Just back from where the Royal Naval Division performed heroics – at the end of the Somme battle in November 1916 – to capture Beaucourt on the Ancre. I was reminded of A.P. Herbert’s witty poem about their CO.
AP Herbert (1890-1971) fought with the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division. After Gallipoli, the Division moved to France where it took part in the later stages of the Battle of the Somme. In October 1916 a new CO was appointed – Maj-Gen Cameron Shute. He commanded the RND until February 1917, a grim 4 months for all who served under him, as he regarded the Division’s nautical traditions as unsoldierly and grotesque. He became known as ‘Shultz the Hun’ for his insistence on ‘spit and polish’. He inspected the trenches when the Division took over a sector near Arras from the Portuguese, who were as bad as the French at keeping their trenches nice and clean. The trenches were a mess, but the sailors had no time to tidy and clean before Shute turned up. He was appalled, and punished all the sailors of the 63rd. Herbert’s poem was turned into a song, sung by the entire British army, to the displeasure of Shute and his staff.
The General inspecting the trenches
Exclaimed with a horrified shout
‘I refuse to command a division
Which leaves its excreta about.’
But nobody took any notice
No one was prepared to refute,
That the presence of shit was congenial
Compared to the presence of Shute.
And certain responsible critics
Made haste to reply to his words
Observing that his staff advisors
Consisted entirely of turds.
For shit may be shot at odd corners
And paper supplied there to suit,
But a shit would be shot without mourners
If someone shot that shit Shute.
Picture: Maj-Gen (later Lieut-Gen) ‘Tiger’ Shute. He was known as a ‘thruster’ – someone who was gung-ho, always up for a scrap with the Hun. The trouble with these types is that they regarded small gains as worth any amount of casualties, never a popular attitude with the men.