the Canadian Corps for the Battle of Arras and on 9th April 1917, during the attack on Vimy Ridge, supplied a number of battalions to assist in the attack. It stayed here until June 1917 and then fought at Third Ypres in September-October, losing 7,000 men. Following the disaster which befell the Italian army at Caparetto, a number of British divisions were posted to Italy. 5th Division was one of these, and it left for that front in November 1917. However, following the heavy losses on the Somme and in Flanders in March/April 1918, it returned to France in the Spring of 1918 and went on to fight with the Third Army on the Somme, the Hindenburg and in the final battle of the war on the Sambre Canal on 4th November 1918. When the Armistice was signed, 5th Division was near Mauberge.
|Mjr E.W.Alexander||119 Bty RFA||Elouges 24.8.14|
|Dvr J.H.C.Drain||37th (HOW) Bty RFA||Le Cateau 26.8.14|
|Dvr F.Luke||37th (HOW) Bty RFA||Le Cateau 26.8.14|
|Capt D.Reynolds||37th (HOW) Bty RFA||Le Cateau 26.8.14|
|L/Cpl F.W.Holmes||2nd KOYLI||Le Cateau 26.8.14|
|Mjr C.A.L.Yate||2nd KOYLI||Le Cateau 26.8.14|
|Capt W.H.Johnson||59th Field Coy RE||Missy 14.9.14|
|Sgt J.Hogan||2nd Manchesters||Festubert 29.10.14|
|2/Lt J.Leach||2nd Manchesters||Festubert 29.10.14|
|Bdsm T.E.Rendle||1st DCLI||Wulverghem 20.11.14|
|Pte E.Dwyer||1st East Surrey Regt||Hill 60 20.4.15|
|2/Lt B.H.Geary||1st East Surrey Regt||Hill 60 20.4.15|
|Lieut G.R.P.Roupell||1st East Surrey Regt||Hill 60 20.4.15|
|2/Lt G.H.Woolley||Queen Victoria's Rifles||Hill 60 20.4.15|
|Pte E.Warner||1st Bedfordshires||Hill 60 1.5.15|
|Pte T.A.Jones||1st Cheshires||Morval 25.9.16|
|L/Cpl G.Onions||1st Devonshires||Achiet le Grand 22.8.18|
|Mjr B.M.Cloutman||59th Field Coy RE||Sambre Canal 6.11.18|
Hussey, A.H. & Inman, D.S. - The Fifth Division in the Great War (Nisbet & Co Ltd 1925)
Carter, T. - Birmingham Pals (Pen & Sword Ltd 1997) [14,15 & 16 Royal Warwicks]
Gleichen, Count E. - The Doings of the Fifteenth Infantry Brigade August 1914 to March 1915 (Blackwood 1917)
Hawkins, F. - From Ypres to Cambrai: the diary of an infantryman 1914-19 (Elmfield 1974) [QVRs 1915]
Hussey, A.H. - Narrative of the 5th Divisional Artillery 1914-1918 (RA Institute 1919)
Russell, A. - The Machine Gunner (Roundwood Press 1977) [98 Coy MGC]
6th Division - Units of the division were stationed in both England and Ireland in August 1914, and were assembled for the move to France late August 1914. 6th Division crossed via St Nazaire in early September, and immediately joined the BEF on the AISNE. It's first action was in the Battle of Armentières in October 1914 where it suffered nearly 4,700 casualties. The division then moved to Flanders in June 1915, and took part in the fighting at Hooge on 9th August. It remained in the Ypres Salient until late July 1916; by that time its tour of duty at Ypres had cost 6th Division more than 11,000 casualties. During the Battle of the Somme, 6th Division fought in the Battles of Flers-Courcelette, Morval and Le Transloy with 7,000 casualties.
6th Division did not fight at Arras or Ypres in 1917, instead it remained in the Loos-Lens sector on normal trench duty until November 1917 and then took part in the Battle of Cambrai, November-December. In March 1918 it was at Lagnicourt when the German Offensive began, and in two days of fighting retreats lost over 5,000 men - many taken prisoner. In April 1918 it fought in the Battle of the Lys at Bailleul, Kemmel and the Scherpenberg. Remaining in the Salient, heavy losses kept the division out of action until late September 1918, when it fought in the battles for the Hindenburg, reaching the Sambre Canal by 31st October. In some six weeks 6th Division had suffered over 6,200 casualties. When the war ended it was near Bohain in billets, and then became part of the Army of Occupation in Germany. 6th Division was disbanded in March 1919. Total casualties during the Great War are estimated at over 53,000.
|Pte H.May||1st Cameronians||La Boutillerie 22.10.14|
|Pte J.Caffrey||2nd York & Lancs||La Brique 16.11.15|
|2/Lt F.B.Wearne||11th Essex||Loos 28.6.17|
|A/Capt A.M.Lascelles||14th DLI||Masnières 3.12.17|
Marden, T.O. - A Short History of the 6th Division (Hugh Rees Ltd 1920)
Walkington, M.L. - Twice in a Lifetime (Samson Books 1980) [16th Londons]
7th Division - This division was formed in September 1914 from units which had been serving in the far flung corners of the Empire, and had returned to England following the outbreak of war. It was also the last division to arrive in Flanders prior to the First Battle of Ypres, disembarking at Zeebrugge on 6th/7th October 1914. Initially 7th Division was given orders to assist in the defence of Antwerp, but this city had fallen before the division even had the chance to move up. Instead they marched south to Ypres, and took part in First Ypres, fighting a successful delaying action on the Broodseinde Ridge from the 19th-21st October which inflicted heavy casualties on the Germans. The division stayed at Ypres, fighting near Gheluvelt, Kruiseek Hill and Zillebeke, and by the close of November had lost more than 9,700 casualties since arriving in Flanders. Some battalions were all but wiped out.
In 1915 7th Division moved south to the sector below Armentières, taking part in the battles of Neuve Chapelle (10th-13th March), Aubers Ridge (9th May), Festubert (16th May) and Loos (25th September). At Loos the division attacked opposite Hulluch, and by this time some of its regular battalions had been replaced by New Army units - such as the 8th and 9th Devonshires. Casualties at Loos were high - some 5,426 officers and men. Among the officers was the divisional commander, Major General T.Capper, who died of wounds on 27th September 1915.
7th Division arrived on the Somme in December 1915 and went into rest before it took over the trenches opposite Fricourt and Mametz. During this quiet period leading up to the Battle of the Somme, there were many trench raids and mines exploded on the divisional front. Great War poets Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon were serving with the 1st RWF in the division at this time. On the First Day of the Somme, 1sy July 1916, 7th Division attacked and captured the village of Mametz, the 8th and 9th Devonshires in particular losing heavily to German machine- gun fire. They stayed in the line around Mametz Wood until 21st July; by this time casualties had mounted to over 7,500 officers and men. In August the division returned to the Somme and fought at Ginchy, and then served on the Ancre Heights during the winter of 1916/17.
Following the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line in the Spring of 1917, 7th Division fought at Croiselles and Ecoust in April, and then at Bullecourt in May; from 3rd-16th May they suffered 2,682 casualties. In September the division moved up to the Ypres Salient for Third Ypres and in October fought at Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcapelle and Passchendaele. This was another costly operation, the division losing some 283 officers and 6,381 men. In November 1917, follow the collapse of the Italian army, a number of British divisions were sent to the Italian front - 7th Division being one of them. Here they remained for the rest of the war, fighting on the Asiago Plateau and in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto in October 1918. An Armistice was signed with the Austrians on 4th November, and the division began the process of demobilisation. During the Great War it is estimated that 7th Division suffered 68,000 casualties - one of the highest casualty rates in any British division.
|Dmr W.Kenny||2nd Gordon Highlanders||Nr Ypres 23.10.14|
|Lt J.A.O.Brooke||2nd Gordon Highlanders||Nr Gheluvelt 29.10.14|
|Capt J.F.Vallentin||1st South Staffs||Zillebeke 7.11.14|
|Pte J.Mackenzie||2nd Scots Guards||Rouge Bancs 19.12.14|
|Pte A.Acton||2nd Border Regt||Rouges Bancs 21.12.14|
|Pte J.Smith||2nd Border Regt||Rouges Bancs 21.12.14|
|Cpl W.Anderson||2nd Yorkshire Regt||Neuve Chapelle 12.3.15|
|Pte E.Barber||1st Grenadier Guards||Neuve Chapelle 12.3.15|
|L/Cpl W.D.Fuller||1st Grenadier Guards||Neuve Chapelle 12.3.15|
|Capt C.C.Foss||2nd Bedfordshires||Neuve Chapelle 12.3.15|
|CSM F.Barter||1st RWF||Festubert 16.5.15|
|Pte W.Angus||1/8th Royal Scots||Givenchy 12.6.15|
|Pte A.Vickers||2nd Royal Warwicks||Hulluch 25.9.15|
|Pte T.Veale||8th Devonshires||East of High Wood 20.7.16|
Atkinson, C.T. - The Seventh Division 1914-1918 (John Murray 1927)
- This book has recently (1999) been reprinted by the Naval & Military Press (see LINKS) in their Divisional History series.
Adams, B. - Nothing of Importance (reprinted by Tom Donovan) [1st RWF]
Crosse, E.C. Rev - The Defeat of Austria as seen by the 7th Division (Deane & Son 1919)
Graves, R. - Goodbye to All That (various editions) [1st RWF]
Kennedy, E.J. Rev - With The Immortal Seventh Division (Hodder & Stoughton 1916)
Mellersh, H.E.L. - Schoolboy Into War (William Kimber 1978) [2nd East Lancs]
Sassoon, S. - Memoirs of A Fox Hunting Man (various editions) [1st RWF]
Sassoon, S. - Memoirs of An Infantry Officer (various editions) [1st RWF]
8th Division - Formed in September 1914 from units that had returned from garrison duty in the Empire, 8th Division did not land in France until 6th/7th November 1914, and therefore missed the fighting on the Western Front in 1914. It took over the sector south of Armentières and stayed here until the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, 10th-13th March 1915, when the division took a leading role in this operation with more than 4,800 casualties. A further 4,682 casualties were suffered at Aubers Ridge on 9th May, when 8th Division was still holding the same sector, and indeed it remained here until April 1916.
Arriving on the Somme in the Spring of 1916, it attacked along Mash Valley at Ovillers on 1st July 1916 - an attack that failed badly with the loss of over 5,400 men. A short tour of the Loos area followed, until a return to the Somme in October for the Battle of Le Transloy. The division remained on the Somme for the winter of 1916/17 and was involved in the German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line, but did not fight at Arras. In mid-1917 8th Division moved to the Ypres Salient, and served at 'Plugstreet Wood' and then at Third Ypres. By this time casualties had mounted to over 10,600 officers and men.
When the German Offensive began in March 1918 the division was out on rest, and came down to the Somme where it was involved in the defence of Villers-Bretonneux in April, alongside the Australians. Major General Heneker successfully organised a 'scratch mob' of Aussie and British units which held back the German advance on Amiens; close by the first tank versus tank action was fought at Cachy. Casualties during these operations were 8,600 officers and men.
In May 1918 the 8th Division was posted to IX Corps to take over a portion of the French sector on the Chemin des Dames near Reims. Within three weeks of their arrival, another phase of the German Offensive was launched here on 27th May, and the 8th Division was all but wiped out, suffering 7,800 casualties - many of them prisoners of war. It took the division some time to recover from these losses, and after it returned to the British front, it fought in the closing operations in October and November 1918. 8th Division did not go to Germany with the Army of Occupation, and was disbanded in March 1919. During the Great War, it had suffered a total of 63,858 casualties.
|Lieut P.Neame||15th Field Coy RE||Neuve Chapelle 19.12.14|
|CSM H.Daniels||2nd Rifle Brigade||Neuve Chapelle 12.3.15|
|Cpl C.R.Noble||2nd Rifle Brigade||Neuve Chapelle 12.3.15|
|Pte J.Rivers||1st Notts & Derby Regt||Neuve Chapelle 12.3.15|
|Cpl C.Sharpe||2nd Lincolns||Aubers Ridge 9.5.15|
|Cpl J.Upton||1st Notts & Derby Regt||Aubers Ridge 9.5.15|
|2/Lt G.E.Cates||2nd Rifle Brigade||Bouchavesnes 8.3.17|
|Brig-Gen C.Coffin DSO||RE cmdg 25th Brigade||Westhoek 31.7.17|
|Capt T.R.Colyer-Ferguson||2nd Northants||Bellewaarde 31.7.17|
|Lt-Col F.C.Roberts DSO MC||1st Worcesters||Pargny 22.3.18/1.4.18|
|Capt A.M.Toye||2nd Middlesex||Eterpigny 25.3.18|
|Brig-Gen G.W.St G.Grogan||cmdg 24th Brigade||Chemin des Dames 27.5.18|
Boraston, J.H. & Bax, C.E.O. - The Eight Division in War 1914-1918 (Medici Society 1926)
- This book has recently (1999) been reprinted by the Naval & Military Press (see LINKS) in their Divisional History series.
Rogerson, S. - Twelve Days (pub. 1933) [2nd West Yorks]
Rogerson, S. - The Ebb and Flow (pub. 1937) [Chemin des Dames with 8th Division]
©PAUL REED 2001
DIVISIONAL SIGNS ©JOHN WHALLEY