It is important that we continue to remember the sacrifices of our forebears.

Captain Rob Vitali RN

At the outset of World War One the Royal Navy (RN) called up every member of every type of RN reserve organisation and found themselves with many more men than berths on ships or establishments. The Army did the same.

The then 1st Sea Lord, Winston Churchill, enacted a concept considered prior to WW1 that a division of naval Infantry should be formed. The task of the Division was to seize and hold ports to enable the Royal Navy to operate from them. The Royal Navy had a long history of operations ashore. Lord Nelson received his eye injury and arm injury while operating ashore, not on a ship.

The Division initially formed in tented camps at Walmer (1st Brigade) and Betteshanger (2nd Brigade) near Deal in Kent while awaiting the building of a permanent camp at Blandford. The Crystal Palace was also taken up as a Royal Naval Division (RND) location.

The Division consisted of 3 brigades. The first and second brigades were composed of the ‘reservists’ called up (including some Army transfers). The third brigade was formed from battalions of the Royal Marines Light Infantry.

1st and 2nd Brigade Battalions were named after Admirals:

               1st Brigade: Drake, Benbow, Hawke and Collingwood Battalions

               2nd Brigade: Hood, Nelson, Anson and Howe Battalions

3rd Brigade, The Marine Brigade Battalions were named after locations:

               9th (Portsmouth), 10th (Plymouth), 11th (Chatham) and 12th (Deal)

The RND were deployed to Antwerp in October 1914 to take over trenches from Belgians surrounding Antwerp. Savaged by German attacks, the Division withdrew but many men were lost or interned (Neutral Netherlands) or seized as POW.

Reformed at Blandford Camp (Built in the meantime and occupied from Nov 1915). Retrained and issued with tropical kit and sent to the Dardanelles (Gallipoli Campaign), ordered by Winston Churchill.

On 4th June 1915 at midday the RND first wave advanced against Turkish trenches, the second wave left at 1215. By 1245 1060 officers and men of RND lay dead. The Collingwood Battalion received so many casualties that the remaining men were used as Battle Casualty Replacements and the Battalion never reformed. The memorial at Blandford Camp is to the Collingwood Battalion primarily.

After Gallipoli the RND returned to Blandford, reformed again and were then sent to the Western Front under Army Command as the 63rd (RN) Division. They acquitted themselves extremely well in all battles from the Somme to the final Hindenburg Line battles.

The 63rd (RN) Division was one of the first to be withdrawn and repatriated at the end of WW1. This was (in many opinions) a jealousy on the part of the Army for the successes of the Division. They were not allowed to formally ‘enter’ towns as primary victors and the men were sent home quickly, frequently under the premise that they mostly came from the North East therefore were needed in the mines!!?

The Division was formally disbanded on 4th June 1919 on Horse Guards Parade, London.

A short Remembrance Service and Wreath Laying Ceremony was held, with wreaths being laid by the Admiral Sir George Zambellas KCB DSC ADC DL, former First Sea Lord, Captain Vitali, the Blandford Garrison and Friends of Collingwood Battalion.

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