The 2nd Division
The roots of the Second Division lie deep in military history. It was formed in 1809 to fight in Wellington’s Campaign in the Peninsula. It has, since that day, played a major role in the history of both the Army and the Nation with active service in:
Lieutenant-General Sir Rowland Hill was the first commander of the Second Division. His portrait today is the first in the long line of portraits of Divisional Commanders on exhibition at the Kohima Museum of the 2nd Division in York
It was not until the South African campaigns of 1899 that the appointment of GOC was fixed at two star levels. In fact, during its initial ninety years, the Commander could be a three star, a two star and on one occasion in China, in 1860, a one star – a Brigadier General.
For over fifty years the divisional sign of the Second Division has been the Crossed Keys. An earlier writer of a Divisional history remembers stencilling it on his motorcycle in 1940. It was a familiar sign around India and in Burma later on in the war. Interestingly the flag with the Crossed Keys flew for many years in a small Westphalian town of Osnabrück whose municipal coat of arms is, by the long arm of coincidence, the Crossed Keys.
In the early days of World War II the War Office ordered that each formation should choose for itself some device which would be recognised easily and be simple to reproduce. General Loyd, then commanding the Second Division in France, chose the emblem of the Crossed Keys. His previous command, a Guards Brigade, had, as its sign a single key. He decided to add a second key for his new command. Thus it was that the Crossed Keys came to the French town of Orchies in 1940. The last time the Division was in France during WW1 it wore a very different sign comprising of a large white star surmounting two smaller red ones.
General Loyd’s choice was not inappropriate, for in earlier days it was the custom for the Archbishop of Canterbury, whenever necessary, to raise an Army in the South of England, and for the Archbishop of York to raise a Second Army in the North. This Second Army carried on its banners and shields the emblem of the Crossed Keys, taken from the arms of the Archbishop of York and of St Peter’s Church (York Minister) . When the Division was sent to Yorkshire after Dunkirk, it was re-establishing a distant historical connection. This ancient link was reforged once again, entirely by chance, when the Headquarters of the “Crossed Keys” Division returned to York in 1983.
The outbreak of World War II found the Division in its traditional home in and around Aldershot and Bordon. The Division was then under the command of Major General Loyd and had been receiving reservists to bring it up to strength. The Division was in France by the middle of September and served with distinction both during the ‘phoney war’ and in the many actions leading up to Dunkirk
After recovery from Dunkirk the 2nd Division, now under command of Maj Gen JML Grover MC were then based in North Yorkshire for a period of training and re-equipping. A lot of recruiting also took place with the result that the 1st Bn Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders had a large number of Yorkshire men in the ranks. They were referred to as the “Yorkshire Jocks” and although the complete unit was integrated, there was still the division between the ‘real’ Jock and the Yorkshire ones at the reunions.
In 1942 at the height of the U-Boat campaign, the Division sailed to India under the command of Maj. Gen. JML Grover. The Division was not made welcome in India as it was at the time the only completely British Division and was therefore much more expensive to run and maintain with different food, equipment & cultural requirements.
The Division was put to training for a seaborne landing at Rangoon to retake Burma from the Japanese. In the event all available stores and equipment was being kept to be put to use for the Second Front and despite having done a degree of training. The training switched to jungle. In the meantime the 6th Brigade was detached as an Independent Brigade group to fight in the 1st Arakan Campaign and suffered a number of casualties including the Brigade Commander – Brigadier Cavendish.
Each British & Indian infantry divisions are comprised of a Divisional Headquarters and 3 Brigades. The Divisional headquarters is contains Signals, Engineers; Artillery, Medical, Admin and Supply Support units as well as divisional defence units. The brigades each have a smaller version of the divisional headquarters plus 3 infantry battalions.
In addition to the normal units of the 2nd Division, 2 extra brigades were placed under command of the 2nd Division. They were the 161st Indian Infantry Brigade from 5th Indian Division and 33rd Indian Infantry Brigade from 7th Indian Division.
The named units from each of the units within the overall command of the 2nd Division can be accessed by clicking here