London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories
Formation of the 56th Division, 1916
4TH Battalion, The London Regiment
(Royal Fusiliers) in the Great War
1914 - 1919
Formation of the 56th Division
From May onwards during the remainder of 1916 the history of the Regiment in
France is that of the l/4th Battalion, into which the 2/4th Battalion was merged
; and we may therefore proceed to follow its fortunes from the date of its
attachment to the newly formed 56th Division.
At the date of the l/4th Battalion's arrival in billets at Citerne on the 9th
February 1916, the 56th Division was just being concentrated. The 47th Division,
which comprised chiefly battalions of the 2nd London Division of pre-war days
and which the Battalion had just left, had joined the British Armies in France
as a Division ; but the units of the old 1st London Division, which had been
among the first Territorial units to leave England, had hitherto been scattered
throughout the Army attached to different regular divisions. The 56th,
therefore, though junior in precedence, owing to its comparatively late
formation, to many other Territorial Divisions which had left England as
complete organisations, consisted entirely of battalions which might fairly be
described as veteran, since all had seen a good deal of stiff work up and down
The infantry battalions were brigaded as follows :
56th (London) Division— Major-Gen. Sir C. P. A. Hull, K.C.B.
167th Infantry Brigade— Brig.-Gen. F. H. Burnell-Nugent, D.S.O.
1/lst London (Royal Fusiliers).
l/3rd London (Royal Fusiliers).
168th Infantry Brigade — Brig.-Gen. G. G. Loch, O.M.G., D.S.O.
l/4th London (Royal Fusiliers).
l/12th London (Rangers).
l/13th London (Kensingtons).
l/14th London (London Scottish).
169th Infantry Brigade— Brig.-Gen. E. S. D'Ewes Coke, C.M.G., D.S.O.
l/2nd London (Royal Fusiliers).
l/5th London (London Rifle Brigade).
l/9th London (Queen Victoria Rifles).
1/1 6th London (Queen's Westminster Rifles).
The Division was attached to the VI Corps (Keir) of the Third Army (Allenby).
The record of the next three months may be passed over quickly as they were
devoted solely to organising and training the new Division in areas well to the
rear of the trenches, and it was not until the early days of May 1916 that the
various units came under fire as a Division. This prolonged period of rest,
which indeed was the longest ever spent in this manner by the Battalion in the
whole course of its active service history, was of considerable importance in
order that staffs and units might become thoroughly acquainted with each other,
and that the individual battalions of each Brigade might have a sufficient
opportunity of creating the divisional esprit de corps which experience has
shown to be so necessary in action.
But the three months of routine work will provide us with a useful respite in
which to make some reference to one or two developments in organisation which
were carried out before the British forces plunged into the dreary and
protracted struggles of the Somme, and which affected the l/4th Londons equally
with other units.
One of the developments which took place about this period, and which had an
effect on the general efficiency of the Army so far-reaching that its value can
hardly be overestimated, was the formation of Army and Divisional Schools, in
which the lead was taken by the Third Army. These schools, as is well known,
were established under selected bodies of instructors to achieve the double
object of keeping the fighting troops, through the medium of the regimental
officers and non-commissioned officers who attended them for short courses of
instruction, in touch with the progress made from time to time in the art of
war, and particularly in the more technical branches, such as gas, bombing,
Lewis gunnery, etc., and also of assisting battalions to provide efficient
courses of instruction and training for their own personnel while out of the
trenches for short periods. The success which in general attended these efforts
was great and their influence on the action of our troops in the great battles
of the latter part of the War was undoubtedly far-reaching.
The 56th Divisional Schools were first established under Major D. V. Smith,
D.S.O., 1/lst Londons, at Givenchy-le-Noble and Ambrines in April 1916.
Attention was also directed at this time towards training the infantry to assume
greater responsibility for the general maintenance and strengthening of the
forward trenches in their own occupation, and thereby releasing the Royal
Engineers for works requiring more technical skill. To this end the early days
of March saw the formation in the Division of trench pioneer squads in each
battalion consisting of selected men under the supervision of a subaltern
officer. These squads were given special training in erecting wire
entanglements, constructing strong points and consolidation of newly captured
positions. The first trench pioneer officer of the l/4th Londons was 2/Lieut. V.
C. Donaldson, and under him the trench pioneers began to shape well towards
efficiency ; but the need for the existence of such squads was subsequently
modified to some extent by the attachment to each Division of a specially
trained Pioneer Battalion, the l/5th Cheshire Regiment joining the 56th Division
in this capacity. The Pioneer Battalions were fighting units but, as their name
implies, were employed more particularly on constructional work rather beyond
the powers of the ordinary infantry officer to direct or of the troops to
execute, and in active operations their usefulness in consolidating new trenches
and similar duties was established beyond a doubt. The advent of such higlily
trained units had a tendency somewhat, perhaps not altogether rightly, to
depreciate the value of battalion pioneer squads, and ultimately these were done
away with. The duty of trench working parties, whether in active operations or
in holding trenches, afterwards fell equally on all the personnel of the
companies, while in the 56th Division if not in others, general direction was
given to the Battalion's activity in trench work by a " Works " officer attached
to Battalion Headquarters. This appointment established early in June 1916 was
first filled in the l/4th Londons by Capt. R. N. Arthur, and remained in
existence until the end of the War. The Works officer became responsible for
making arrangements between company commanders and the Royal Engineers for the
supply of the material required for the trench work undertaken by the companies
in the line, for detailing the working parties supplied by the Battalion while
out of the line, and in general forming a link between the Commanding Officer
and the company commanders in the matter of trench work.
A further development occurred in the formation of a Headquarters Company,
called in the l/4th Londons for ease of distinction K Company. The object of
this change was to separate so far as was reasonably possible the fighting
personnel of the Battalion from the administrative personnel, such as transport,
headquarters clerks and telephone operators ; and to relieve the company
commander of responsibility as regards clothing, pay and accommodation, etc., of
such administrative personnel by bringing them under the direct control of a
Head-quarters officer, usually the Assistant -Adjutant, to whom as a rule such
men were more accessible than to the company officers. This left the companies
more intact as fighting units and much reduced the work of company
quartermaster-sergeants in looking after large numbers of men who in practice
were seldom with the company. Upon the whole the system worked exceedingly well
; though, as was almost inevitable, K Company showed from time to time a
tendency to assume unreasonable proportions and required a little " weeding
At least a passing reference must be made to the 56th Division's famous concert
troop, the Bow Bells. The uniform excellence of its entertainments from its
inception till the end of the war was the means of providing all ranks of the
Division from time to time with hours of intense pleasure and mental rest of
Lastly, mention must be made of an institution which made its appearance in the
Battalion about this time and carried out exceedingly useful work, namely, the
Regimental Canteen. Thousands of l/4th London men have happy recollections of
Sergt. Plumbley and his assistant Pte. Blight, who, like the sutlers of former
wars, followed the Battalion in all its wanderings with their welcome stocks of
tobacco, chocolate, notepaper, newspapers and other useful articles, and, fair
times or foul, were always to be found with their little shop neatly set out in
a dugout or a ruined cottage not very far in rear of the most advanced troops of
The Battalion occupied its comfortable quarters at Citerne for about a fortnight
amid conditions which presented a total change from those amidst which it had
passed the previous year, and which brought a corresponding benefit to the
troops by way of mental as well as physical recuperation. The Hallencourt area,
lying as it does on the broad rolling hills of Ponthieu on the west bank of the
Somme, formed a complete contrast to the dreary flats and marches of Flanders
not only in the pretty variation of the landscape but also because this part of
the country was unscarred by the ravages of war. At Citerne, moreover, the
Battalion for the first time since it joined the Ferozepore Brigade in February
1915 was stationed beyond the range of heavy gun fire. Citerne is but a small
village, but its kindly and warm-hearted folk, from IM. le Maire downwards, will
always be held in grateful remembrance by those of the l/4th Londons who had the
good fortune to enjoy their hospitality.
The fortnight's sojourn here was devoted principally to training, but the
amusement of the Battalion was not overlooked and football matches with other
units and concerts in the tiny village theatre made a welcome break in the
routine of parades.
At Citerne the l/4th Londons became possessed for the first time in France of a
Chaplain, the Rev. R. Palmer, C.F., Brigade Chaplain, being attached to the
Battalion on the 19th February. The Battalion was also rejoined at Citerne by
Capt. W. Moore, who had been hit at Ypres the previous April, and was further
strengthened by the arrival of a draft of 95 N.C.O.'s and men.
On the 27th February the Division moved to a fresh training area on the opposite
bank of the Somme, Divisional Headquarters opening at Domart, when the 168th
Brigade Headquarters and the Battalion were billeted in Vauchelles. Here the
programme of training was continued until the 12th March, on which day a second
move was made, this time to the Doullcns area, all the battalions of the 168th
Brigade occupying billets in the town.
On the 8th March a further reinforcement of 100 N.C.O.'s and men arrived from
the 4/4th Battalion and was posted to companies. At this time also the bad news
was received that Lieut. -Col. L. T. Burnett, who had gone on leave in January,
was unfit to return overseas, and Major W. G. Clark, D.S.O., therefore continued
in command of the Battalion, with Major W. Moore as second in command.
Doullens did not provide a refuge to the Brigade for long for the 15th March saw
the Division once more on the move to the Le Cauroy area (cast of Frevent), the
l/4th Londons taking over billets at Beaufort. In this area the Division settled
down steadily to a period of training which continued without interruption and
with very little incident calling for notice for nearly seven weeks, during
which the strength of the Battalion, as of all other units, gradually crept up,
if not to war strength at least to such size that it became abundantly evident
that the Division was not destined to remain for long in billets behind the
line. Drafts joined the Battalion consisting of 2/Lieuts. G. E. Stanbridge, G.
H. Davis and A. G. Blunn, and also of 87 other ranks on the 22nd March ; of 12
other ranks on the 6th April ; and a final reinforcement of 33 other ranks
arrived on the 20th April ; these additions bringing the Battalion to the
respectable strength of nearly 600 all ranks.
During the same period the Battalion suffered losses among officers in Capt.
, M.C., who was seconded to the 168th Brigade Machine-Gun Company ;
Lieut. S. E. H. Walmisley, who after carrying out the duties of Quartermaster
for nearly four months during the absence on sick leave of Lieut. E. S. Tomsett,
was appointed to the Central Training School, Rouen ; and 2/Lieut. C. R. P. de
Pury who was seconded as R.T.O.
On the 23rd March Major W. G. Clark, D.S.O., left the Battalion on short leave
and he also succumbed to a severe breakdown while at home and was unable to
return. Command of the Battalion was carried on temporarily by Major W. Moore
until the 8th April, when Lieut. -Col. L. L. Wheatley, D.S.O., Argyll and
Sutherland Highlanders, Staff Captain 168th Infantry Brigade, took command.
It would be but tiresome to follow the daily routine of the Battalion during
this prolonged period of rest where one day's work so much resembles that which
preceded it, and we may therefore be forgiven for passing quickly over this part
of the record. Enough has been said to show how from the Battalion point of view
the Division came into being and was prepared for the work allotted to it, and
it remains therefore for us to pass on and endeavour to recount the manner in
which the l/4th Londons performed their task.