To Do the Work of Men

To Do the Work of Men

An Operational History of the 21st Division in the Great War

Derek Clayton

This narrative of the war in Ireland from October 1641 to September 1643 critically evaluates the performance of the Irish or Catholic armies and reveals the underlying shape of what would otherwise seem to be a shapeless sprawl of battles, sieges, skirmishes, massacres, and cattle raids.
Date Published :
January 2023
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Series :
Wolverhampton Military Studies
Illustration :
96 b/w photos, 48 color maps, 25 tables
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781804512333
Pages : 384
Dimensions : 9.6 X 6.7 inches
Stock Status : Not Yet Published. Available for Pre-Order


The 21st Division was formed in September 1914 as part of Kitchener’s Third Army (K3), comprising units mostly from Yorkshire, Northumberland, Durham and Lincolnshire. It was destined to spend its entire period of active service on the Western Front, taking part in almost all the major engagements. Only two weeks after having arrived in France, and with no battlefield experience, they were thrown into action on the second day of the Battle of Loos. Badly misused by high command, it was not surprising that they underperformed.

The division, from May 1916 under the command of Major-General David “Soarer” Campbell, managed to recover from this disastrous baptism of fire to achieve creditable success on three occasions during the Battle of the Somme, including the attack north of Fricourt on the first day. It was during this campaign that the original 63 Bde was exchanged for 110 Bde, the latter’s four battalions of the Leicestershire Regiment performing admirably at the Battle of Bazentin on 14 July. The division then re-entered the fray with the newly-introduced tanks in September as the BEF captured the villages of Flers and Gueudecourt. In 1917, they experienced mixed fortunes both at Arras, coming up against the formidable Hindenburg Line defenses, and during the latter stages of Third Ypres as they defended Polygon Wood against German counter attacks before struggling forward through the October mud to assault the village of Reutel.

Between March and June of 1918, the division faced all three major German Spring Offensives: they put up a stout defense of the village of Epéhy on 21 March before conducting a lengthy fighting retreat that reduced its battalions to barely 200 men each. In April, they halted the German advance near Ypres during the Battle of the Lys and then, having been sent to a quiet French sector to rest and reorganize, on 28 May they found themselves in the path of the Blücher offensive and were sent reeling as the Germans stormed across the Chemin des Dames Ridge.

The division survived – barely – and recovered to play its part in the Hundred Days victories. It was involved in a dozen or so attacks through the summer and autumn, recapturing much of the ground ceded during the March retreat before extending their advance across the Selle and Sambre rivers. They fought their last engagement four days before the armistice when they captured the village of Limont-Fontaine.

The 21st had a busy and costly war, losing more men killed, wounded or missing than any other New Army division. It is no wonder that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described the 21st Division as “that hard-bitten old scrapper”.

About The Author

Derek Clayton was born in Yorkshire and attended Batley Grammar School before beginning a long association with the University of Birmingham. He graduated in 1979 with a BA in French and German and went on to teach Modern Languages in three Birmingham schools before retiring in 2015. His fascination with military history began in childhood, but the discovery almost thirty years ago of photographs of his great-uncle in his KOYLI uniform and his grandfather in the RFC focussed his interest squarely on the Great War. He returned to the university in 2004, following the publication of his battalion history: From Pontefract to Picardy: the 9th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the First World War (Tempus, 2004), and completed his MA in British First World War Studies, as one of the initial cohort of this course, in 2006, having produced a dissertation on the 49th (West Riding) Division. He then went on to write his doctoral thesis “The Battle of the Sambre: 4 November 1918” – a subject suggested by Professor Peter Simkins - under the supervision of John Bourne, and was awarded his PhD in 2016. He is currently working on a history of the 21st Division in the Great War. Derek is a member of the Western Front Association. He lives in Worcestershire.

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