The 21st Division in 1914-1918

The history of 21st Division

Three Sevens symbolThis Division was established in September 1914, as part of Army Order 388 authorising Kitchener's Third New Army, K3. The units of the Division initially concentrated in the Tring area, spending some time in camp at Halton Park before winter necessitated a move into local billets in Tring, Aylesbury, Leighton Buzzard, High Wycombe and Maidenhead. The artillery was at High Wycombe and Berkhamsted, RE at Chesham, and ASC at Dunstable.

In May 1915 the infantry moved to huts at Halton Park, the artillery went to Aston Clinton (One brigade staying at Berkhamsted) and the RE to Wendover. Rifles were received in late June 1915 and after firing their first course the infantry moved from 9 August to Witley Camp. Lord Kitchener inspected the Division on the march on 12 August.

Advanced parties embarked for France began on 2 September and the main body began to cross the Channel five days later. Units moved to assemble near Tilques, completing concentration on 13 September. The Division's first experience was truly appalling. Having been in France for only a few days, lengthy forced marches brought it into the reserve for the British assault at Loos. GHQ planning left it too far behind to be a useful reinforcement on the first day, but it was sent into action on 26 September, whereupon it suffered over 3,800 casualties for very little gain.

The Division served on the Western Front for the remainder of the war, taking part in many of the significant actions:

1915
The Battle of Loos

1916
The Battle of Albert*
The Battle of Bazentin Ridge*
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette*
The Battle of Morval* in which the Division captured Geudecourt
The Battle of Le Transloy*
The battles marked * are phases of the Battles of the Somme 1916

1917
The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line
The First Battle of the Scarpe**
The Third Battle of the Scarpe**
The flanking operations around Bullecourt**
The battles marked ** are phases of the Arras offensive 1917
The Battle of Polygon Wood***
The Battle of Broodseinde***
The Second Battle of Passchendaele***
The battles marked *** are phases of the Third Battles of Ypres
The Cambrai Operations

1918
The Battle of St Quentin+
The First Battle of Bapaume+
The battles marked + are phases of the First Battles of the Somme 1918
The Battle of Messines=
The Second Battle of Kemmel=
The battles marked = are phases of the Battles of the Lys 1918
The Battle of the Aisne 1918
The Battle of Albert++
The Second Battle of Bapaume++
The battles marked ++ are phases of the Second Battles of the Somme 1918
The Battle of Epehy^
The Battle of the St Quentin Canal^
The Battle of Cambrai 1918^
The battles marked ^ are phases of the Battles of the Hindenburg Line
The Battle of the Selle, a phase of the Final Advance in Picardy

When the Armistice came into effect at 11am on 11 November 1918 the units of the Division were halted around Berlaimont. Next day they moved to Beaufort, going between 12-20 December to west of Amiens. Demobilisation began and by 19 May 1919 the Division ceased to exist. In all the 21st Division had suffered the loss of 55581 killed, wounded and missing.

The order of battle of the 21st Division

62nd Brigade  
12th Bn, the Northumberland Fusiliers  
13th Bn, the Northumberland Fusiliers merged into 12th Bn in August 1917, renamed 12/13th Bn
8th Bn, the East Yorkshire Regiment left November 1915
10th Bn, the Yorkshire Regiment disbanded February 1918
1st Bn, the Lincolnshire Regiment joined November 1915
62nd Machine Gun Company joined 4 March 1916
left to move into 21st MG Battalion 24 February 1918
62nd Trench Mortar Battery joined by 16 June 1916
3/4th Bn, the Queen's joined 9 August 1917, disbanded by 11 February 1918, with large number of men going to 7th Queen's
2nd Bn, the Lincolnshire Regiment joined February 1918
   
63rd Brigade  
On 8 July 1916 the brigade was transferred to the 37th Division
8th Bn, the Lincolnshire Regiment  
8th Bn, the Somerset Light Infantry  
12th Bn, the West Yorkshire Regiment left November 1915
10th Bn, the York & Lancaster Regiment  
4th Bn, the Middlesex Regiment joined November 1915
63rd Machine Gun Company joined 4 March 1916
63rd Trench Mortar Battery joined by 16 June 1916
   
64th Brigade  
9th Bn, the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry  
10th Bn, the King's Own Yorkshire LI disbanded February 1918
14th Bn, the Durham Light Infantry left November 1915
15th Bn, the Durham Light Infantry  
1st Bn, the East Yorkshire Regiment joined November 1915
64th Machine Gun Company joined 4 March 1916
left to move into 21st MG Battalion 24 February 1918
64th Trench Mortar Battery joined by 16 June 1916
2nd Bn, the South Lancashire Regiment joined 21 June 1918, left 30 June 1918
   
110th Brigade (the "Leicester Tigers Brigade")
On 7 July 1916 the brigade was transferred from the 37th Division in exchange for 63rd Brigade
6th Bn, the Leicestershire Regiment  
7th Bn, the Leicestershire Regiment  
8th Bn, the Leicestershire Regiment left June 1918
9th Bn, the Leicestershire Regiment disbanded February 1918
110th Machine Gun Company left to move into 21st MG Battalion 24 February 1918
110th Trench Mortar Battery  
1st Bn, the Wiltshire Regiment joined June 1918
   
Divisional Troops  
14th Bn, the Northumberland Fusiliers became Divisional Pioneer Battalion in February 1915
13th Bn, the King's Royal Rifle Corps left April 1915
13th Bn, the Rifle Brigade left April 1915
237th Machine Gun Company joined 17 July 1917
left to move into 21st MG Battalion 24 February 1918
21st Battalion Machine Gun Corps formed 24 February 1918
   
Divisional Mounted Troops  
A Sqn, the South Irish Horse joined January 1915, left May 1916
21st Divisional Cyclist Company, Army Cyclist Corps formed February 1915, left 10 May 1916
   
Divisional Artillery  
XCIV Brigade, RFA  
XCV Brigade, RFA  
XCVI Brigade, RFA broken up 13 January 1917
XCVII (Howitzer) Brigade, RFA broken up 28-31 August 1916
21st Divisional Ammunition Column RFA  
21st Heavy Battery, RGA raised with the Division but moved to France as part of XXIII Heavy Artillery Brigade on 21 August 1915
V.21 Heavy Trench Mortar Battery RFA joined 1 June 1916, left February 1918
W.21 Medium Mortar Battery RFA joined May 1916, left August 1916
X.21, Y.21 and Z.21 Medium Mortar Batteries RFA joined 1-13 March 1916; in February 1918, Z broken up and batteries reorganised to have 6 x 6-inch weapons each
   
Royal Engineers  
85th Field Company left January 1915
86th Field Company left February 1915
97th Field Company  
98th Field Company  
126th Field Company joined March 1915
21st Divisional Signals Company  
   
Royal Army Medical Corps  
63rd Field Ambulance  
64th Field Ambulance  
65th Field Ambulance  
38th Sanitary Section left 1 April 1917
   
Other Divisional Troops  
21st Divisional Train ASC 182, 183, 184 and 185 Companies
33rd Mobile Veterinary Section AVC  
222nd Divisional Employment Company joined 30 June 1917
21st Divisional Motor Ambulance Workshop absorbed into Divisional Supply Column April 1916

There is no memorial to the 21st Division or a published history.

This page is dedicated to the memory of men like
Jimmy McSloy, 25 years old and from Blyth, one of the first to enlist into the ranks of the 14th Northumberland Fusiliers. His first job after arriving in France was to bury the dead of the terrible attack at Loos. Jimmy was severely wounded in January 1916 while working on new defences in the Epinette salient near Armentieres and died soon afterward in hospital in Bailleul. A member of my family, always remembered.
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