Path of Glory, by Frederick Cornelius
Book published by David Cornelius in 2014, 168 pages. Paperback (5666PE)
From the introduction (written by his son David): It is not known when Frederick Cornelius wrote this account of his experiences in the Royal Naval Division during the Great War; nor is it known whether he intended it to be published. It is, perhaps, surprising that the manuscript survived the changing fortunes of our family over the past 80 or so years. But, by virtue of its age and survival, it has achieved an added gravitas and a natural imperative that it should be more widely available.
One can only surmise that this account of my father's war service provided the necessary therapy to assist his rehabilitation to the civilian life that awaited him after the horrific experience of trench warfare.
Frederick Cornelius went to war as a young volunteer with a Victorian upbringing, where regular church going and the Christian ethic were impressed heavily on him. He became exposed, rapidly, to an unimimaginably different world. This book is his testament to the folly and carnage of war and the adaptability and courage of those caught up in it.
His war began when the combination of zeppelin raids on London, the war situation in France and his sense of duty impelled him, in 1915, to volunteer to fight for his country. He enlisted in the Royal Naval Division served mainly in horse transport, supplying the trenches with food, ammunition and equipment, and later he fought in the trenches. He saw action as a ranker at Beaumont Hamel, Arras, Gavrelle, Passchendaele, Ridge and elsewhere....
The Royal Naval Division (RND) was formed originally from the Reserves of the Royal Navy who were surplus to requirements on board ships, but were held on land bases for any special purpose for which they might be needed by the Admiralty. At the outbreak of war in 1914, two Naval Brigades, comprising Anson, Benbow, Collingwood, Drake, Hawke, Hood, Howe and Nelson Battalions, and one Brigade of Marines were assembled to constitute the Royal Naval Division. At that time, this represented a significant addition to the six or so Regular Divisions that were to go to France in the early months of the war.
The RND was used in all the major British theatres of war: Antwerp in 1914; Gallipoli in 1915; Ancre Valley in 1916; Gavrelle, Passchendaele and Welsh Ridge in 1917; the stemming of the German Offensive in March 1918 and the advances on the Hindenberg Line, Cambrai, The Canal du Nord, St. Quentin Canal and near Mons up to the last day of the war. In all these actions the RND achieved great feats of arms in the forefront of battle and maintained its reputation, despite losses that exceeded three or four times its original personnel.
Throughout the war, the RND proudly retained its naval traditions and practices. It flew the White Ensign, used bells to record the passing of time, naval language to describe activities such as "going ashore" and "coming aboard", possessed naval ranks such as Leading Seaman and Petty Officer instead of Lance-Corporal and Sergeant, allowed its officers and men to grow beards and drank the King's health sitting in the "wardroom".
Attempts to get the RND to conform to Army traditions and practices were tried when General Paris, who led the RND, was wounded. However, his army replacement failed, over a six month period in 1916, to eliminate these naval characteristics. In 1917 the ultimate sanction, attempted by GHQ and the War Office, to disband the RND, failed in the face of effective opposition by Sir Edward Carson, the First Lord of the Admiralty, thanks in part to his political influence. Throughout, the RND fought the enemy on land, whilst enjoying its separate naval identity and successfully defended prerogatives.