The Royal Naval Division was a naval unit that fought on land as infantry. It participated in the Gallipoli campaign and then in France on the Western Front. A number of New Zealanders served in the Division including Bernard Freyberg who won the Victoria Cross.
The genesis of the Royal Naval Division was developed some years prior to the war. Initially the concept was for a brigade of Marines the aim of which was to seize an advance base or protect any temporary naval base. All the necessary arrangements for this force were in place before 1914.
Shortly before the war consideration had also been given to the anticipated 20,000 to 30,000 reservists who could be mobilised in the event of war, but for whom there were no billets at sea. It was therefore decided that some of these men could be formed into two further brigades, to supplement the Royal Marine Brigade.
The RNR men were seasoned mariners and those of the RFR, mainly stokers, had discipline and experience of the Navy.
With the outbreak of war the Marine Brigade was duly formed and ready for service. On 16 and 17 August Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, issued two minutes which outlined the composition of the two naval brigades. Each battalion was to comprise a mix of RFR, RNR and RNVR. He further detailed the arrangements of officers and petty officers with their envisaged source.
Within two weeks the Naval Brigades were being concentrated at Walmer and Betteshanger and with petty officers the strength of each battalion was 937. The battalions were given naval names, rather than the basic numbers used by the Army:
1st RN Brigade 2nd RN Brigade
This however, was just the basis of a division. To this needed to be added amongst other supporting arms, medical officers, engineers, administrative staff, signals, artillery and a supply train. Provision of these elements was hampered by the unit being under an Admiralty committee and on 1 October responsibility for the division was rightly transferred to the Marine Office.
Meanwhile the situation on the Continent was becoming critical and on 26 August the Marine Brigade was despatched to Ostend to assist in the garrison of that port. No attack eventuated and the brigade returned to England on 1 September where further training was undertaken and older men were replaced by new recruits.