A History of the 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division During the Great War
The Early Days
The 66th Division was a second line Territorial unit. It was authorised for formation on 31 August 1914 whilst its first line sister division, the 42nd Division consisting of volunteers went to Egypt on 10 September 1914 in order to release Regular units on garrison duty for service.
The 66th commanded by Brig-Gen. C.E. Beckett a retired ‘Dug Out’ veteran of the Egyptian, Sudan, and Boer Wars consisted of 3 Brigades:
197th Brigade (Lancashire Brigade - 2/6, 2/7, 2/8, 3/5 Lancashire Fusiliers)
198th Brigade (East Lancashire Brigade – 2/4, 2/5 East Lancashire Regiment & 2/9, 2/10 Manchesters)
199th Brigade (Manchester Brigade – 2/5, 2/6, 2/7, 2/8 Manchesters)
The formation of the 66th was - to say the least – difficult. There was only a tiny nucleus around which to build the division, a huge number of recruits were required, there was a dearth of trained instructors, officers and NCO’s with any relevant military experience, and no equipment to speak of. Throughout September and October the engineers, artillery, and infantry were slowly raised. In October and November Brigade and Divisional HQ’s began to assemble. By late 1914 the Division had received 700 Japanese rifles and 180,000 rounds of ammunition per battalion. The artillery not only lacked guns, but also ammunition, horses, limbers, harness, rangefinders, telephones and sights, let alone trained men. Even in August 1915 the artillery brigades did not have a veterinary officer and only 1373 horses (Divisional artillery establishment in June 1915 was 3632 – i.e. 62% under strength).
Artillery and equipment were not the only problem as the division was constantly having to provide reinforcement drafts of its best men and junior officers for the 42nd Division. Even as late as 1916 the 66th artillery lost 250 of its best gunners as part of an urgently required draft once again delaying the division. Under these conditions it was almost impossible to achieve effective concentration let alone a high state of efficiency. Nevertheless the 66th persevered. By the end of 1915 the 66th had discharged the last of its Home Service men retaining only those who had Imperial Service obligations whilst concentrating the Division in Kent and Sussex.
Physical standards improved dramatically – perhaps the fresh air of Crowborough and Tunbridge Wells far removed from the smog of Manchester helped here – with the Inspector of Gymnasia praising in particular the physical strength and bayonet fighting skills of 2/7th Manchesters during an inspection in November 1915. During the same month Maj.-Gen. CJ Blomfield, another retired ‘Dug Out’ who was severely wounded at Spion Kop during the Boer War replaced Beckett as C.O.
In early 1916 the Divisional artillery finally received 18 pounder guns and 4.5” Howitzers whilst the Japanese rifles were replaced by Lee Enfield’s. The 66th was then transferred to Southern Army Home Defence force guarding part of the East Coast in the area of Colchester.