Orchard Dump
Webmatters : The Ancre and Beaucourt: November 1916
Rough Map of Area

The Ancre

63rd (Royal Naval) Division

Long before the war it was realised by the Royal Navy that, enormous it might be, it still had too many reservists for the number of sailing vessels it would have available in time of war.

The idea was put forward that units could be trained as infantry to fight for ports or naval installations and then to defend them. Thus a Royal Naval Division was created.

At the end of February 1915 the Division set sail for the military disaster that was to become the Dardanelles campaign.

Following that campaign the Division faced an uncertain future and found themselves awaiting news from London as to what was to become of them.

For a more detailed look at the creation of the Division follow the link to the Monument below.

It was eventually decided to fully incorporate them into the Army and in May 1916 the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division, as it was now officially designated, arrived in Marseilles.

Then in November the Division was brought to the Ancre Valley. Fittingly enough perhaps as Ancre is the French word for Anchor.

This entire area had withstood all attempts by the British to take it, and it was only now, after the fall of the Thiepval, that another attack could be launched with any degree of real confidence.

Unfortunately for the Division they suffered a telling blow in the loss of their commander: Major General Archibald Paris, who lost a leg when he was wounded by shellfire on 12th October.

The man chosen to replace him was Major General Cameron Shute who found the Division’s naval traditions and manners complete anathema. Much has been written about the effects on morale within the Division by the arrival of Shute and his attempts to hammer the sailors into a conforming Army unit. In later years he was to become an admirer of the Division but for the moment a spell-checker is essential when typing his name!

The weather had been unfavourable and the attack had been postponed several times causing a lot of stress for those waiting to take part.

On the 10th November it was finally decided that it would go ahead on the 13th November 1916.

As the official history records, the infantry had a long and trying march up to the lines in cold and wet conditions:

…in the early hours of 13th November, when the whole battlefield had become shrouded in dripping fog.