A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE 1ST BATTALION, 50TH NORTHUMBRIAN DIVISION
The group represents 'D' Company of the lst battalion the 'The Hampshire Regiment, in the period from the D Day landings to the disbandment of the 50th Division and the reorganisation of the units to other Divisions in November 1944.
The 1st Hampshire Regiment were part of 231 Brigade and was in the vanguard of the assault force landing on Gold Beach. They had the honour of being the first British infantry to land and to be the right of the line. The Battalion landed to the left of its intended place and had to fight a vicious battle without armoured support, except for a few A.V.R.E's (Armoured Vechicle Royal Engineers) to get off the beach and onto their objectives. They achieved it by 9.00 pm that day, taking the main objectives Le Hamel and Arromanches. The second objective being vital for the British Mulberry harbour. The Battalion lost in that day 182 men all ranks, including its CO and Second-in-Command.
The next few months from June to August saw the battalion fighting an aggressive defence of the beachhead and a long and bitter breakout against a determined enemy.
Part of the Allied plan was for the 50th division to contain the enemy by aggressive action and capture the town of Villiers Bocage. The battalion being involved heavily in the fighting around the important village of Hottot, 5 miles north of Villiers Bocage. 231 bde was again in the vanguard of the 50th Div and the battalion fought from Villiers Bocage through the Normandy Bocage pushing the enemy before it, until it reached the village of St. Pierre which after a long bitter fight the German defence collapsed and the Germans retreated through the Falaise Gap.
With the German army in retreat the 50th Div supported the 11th Armoured Div, with which the battalion in 231 Bde came under the Guards Armoured Division and advanced with them to be the first British infantry across the Belgian border and into Brussels on the 3rd September 1944. From Brussels the battalion followed the Guards Armour Div into Antwerp and on to form, and hold the bridgehead over the Escaut canal on the Belgian~Holland border.
This small advance over the border was the starting point for the ground forces involved in the airborne operation 'Market Garden'. The battalion was part of the infantry divisions defending the corridor behind the Guards Armour Div as they advanced to relieve the airborne forces defending the bridges at Grave, Nijmegen and Arnhem. In October the battalion went forward through Nijmegan and fought its last battle north of Bemmel in 'the island', an area between the rivers Waal and Lek. At the end of October the battalion was withdrawn.
The 50th Division was broken up and reorganized, to reinforce other divisions, some of the men in the battalion went to other units and a small body of men left in the battalion, went back the England to assist in training. This ended the 1st battalion's part in the war.
From the period from the 6th June 1944 to 17th November 1944, the battalion had casualties of approximately 1,280 men, and as a battalions strength was between 500 to 600 men, it was effectively wiped out twice.
Thanks to the reinforcements, the battalion was an effective well trained fighting unit and was in the forefront of the fighting across Europe up to the Rhine and the crossings into Germany.
Sources: The Royal Hampshire Regiment, Regimental History Vol III by David Scott Daniell, Gale & Polden Lyd, 1955. Accidental Warrior by Geoffrey Picot, Penguin Books, 1993. Battle Coast by R.H. Hunter & T.H.C. Brown, Spurbooks Ltd, 1973