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The Royal Naval Division memorial

In the corner of Horse Guards Parade, partly hidden behind the Admiralty Citadel is a memorial to an unusual Great War fighting force: the Royal Naval Division. These naval men served as infantry at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.

The Royal Naval Division memorial

The Royal Naval Division (RND) was an odd hybrid unit, seamen serving as and alongside footsoldiers. It was both a category of naval personnel and a fighting unit of the British Army, although the two were not for long the same thing. The history and the make-up of the Division told well elsewhere, but a brief summary is that Winston Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, formed the Division from surplus naval troops (mainly reservists) as the Germans rapidly invaded Belgium in 1914. The Division first saw action in the (unsuccessful) defence of Antwerp in October – many of the RND escaped over the border to the neutral Netherlands and were interned there.

Recruiting poster for the RND

Reconstituted, and following further training, the Division was sent to Egypt in 1915 and landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April in the first landing of British troops there. They served throughout the campaign there before being sent back to the Western Front in 1916, where the Division served out the rest of the war, fighting in most of the major battles.

The RND at Gallipoli – full page photo in page 1 of the Daily Mirror (15/7/15)

During this time, though, the battalions that made up the Division were – as in other Divisions of the British Expeditionary Force – moved around and the RND as a fighting unit became less naval in its make-up (the memorial remembers those from the army units that served in the RND as well as the naval personnel). Its original battalions bore names evocative of British naval history: Nelson, Hawke, Drake, Collingwood, Benbow, Hood, Howe and Anson.

In 1925, a decade after the landing at Gallipoli, Winston Churchill unveiled a memorial to the officers and men of the Division who died during the war, alongside him was Sir Ian Hamilton – the commander of the Gallipoli campaign.

Churchill and Hamilton at the unveiling ceremony (Daily Mirror 27/5/25)

The memorial was constructed at the corner of Horse Guards Parade, at the back of the Admiralty building. Its inscription lists the places that the RND served and bears the words of a sonnet by Rupert Brooke – the Division’s most famous casualty.

BLOW OUT YOU BUGLES, OVER THE RICH DEAD / THERE’S NONE OF THESE SO LONELY AND POOR OF OLD / BUT, DYING HAS MADE US RARER GIFTS THAN GOLD / THESE LAID THE WORLD AWAY: POURED OUT THE RED / SWEET WINE OF YOUTH; GAVE UP THE YEARS TO BE. / OF WORK AND JOY, AND THAT UNHOPED SERENE / THAT MEN CALL AGE: AND THOSE WHO WOULD HAVE BEEN / THEIR SONS, THEY GAVE THEIR IMMORTALITY

The view of the memorial in 1925, looking towards the Mall (Daily Mirror 27/4/25)

The same view today, blocked by the citadel.

The memorial under construction (Times 6/4/25)

Two South Londoners served as naval soldiers with the RND and had very different war stories:

Able Seaman H. Hardcastle, from Vauxhall, was a serving naval rating in 1914, but was drafted into the RND for the fighting on the Western Front.  He later rejoined his ship and saw action at the Battle of Heligoland Bight, where (according the National Roll of the Great War) the ship was sunk and Hardcastle was taken prisoner.  After a second attempt to escape, he was recaptured and moved to a punishment camp. Eventually he was sent to Holland and repatriated in England in November 1918.

Unlike Hardcastle, virtually all of Able Seaman Alexander Frederick Smith‘s war service was in the RND.  He was a surveyor from Catford and enlisted in the Public Schools Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.  After Antwerp, most of the original Hawke Battalion, RND, had been killed, captured or interned, and the battalion was reformed incorporating men from the Public Schools Battalion in its D Company. Hardcastle served in Gallipoli throughout the fighting there and then as an anti-aircraft gunner on the Island of Imbros. After a few months in the UK from July 1916, he was sent out to France and Flanders in December and was killed in action on 18 February 1917, at Miraumont during the battle of the Ancre. He is commemorated on the Theipval memorial to the missing in France, and on the war memorial in St George’s Church, Catford.

The Royal Naval Division memorial has had an odd history since 1925.  It was removed from Horse Guards Parade in 1939, when the Admiralty Citadel was built between Horse Guards Parade and the Mall, and only re-erected in Greenwich in 1951. Forty years later it was moved back to Westminster and restored to its original location – albeit dwarfed by the citadel.

Sources:

UK National Inventory of War Memorials

Page on the RND on a site about Jack Clegg, one of its number

And (as ever) the Long Long Trail webpage on the RND

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Posted by on 29 November 2012 in Ordinary Londoners, War Dead, War memorials

 

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Commander Buckle: a hero’s grave restored

Today, a campaign to restore the grave of a London Great War hero comes to its end with a service at the Grave of Commander A.W. Buckle, who was repeatedly decorated for gallantry
while serving as the commander of the Anson Battalion, Royal Naval Division.

Archibald Walter Buckle was a London schoolteacher. When war was declared in 1914, he was away on his honeymoon, but cut it short to join his unit in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He was commissioned as an officer after serving at Antwerp during the German advance through Belgium in 1914.

He was sent to the Western Front again in 1916, when the Royal Naval Division (naval officers and men fighting as infantry) was deployed there towards the end of the year. He served his distinction in the battles of Arras and Third Ypres (Passchendaele), the German Spring Offensive and the Hundred Days campaign that brought the Allies victory in 1918. By the end of the war he had risen to be the commanding officer of the Anson Battalion.

Commander A.W. Buckle DSO

In the last few years of the war, Buckle earned the Distinguished Service Order four times. This medal was awarded to senior field officers (such as battalion commanders like Buckle) for bravery, leadership and other good work. He was said to have been recommended for the Victoria Cross, but really earning four DSOs is just as impressive – showing repeated bravery and leadership rather than a single act to earned the higher award.

Commander Buckle’s story is told in greater depth on other websites, such as an extensive biography on the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery website, as well as his obituary and a contemporary account by a comrade.

1st bar, July 1918 (after first award in March).

T./Lt.-Cmdr. Archibald  Walter Buckle, D.S.O., R.N.D., R.N.V.R. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of a battalion. He repelled the enemy’s attack, organised a counter-attack, and drove the enemy completely out of the menaced area. It was largely due to his courage, initiative and leadership that this important success was obtained.

2nd bar: January 1919

T./Comdr. Archibald Walter Buckle, D.S.O., Anson Bn., R.N.D., R.N.V.R. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When the progress of the brigade at a critical moment was checked by machine-gun fire, he went forward himself with his battalion staff, reorganised his battalion and led it forward on to commanding ground, seriously threatening the enemy’s retreat. The success of the operation was largely due to his courage and fine leadership.  

3rd bar: October 1919

T./Comdr. Archibald Walter Buckle, D.S.O., Anson Bn., R.N.D., R.N.V.R. During the fighting round Niergnies on 8th October, 1918, he showed great courage and powers of leadership. After the enemy had counter-attacked and succeeded in entering our lines, he seized an enemy antitank rifle and engaged three hostile tanks with it and drove them off. He then rallied men of various units in his neighbourhood and led them forward to the positions whence they had been forced. Throughout he did excellent work.

Buckle returned from the war to Brockley and to his job as a teacher, becoming headmaster master of the council school in New Road, Rotherhithe. He suffered from his war wounds though, and his premature death in 1927 from bronchialpneumonia through osteomyelitiswas judged to have have been accelerated by his war wounds.

Commander Buckle was a London war hero. According to his obituary, ‘Mr Winston Churchillhas referred to Buckle as one of the “salamanders born in the furnace,” who survived “to lead,to command, and to preserve the sacred continuity”.’ Today his grave has been restored as a mark of respect and his story has become public knowledge again

 
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Posted by on 14 October 2012 in Award-winners, Ordinary Londoners

 

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