7th Division

One of the greatest fighting formations Britain ever put into the field“: eminent Great War historian, Cyril Falls

Few Divisions can have equalled the strong Divisional spirit which inspired the Seventh Division, making it work as a team, working together towards the same end. It has been described as a very happy Division, and therein lies no small part of the explanation of the wonderful record which these pages have sought to outline” : Divisional History, C.T.Atkinson, 1926.

The history of 7th Division

The 7th Division was formed during September and very early October 1914, by the bringing together of regular army units from various garrison stations around the British Empire. They were assembled in the New Forest in Hampshire before initially moving to Belgium. The division landed at Zeebrugge in the first week of October 1914, ordered to assist in the defence of Antwerp. By the time they arrived the city was already falling and the 7th was instead ordered to hold certain important bridges and other places that would help the westward evacuation of the Belgian army. Once the Belgians were through, the division was moved westwards, where the infantry entrenched in front of Ypres, the first British troops to occupy that fateful place. It is recognised as particpating in the following battles and engagements, initially under command of IV Corps:

Under command of Major-General T. Capper

1914

  • The First Battle of Ypres (throughout 19 October – 22 November) but notably in its phases:
    • Battle of Langemarck (21-24 October)
    • Battle of Gheluvelt (29-31 October)

All infantry units of the division suffered grievous losses in this battle and it was not until the following January/February that it was once more in a complete enough condition to be considered at full fighting strength. After First Ypres, it was often known as the “Immortal Seventh”.

1915

  • The Battle of Neuve Chapelle (1-13 March)

Major-General T. Capper was wounded on 1 April and invalided five days later. He was temporaruly relaced by Brigadier-General S. T. B. Lawford from 2nd Infantry Brigade and on 19 April 1915 by Major-General H. de la P. Gough.

  • The Battle of Aubers (9 May)
  • The Battle of Festubert (now under I Corps, 15-25 May)
  • The second action of Givenchy (IV Corps, 15-16 June)

Major-General T. Capper returned 19 July 1915, replacing Gough who had been promoted to command I Corps.

  • The Battle of Loos (I Corps, 25 September – 8 October)
  • The division took part in the initial assault north of the Vermelles-Hulluch road, facing the Hulluch quarries and a series of strongpoints. Suffering badly from British poison gas – which was not moved sufficiently by the gentle breeze – and badly cut up by German machine gun fire and artillery, the division nonethless seized the quarries and only failed to penetrate the third German line due to the relative weakness of the numbers of men that got through. The Divisional Commander, Major-General Thompson Capper, died of wounds received during this action, on 27 September 1915.

Command of the divisional passed temporarily to Brigadier-General H. E. Watts from 21st Infantry Brigade. He was then promoted and given permanent command.

1916

  • The Battles of the Somme 1916 in phases:
    • The Battle of Albert (now XV Corps, 1 -13 July) in which the division captured Mametz
    • The Battle of Bazentin (14-17 July)
    • The attacks on High Wood (20-25 July)
    • The Battle of Delville Wood (15 July – 3 September)
    • The Battle of Guillemont (3-6 September)

1917

Major-General G. de S. Barrow took command on 7 January 1917, replacing Watts who had been promoted to command XIX Corps.

  • Operations on the Ancre (now V Corps, 11 January – 13 March)
  • The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line (14 March – 5 April)

Major-General T. H. Shoubridge took command on 1 April 1917, replacing Barrow who had been moved to command the Yeomanry Mounted Division in Egypt and Palestine.

  • The Battles of Arras offensive in the flanking operations round Bullecourt (11 April – 16 June) specificallyThe Battle of Bullecourt (3-17 May)
  • The actions on the Hindeburg Line (20 May-16 June)
  • The Third Battles of Ypres 1917 in phases:The Battle of Polygon Wood (now in X Corps, 26 September – 3 October)
  • The Battle of Broodseinde (4 October)
  • The Battle of Poelcapelle (9 october)
  • The Second Battle of Passchendaele (26 October – 10 November)

A major change now occurred with 7th Division being one of five British formations selected to be moved to Italy. This was a strategic and political move agreed by the British Government at the request of the Allied Supreme War Council, as an effort to stiffen Italian resistance to enemy attack after a recent disaster at Caporetto. Many diaries at this time, by men who had witnessed slaughter in the floods of Passchendaele, talk of the move and Italy as being “like another world”. Much work was done preparing to move into the mountainous area of the Brenta, but eventually the Division was instead moved to the line along the River Piave, taking up positions in late January 1918. In October 1918 the Division played a central role in crossing the Piave, the Battle of Vittoria Veneto and the eventual defeat of Austria-Hungary.

1918

Major-General Shoubridge was evacuated sick on 9 February 1918 and was temporarily replaced by Brigadier-General J. McN. Steele. Shoubridge returned oin 22 March.

Italy

14 Victoria Crosses were awarded to men of the 7th Division, which from October 1914 to the Armistice suffered a total of approximately 68,000 of all ranks killed, wounded or missing in action.

Order of battle of the 7th Division

Units and sub-formationsDates
Divisional Headquarters
20th Infantry Brigade 
1st Bn, Grenadier GuardsFrom start, left for Guards Division 8 August 1915
2nd Bn, Scots GuardsFrom start, left for Guards Division 8 August 1915
2nd Bn, Border RegimentThroughout
2nd Bn, Gordon HighlandersThroughout 
1/6th Bn, Gordon HighlandersJoined 5 December 1914, left 5 January 1916
8th Bn, Devonshire RegimentJoined 4 August 1915
9th Bn, Devonshire RegimentJoined 8 August 1915, left for 25th Division 13 September 1918
1/6th Bn, Cheshire RegimentJoined 9 January 1916, left for 39th Division 25 February 1916
20th Machine Gun CompanyFormed 10 February 1916, left to move into 7th MG Battalion 1 April 1918
20th Trench Mortar BatteryFormed 14 February 1916
  
21st Infantry BrigadeBrigade transferred to 30th Division in exchange for 91st Infantry Brigade on 19 December 1915
2nd Bn, Bedfordshire RegimentThroughout
2nd Bn, Yorkshire RegimentThroughout
2nd Bn, Royal Scots FusiliersThroughout
2nd Bn, Wiltshire RegimentThroughout
1/4th Bn, Cameron HighlandersJoined from 8th Division 8 April 1915, moved to 91st Infantry Brigade 20 December 1915
  
22nd Infantry Brigade 
2nd Bn, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment)From start, left for 91st Infantry Brigade 20 December 1915
2nd Bn, Royal Warwickshire RegimentThroughout
1st Bn, Royal Welsh FusiliersThroughout
1st Bn, South Staffordshire RegimentFrom start, left for 91st Infantry Brigade 20 December 1915
1/8th Bn, Royal ScotsJoined 12 November 1914, left fpr 51st (Highland) Division 19 August 1915
1/7th Bn, King’s (Liverpool Regiment)Joined from 2nd Division 11 November 1915, left for 55th (West Lancashire) Division 7 January 1916
20th Bn, Manchester RegimentJoined from 91st Infantry Brigade 20 December 1915, left for 25th Division 13 September 1918
24th Bn, Manchester RegimentJoined from 91st Infantry Brigade 20 December 1915, left to become Divisional Pioneer Battalion 22 May 1916
2nd Bn, Royal Irish RegimentJoined from 4th Division 22 May 1916, left for 16th (Irish) Division 14 October 1916
2/1st Bn, Honourable Artillery CompanyJoined 6 October 1916
22nd Brigade Machine Gun CompanyFormed 24 February 1916, left to move into 7th MG Battalion 1 April 1918
22nd Trench Mortar BatteryFormed 14 April 1916
  
91st Infantry Brigade Brigade transferred from 30th Division in exchange for 21st Infantry Brigade on 20 December 1915
21st Bn, Manchester RegimentLeft for 25th Division 13 September 1918
22nd Bn, Manchester Regiment 
1/4th Bn, Cameron HighlandersJoined from 21st Infantry Brigade 20 December 1915, left for 51st (Highland) Division 7 January 1916
2nd Bn, Queen’s (Royal Wst Surrey Regiment)Joined from 22nd Infantry Brigade 20 December 1915
1st Bn, South Staffordshire RegimentJoined from 22nd Infantry Brigade 20 December 1915
91st Machine Gun CompanyFormed 14 March 1916, left to move into 7th MG Battalion 1 April 1918
91st Trench Mortar BatteryFormed May 1916
  
Divisional Troops 
24th Bn, Manchester RegtJoined as Divisional Pioneer Battalion from 22nd Infantry Brigade 22 May 1916
220th Machine Gun CompanyJoined 25 March 1917, left to move into 7th MG Battalion 1 April 191 8
7 Bn, Machine Gun CorpsFormed 1 April 1918
  
Divisional Mounted Troops 
1/1st Northumberland Hussars YeomanryFrom start. B and C Sqns left 12 April 1915 for 1st and 8th Divisions respectively, A Sqn left for XIII Corps 13 May 1916
7th Cyclist Company, Army Cyclist CorpsFrom start, left Jfor XV Corps 11 May 1916
  
Divisional Artillery 
XIV Brigade, Royal Field ArtilleryFrom start, left January 1917
XXII Brigade, RFAThroughout
XXXV Brigade, RFAThroughout
XXXVII (Howitzer) Brigade, RFAJoined from IV Corps 24 June 1915, broken up May 1916
7th Divisional Ammunition Column, RFA Throughout
III Heavy Brigade, Royal Garrison ArtilleryFrom start, left 4 March 1915
7 Pom-Pom (Anti-Aircraft) Section, RGAAttached 25 September 1914 to 20 December 1914
No 5 Mountain Battery, RGAAttached 26 March to 20 April 1915
V.7 Heavy Trench Mortar Battery RFAFormed June 1916, disbanded 12 November 1917
X.7, Y.7 and Z.7 Medium Mortar Batteries RFAJoined by March 1916; on 22 February 1918, Z broken up and batteries reorganised to have 6 x 6-inch weapons each
  
Royal Engineers 
54th Field CompanyThroughout
55th Field CompanyFrom start, left for Guards Division 1 September 1915
1/2nd (Highland) Field CompanyJoined 17 January 1915, left for 51st (Highland) Division 9 January 1916
1/3rd (Durham) Field CompanyJoined from 51st (Highland) Division 30 January 1916, later renamed 528th Field Company RE
7th Divisional Signals CompanyThroughout
  
Royal Army Medical Corps 
21st Field AmbulanceThroughout
22nd Field AmbulanceThroughout
23rd Field AmbulanceThroughout
10th Sanitary SectionJoined 9 January 1915, left 8 August 1917
  
Other Divisional Troops 
7th Divisional Train, Army Service CorpsComprised numbers 39, 40, 42 and 86 (Horse Transport) Companies
12th Mobile Veterinary Section, Army Veterinary CorpsThroughout
210th Divisional Employment Company, Labour CorpsJoined 21 May 1917 at which time it was 12th Divisional Employment Company; renamed in June 1917
7th Divisional Motor Ambulance Workshopjoined 20 June 1915, transferred to Divisional Supply Column 9 April 1916

Divisional histories

“The Seventh Division 1914-1918” by C. T. Atkinson

Divisional memorials

This memorial to the 7th Division, which lists their battle honours, stands at Broodseinde near Ypres. It marks the spot where the men of the Division first went into action in October 1914. A similar memorial stands on the bank of the River Piae, marking the commencement of the final offensive and the Division's exploit in crossing the river.
This memorial to the 7th Division, which lists their battle honours, stands at Broodseinde near Ypres. It marks the spot where the men of the division first went into action in October 1914. A similar memorial stands on the bank of the River Piave in Italy, marking the commencement of the final offensive and the division’s exploit in crossing the river.

There is also a memorial window at the Roman Catholic church in Lyndhurst in Hampshire, where the units of the division first assembled before going overseas: here

Links

Other Divisions