Royal naval division - world war one - sailors who became soldiers

Not many of you will be aware that during the First World War Churchil formed the Royal Naval Division in 1914. Made up of Naval Reservists who were additional to the needs of the fleet. Many hated the idea of being turned into soldiers. They kept their naval traditions and the two naval brigades were named after famous admirals such as Drake, Nelson, Anson, Collingwood, Benbow, Hawke, Howe & Hood. The other brigade were made up of Marines named Plymouth, Portsmouth, Deal & Chatham.

They saw action in the defence of Antwerp in 1914, saving the channel ports, our doors to europe. In 1915/1916 they were at Gallipoli in Turkey. Reformed in 1916 as the 63rd(RN) Division they saw much action on the Western Front. Becoming one of the best and most famous British infantry divisions of World War One. Total casualties during the war were 1,965 Officers & 44,829 other ranks of which 445 officers were killed and 7,102 other ranks. It is not generaly appreciated that during the Great War over 40% of Royal Navy casualties were suffered on land by the R.N.D.

My 24 part history of the Division the R.N.D. extending to 2,433 pages ended 9 years ago. However, it has just become available on 1 CD and I have just started selling it on UK EBay. (Just type in Royal Naval Division)

My Great Uncle Albert Walls, Stoker 1st Class of Hood Battalion saw action at Antwerp in 1914 but was to be killed by a sniper in the front line at Gallipoli on 18th July 1915.

I was a member of the committee that got Lutyen's memorial fountain but on Horse Guards Parade, London a few years ago. If you get the chance please visit it.

I hope this will interest members & give some of you a new interest in British naval history.

Leonard Sellers (Author of The Hood Battalion)
Think I remember hearing that one of its officers was executed for desertion, in a very dubious case. Military justice, being a bit of an oxymoron at the time.


War Hero
I'm personally very aware of the Royal Naval Division's involvement on the ground in Belgium during the First World War, Leonard, having visited the CWGC Cemetery at Tyne Cot and seen the graves of the RND's fallen while I was in Ypres.

Tyne Cot really is the most breathtaking place in a truly awful and quite unforgettable way. It is quite impossible to stand at the top and look down the slope without thinking "Oh my God, so many of them ... and so very young".


War Hero
Super Moderator
I agree with you on Tyne Cot Sol, the German Langemark cemetary is a bit of an eye opener as one mass grave has the remains of 24,917 unidentified German soldiers. There are over 44,000 Germans buried there, 8 to a grave, as the Belgians were reluctant to give up more land. Paternal Grandad fought at Ypres (and survived obviously). There's also some film footage of the Hood Division marching out of the line, I think it's on youtube.
Sub Lieutenant Edwin Dyett of Nelson Battalion

Think I remember hearing that one of its officers was executed for desertion, in a very dubious case. Military justice, being a bit of an oxymoron at the time.

Sarking the officer you are thinking about is Sub Lieutenant Edwin Dyett of Nelson Battalion, one of only three officers to be shot at dawn during the First World War. This incident took place at the Battle of the Ancre, the last 1916 battle of the Somme, on 13th November of that year. His Court Martial was not until Boxing Day and he was killed on 5th January 1917.

The details etc. are outlined in my second hardback book on the Royal Naval Division For God's Sake Shoot Straight. This was later published by Pen & Sword Books Ltd. with a new title Death for Desertion.
Unfortunately the publisher failed to tell me that they had changed the name of the same book, this led to problems in that people thought I had done it!

Edwin's story is a very interesting and moving story. His grave is at LeCrotoy cemetery at the mouth of the River Somme. However, the C.W.W.G.C. got his rank wrong as on the headstone they promoted him from Sub Lieutenant to Lieutenant. The inscription reads:- "If Doing well Ye Suffer This Is Acceptable With God."

Later I found additional material, which I published on the Admiralty's reaction to the execution in my 24 part history the R.N.D.

I hope this is of interest. Len Sellers.


Lantern Swinger
I was at Tyne Cot about 2 years ago, and, yes, it is truly an unforgettable place. What brings home the scale of it is that, my dad found his great uncle's name on the long memorial wall, and to see so many tens of thousands of names on it as well, not even counting the graves, each with their own story to tell and a lost loved one.
Think I remember hearing that one of its officers was executed for desertion, in a very dubious case. Military justice, being a bit of an oxymoron at the time.

That would be Sub-Lieutenant Edwin Dyett, shot at Dawn 5th January 1917. Dyett's case was a sad one. There can be little doubt that he was mentally incapable of coping with land warfare and had made numerous requests to be given a sea-going job. He had been marked down as one of the "officers to be left out of battle" (essentially to provide a cadre around which a unit could be rebuilt in case of massive casualties) for the attack during which his "offence" took place, but the list was altered by an army officer who didn't like him. Whether Dyett did actually desert and refuse an order is a matter for debate, his own defence was that in the chaos of an attack that was going wrong he simply returned to Brigade HQ for further orders. The court martial found him guilty however and passed sentence of death with a recommendation of mercy, a recommendation that the divisional commander agreed with. The corps commander and army commander disagreed and Dyett was executed (there was probably some Army-v-Navy politics involved in this).

As an aside Dyett, as a Navy Officer, could not by law have been executed without the prior consent of the Admiralty. That consent it would seem was never sought, let alone obtained, and therefore the execution was unlawful.

Finally, Dyett's case became a bit of a cause celebre after the war when it was subject to articles in the press and the subject of a Novel, "the Secret Battle", by A.P. Herbert, questions in parliament and finally reviewed in detail by Judge Babington for his book, "For The Sake of Example".
Tyne Cot Cemetery

Soleil & Wreckert yes Tyne Cot is a deep expirence and one you always remember. Not far away is the B & B of Varlet Farm which was captured by Hood Battalion in 1917. You might have seen the yellow direction signs to it. It is a good place to stay and has a small museum. It is very atmospheric with the view of the village of Passchendaele in the distance.

As for the German Langemark cemetery, what a sad place, it is as if the German nation has forgotten its own people. When we went the only sign of remembering were red poppies left by people of other nations.

Len Sellers.


Lantern Swinger
When I was in germany on an exchange a couple of years ago, I spotted a few WW1 war memorials in towns, not as prominent as ours, but still there. I didn't see any WW2 memorials (I was in a rural part of the country, far from the areas that were bombed, so although I know the civilians who died are commemorated in that form, I didn't see any) but I am reliably informed that Germans who died in WW2 are seen today as victims of Nazism and remembered as such.


Lantern Swinger
A few of the historical supplements wot I wrote about the RND are online:



and the March Offensive of 1918

As for the subject of German memorials, they do exist - but they're not that obvious. In most cases, the names were added to WW1 memorials in small towns, identical to the practice in the UK. What often happened was that the associations of individual divisions erected a Gedenkstein (memorial stone) where the veterans would gather for services of remembrances - not unlike the idea of the arboretum in Staffordshire; some of the stones were also surrounded with the names of the dead.

There are often fairly substantial memorials in cities to the Bombenkrieg - Hamburg, for example, has several including the rather chilling main memorial at the Ohlsdorf Friedhof, there's a small one in Rostock. There are also several churches which have been left as memorials: the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche on the K'damm in Berlin, the Nikolaikirche in Hamburg, Petrikirche in Lübeck.


Book Reviewer
Latterly the RND were not sailors at all, but recruited largely from Durham miners.

I contributed a piece about my (soldier) grandfather's brief participation as 2 i/c Nelson Bn to the RND magazine a few years ago.