Webmatters Title
Webmatters : 63rd (Royal Naval) Division Monument at Beaucourt
Rough Map of Area

63rd (Royal Naval) Division

Location

Beaucourt is a village along the banks of the Ancre River approximately 10 kilometres north of Albert.

It lies between the Ulster Tower and the Newfoundland Memorial Park on the D 50 which runs parallel to the railway line. Continue past the Ancre British Cemetery (left) and the old Railway Station (right).

The monument is on the left hand side of the road on the bank.

In a few minutes you have travelled the distance attacked by the Division from the area of the cemetery to Beaucourt village.

 

Background

Forming a Division


63rd (RN) Division memorial, Beaucourt

The 63rd (RN) Division monument at Beaucourt

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.

The Royal Naval Division was sent to Antwerp in October 1914 in an attempt to defend the Belgian fortress.

Badly out gunned and without adequate support those that weren’t killed or captured were forced to withdraw with the rest of the British Expeditionary Force towards Ieper.

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

A year later following the remarkably well organised and successful evacuation of the beaches the RND was garrisoned on a number of the Aegean Islands.

Like many soldiers the belief in a quick war and a speedy clean victory had been battered out of the sailors by the reality of all they had suffered and witnessed.

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

It needs to be realised that at this time the Admiralty was enormously powerful and rather than just let the unit be disbanded, it was agreed that they would be placed under command of the Army; whilst retaining their legal status as sailors.

 

France

Thus in May 1916 the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division, as it was now officially designated, arrived in Marseilles.

It consisted of three Brigades, the 188th, 189th and 190th. The first two were exclusively Navy, whilst the latter was made up of soldiers.

188th Brigade 189th Brigade 190th Brigade
Howe Battalion Hood Battalion 1st Bn HAC
Anson Battalion Hawke Battalion 4th Bn Bedfordshire Regiment
1st Royal Marines LI Drake Battalion 7th Bn Royal Fusiliers
2nd Royal Marines LI Nelson Battalion 10th Bn Royal Dublin Fusiliers

The Pioneer Battalion was the 14th Bn Hampshire Regiment

From Marseilles the Division was brought north to Abbeville a town which sits astride the Somme river as it flows out to the bay and the seaside towns of St Valery and Le Crotoy (The bay is especially worth visiting by the way – with large varieties of bird life, the largest colony of seals in France as well as a steam train to take you round the bay).

Following a short period further north the Division was brought back south and it soon became evident that it was going to be used in the area of 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.

Beaucourt 13th/14th November 1916

At 0545 hours under the cover of the artillery barrage the leading battalions made good progress but at the cost of severe casualties from enfilading fire.

Lt Colonel Tetley the CO of the Drake Battalion was mortally wounded and the CO of the Hood Battalion: Lt Colonel Freyberg found himself leading not only his own men but those of Drake Battalion as well.

To their left the 188th Brigade were having an equally difficult time with 1st RMLI on the extreme left losing every Company Commander in the opening charge.

The Germans had been far from idle during their long stay in the area and they had constructed a well connected system of tunnels using medieval tunnels and catacombs.

In the valley Freyberg advanced again at 0745 with his two battalions and part of the 1st HAC. Within an hour and a half he was confident enough that he could take the village of Beaucourt.

However, with the left flank of the Division still hanging in the air, General Shute told Freyberg to hold fast whilst the artillery continued with the bombardment and the 188th Brigade attempted further attacks across its front.

The following day Freyberg and his men stormed the village. Despite the strong resistance in the trenches to the west of the village, Beaucourt fell remarkably easily with the gain of 500 prisoners. By 1030 hours Freyberg could report that he was in control of Beaucourt.

See the link below for a fuller account of the battle.

 

The Memorial

The Hon Vere Harmsworth

The memorial was designed by Alan Brace and the land on which it stood was purchased for 200 francs from a Madame Maison.

The monument is in the form of an obelisk.

There is a large bronze plaque on the front which explains that the monument is in honour of the men of the Royal Naval Division who fell during the Battle of the Ancre in November 1916.

When the Royal Naval Division Memorial Committee was seeking to put a monument in place in 1921, Lord Rothermere offered to provide funding.

His son, Lieutenant the Honourable Vere Harmsworth had been killed on the 13th November 1916 whilst serving with the Hawke Battalion.

He is buried in Ancre British Cemetery;
Grave V E 19.

With the help of this funding, the memorial was unveiled on the 12th of November 1922. The position it stands on was no man’s land during the battle, and at the time of the unveiling the land still bore the scars.

The unveiling ceremony was performed by General Sir Hubert Gough with approximately 200 officers and men from the Division who had fought in the battle.