|East Anglian Division|
54th (East Anglian) Division
54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division
Shoulder insignia of the 54th (East Anglian) Division, First World War
|the Hon. Julian Byng|
Sir Ian Freeland
|Second World War division sign|
The 54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army. The division was raised in 1908 following the creation of the Territorial Force (TF) as the East Anglian Division. During the First World War the division fought at Gallipoli and in the Middle East. The division was disbanded after the war but reformed in the Territorial Army in 1920. During the Second World War it was a home service division and did not see any combat service abroad and was disbanded in late 1943 but many of its component units went to see service in the Normandy Campaign and North-western Europe from June 1944 to May 1945.
The division was raised as the East Anglian Division in 1908 when the Territorial Force was created. The infantry of the division was composed of the Essex, East Midland, and Norfolk and Suffolk Brigades. Divisional headquarters was based in Warley, while the infantry brigades were headquartered at Brentwood, Bedford, and Norwich. Its subunits were spread across East Anglia and the East Midlands.
While on annual training, the division was ordered to mobilize on 4 August 1914, concentrating in the vicinity of Brentwood by 10 August. After moving to Chelmsford, Bury St Edmunds, and Norwich on 20 August, the division served on coast defence duty. Three battalions - the 4th Suffolks, 1st Cambridgeshires, and 1st Hertfordshires - were sent to France between November 1914 and February 1915. They were replaced in April by the 8th Hampshires, 10th Londons, and 11th Londons. The battalions of the division were reorganized to include four companies in January 1915, and in May it concentrated near St Albans, preparing to be sent overseas. Its destination was revealed to be Gallipoli on 8 July. Leaving behind the divisional artillery and most of the train, the 54th departed St. Albans for Devonport and Liverpool between 20 and 30 July, boarding transports for Mudros, where it began arriving on 6 August.
The 54th (East Anglian) Division landed at Suvla on 10 August in the Gallipoli Campaign, as a part of IX Corps under Lieutenant-General Stopford. By the end of 11 August, ten battalions and the divisional headquarters had landed. The division was ordered to re-embark from Gallipoli on 26 November, and returned to Mudros between 3 and 8 December. On 9 December, it included 240 officers and 4,480 other ranks, including reinforcements. It began embarking for Egypt on 13 December, and arrived in Alexandria on 18 December. On the next day, it was concentrated at Sidi Bishr before moving to Mena Camp near Cairo.
As a result of the Senussi uprising, the 161st Brigade was sent into the Western Desert on 28 December 1915. Between 11 and 15 February 1916, the divisional artillery, which had been sent to France in November 1915 and attached to the 33rd Division, rejoined the division at Mena. The 161st Brigade returned to the division on 5 March, without the 4th Essex, which returned on 23 March. The division took over the southern section of the Suez Canal defences on 2 April, as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under General Archibald Murray.
Then in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, during the First Battle of Gaza, on 26 March 1917, the 161st Brigade and divisional artillery were in reserve while the 53rd (Welsh) Division carried out the main attack. These reserves were committed as the battle progressed resulting in the British gaining a foothold in the Turkish defences but the British commander called off the attack as night fell. In the Second Battle of Gaza, the 1/4th and 1/5th Battalions of the Norfolk Regiment sustained 75 per cent casualties (about 1,200 men). It took part in the successful Third Battle of Gaza as part of XXI Corps led by General Bulfin, and by the end of 1917 Edmund Allenby's forces had taken Jerusalem. The division fought in the Battle of Jaffa on 21 and 22 December.
The 162nd Brigade participated in the Fight at Ras el'Ain during the Battle of Tell 'Asur on 12 March 1918. The division fought in the attack at Berukin on 9 and 10 April/ In September 1918 the division took part in the Battle of Sharon between 19 and 23 September. After the end of the battle, the division concentrated at Hableh on 24 September and was ordered to move to Haifa three days later. It began advancing to Haifa on 28 September through Atlit, and finished concentrating there on 4 October, where it improved communications. The division was ordered to begin the advance to Beirut on 20 October, which was conducted by brigade group in daylong intervals. The advance began three days later, through Acre, Naqoura, Tyre, and Sidon. The division reached Beirut between 31 October and 5 November, as the war with the Ottoman Empire ended on 31 October.
The division moved back by sea to El Qantara from 28 November, beginning with the 163rd Brigade, and then moved to Helmie, where it concentrated on 7 December without its artillery and train. The divisional artillery and train arrived via El Qantara by 14 December, except for the CCLXXII Brigade, which marched from Beirut to Tulkarm before entraining for Helmie on 9 December. The demobilization of the division began on 6 January 1919 with the disbandment of the three brigade trench mortar brigades. The division personnel filled the time with educational courses in January as they were gradually demobilized. By 22 May only six battalions remained, and on 29 May the 77th Brigade joined the division and was renumbered as the 161st Brigade. The CII Brigade joined and temporarily became the division artillery on 1 June. The Territorial units were reduced to cadre strength and the war-time units were disbanded, with the division ceasing to exist in Egypt on 30 September 1919.
The division was disbanded after the Great War when the whole of the Territorial Force was disbanded. However, it was reformed in 1920 as the Territorial Army (TA) and the division was reconstituted with Eastern Command, initially with a similar composition to before the First World War but, over the next few years, with a much different composition.
Throughout the 1930s, tensions built between Germany and the United Kingdom as well as its allies. During late 1937 and throughout 1938, German demands for the annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland led to an international crisis. In an attempt to avoid war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in September and brokered the Munich Agreement. The agreement averted immediate war and allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland. Chamberlain had intended the agreement to lead to further peaceful resolution of issues, but relations between both countries soon deteriorated. On 15 March 1939, Germany breached the terms of the agreement by invading and occupying the remnants of the Czech state.
In response, on 29 March, the British Secretary of State for War Leslie Hore-Belisha announced plans to increase the Territorial Army from 130,000 men to 340,000 and in so doing double the number of territorial divisions. The plan of action was for the existing units to recruit over their allowed establishments (aided by an increase in pay for territorials, the removal of restrictions on promotion that had been a major hindrance to recruiting during the preceding years, the construction of better quality barracks, and an increase in supper-time rations) and then form Second Line divisions from small cadres that could be built upon. As a result, the 54th was to provide cadres to form a Second Line duplicate unit, which would become the 18th Infantry Division following the start of the war. In April, limited conscription was introduced. At that time 34,500 militiamen, all aged 20, were conscripted into the regular army, initially to be trained for six months before being deployed to the forming second line units. Despite the intention for the army to grow in size, the programme was complicated by a lack of central guidance on the expansion and duplication process and issues regarding the lack of facilities, equipment and instructors.
Upon the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, the 54th Division, commanded by Major-General John Priestman, a Regular Army officer, and serving under Eastern Command, was mobilised for full-time war service. Comprising still the 161st, 162nd and 163rd Infantry Brigades and divisional troops, the division absorbed hundreds of conscripts and spent the first few months of the war, after guarding various designated 'vulnerable points', training for eventual overseas service.
The division remained in the United Kingdom as a local defence formation, being downgraded to a Lower Establishment in January 1942. The division was disbanded and broken up on 14 December 1943. Its component units would take part in the Normandy Campaign as support units, with the HQ Royal Artillery becoming HQ 8th Army Group Royal Artillery and HQ Royal Engineers becoming HQ Royal Engineers for the 6th Airborne Division. The divisional HQ was redesignated HQ Lines of Communication (54th Division) for the 21st Army Group. The division was not reformed in the post-war Territorial Army in 1947 but the 161st and 162nd Infantry Brigades both survived until disbandment in the 1960s.
|Appointed||General officer commanding|
|August 1908||Brigadier-General John H. Campbell|
|October 1910||Major-General the Hon. Julian Byng|
|October 1912||Major-General Charles Townshend|
|7 June 1913||Major-General Francis S. Inglefield (sick)|
|6 October 1915||Brigadier-General F.F.W. Daniell (acting)|
|11 October 1915||Major-General Francis S. Inglefield (sick)|
|14 October 1915||Brigadier-General Henry Hodgson (acting)|
|13 November 1915||Major-General Francis S. Inglefield|
|27 April 1916||Major-General Sir Steuart W. Hare (sick)|
|31 March 1917||Brigadier-General Henry George Sandilands (acting)|
|12 April 1917||Major-General Sir Steuart W. Hare (leave)|
|4 January 1918||Brigadier-General Davison Bruce Stewart (acting)|
|16 March 1918||Major-General Sir Steuart W. Hare|
|July 1923 - February 1927||Major-General John Duncan|
|February 1927 - September 1930||Major-General Sir Torquhil Matheson|
|September 1930 - September 1934||Major-General Francis J. Marshall|
|September 1934 - September 1938||Major-General Russell Mortimer Luckock|
|September 1938 - February 1941||Major-General John Priestman|
|February 1941 - April 1943||Major-General Evelyn Barker|
|April - May 1943||Major-General Charles Wainwright|
|May - December 1943||Major-General Colin Callander|