The 51st Highland Division in World War One
WWI, 1914 - 1919
This outline, which is currently little more than a chronology, will introduce the operations and battles of the 51st Highland Division in World War One and, it is hoped will gradually be expanded to provide more comprehensive accounts. As examples, brief accounts of High Wood, Battle of Ancre and Beaumont Hamel, and Arras have been included.
When it was raised as part of Haldane’s reforms of Territorial and Reserve Forces in 1908 the Division was originally called the 1st Highland Territorial Division.
A solider of the 5th Seaforth Highlanders. Sutherland and Caithness. 152 Brigade. (c. 1914/15)
Bob Marrion Collection
After orders to mobilize on 4th August the Division moved south to concentrate in the area of Bedford. The Division's composition at this point consisted of :
- Argyll and Sutherland Infantry Brigade of the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
- Gordon's infantry Brigade of 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Gordons.
- Seaforth and Camerons brigade of 4th, 5th 6th Seaforth and 4th Camerons.
In the intervening months before the Division was deployed to France a number of the original units were taken out of the Division and deployed.
In October and November 1914, 4th Seaforths, 6th Gordons and 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were sent to France. They were replaced by 2/4th Seaforth 2/6th Gordons and 2/7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
In February 1915, 4th Camerons, 4th Gordons and 9th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were sent France. These were replaced by 2/4th Camerons, 2/4th Gordons and 2/9th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
Warned for France on 13 April 1915 the Division moved via Southampton and Folkestone and was complete in France by 5 May. At that point, on 11 May 1915, 1/1 Highland Division was renamed 51st Highland Division. At the same time the brigades were renumbered 152nd (Seaforth and Camerons), 153rd (Gordon Battalions) and 154th (Lancashire Battalions). The Brigade numbers, but not the names in brackets) would be retained by the Division thereafter.
The Brigades were composed of the following:
- 152nd infantry Brigade- 5th and 6th Seaforths, 6th and 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
- 153rd infantry Brigade – 5th and 7th Gordons and 6th and 7th Black Watch.
- 154th infantry Brigade- 1/4th Royal Lancaster Regiment,1/4th Royal North Lancashire Lancaster Regiment, 1/8th Liverpool Irish Regiment and 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers.
At the end of May to 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers were relieved by 6th Scottish Rifles who remained with the division when the second fifth returned.
Black Watch Officers, c1914/15
The Black Watch Museum
Bob Marrion Collection
On 19 May the Division relieved the 2nd Division, part of 1st Corps, which had advanced to the Le Quinque Rue-Bethune road and were consolidating their position. This was the Division’s first experience of digging into the Flanders mud where one could not dig down sufficiently because of the water and had also to build up breastworks to provide protection. On 30 May the Division was reassigned to the IVth Corps. Plans were made for the Corps to attack the German positions from Chapelle St Rochalong the Rue d’Ouvert.
The Division fought at Festubert in May and Givenchy in June.
In September Major General G M Harper took command of the Division and remained as GOC until March 1918.
At the end of the year the four English battalions of 154 Brigade left to go to the 55th Division. The 6th Scottish Rifles were reduced to cadre strength and sent back to their base which left 154 Brigade to be reconstituted with 4th Seaforth, 4th and 5th Black Watch and 4th Camerons.
1/9th Royal Scots c.1916. The 9th Battalion Royal Scots joined the 51st Highland Division in 1916.
From the collection of Bob Marrion.
Further organisational changes as a result of losses and reduce strength saw 4th Camerons and 4th and 5th Black Watch being replaced by 4th Gordons, 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and 9th Royal Scots to the new Brigade consisted of 4th Seaforth, 4th Gordons, 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and 9th Royal Scots
In March the Division went into the line from Neuville St.Vaast to Roclincourt During this period, assailed by mines and follow on attacks the 1/6th Argylls had to be withdrawn from the Division because of devastating casualties.
Through 1917 the Division fought at Arras, the Third Ypres/Passchendaele and the Battle of Cambrai (The Division’s attack on Flesquières).
1/6 (Renfrew) Bn, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, 153 Brigade. c.1918
Bob Marrion Collection
When Major General Harper was promoted in March 1918 Major General GTC Carter-Campbell took over command.
In 1919 the Division was demobilised reducing it to a cadre and it reformed in 1920 in Scotland as part of the Territorial Army.