49th (West Riding) Infantry Division

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49th (West Riding) Infantry Division
49th Inf Brigade (Logo Polar Bears).jpg
2nd pattern, replaced 1st pattern in late WW2
Active 1908–1967
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Infantry
Armoured from 1945
Nickname The Polar Bears (World War II)
Barker's Bears (World War II)
Engagements First World War
Second World War
Battle honours Somme (1916)
The Odon
Maj.Gen.G.H.A. MacMillan
British 49th (West Riding) Division insignia.png
World War I
49-1 inf div.jpg
World War II first pattern[1][a]

The 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army. The division was formed in the Territorial Force on 1 April 1908 as the West Riding Division. The division fought in the Great War in the trenches of the Western Front, in the fields of France and Flanders. During World War II the division fought in the Norwegian Campaign and in North-western Europe. After the Second World War it remained with the Northern Command.

First World War[edit]

The division was originally raised as the West Riding Division when the Territorial Force was created in 1908. In 1915, during the Great War, it was designated the 49th (West Riding) Division and given the White Rose of York as its insignia.

Formation 1914–1918[edit]

146th (1st West Riding) Brigade
  • 1/5th Battalion, Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment)
  • 1/6th Battalion, Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment)
  • 1/7th (Leeds Rifles) Battalion, Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment)
  • 1/8th (Leeds Rifles) Battalion, Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) (until January 1918)
  • 146th Machine Gun Company, Machine Gun Corps (from 27 Janary 1916, moved to 49th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps 1 March 1918)
  • 146th Trench Mortar Battery (from 12 June 1916)
147th (2nd West Riding) Brigade
  • 1/4th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment)
  • 1/5th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment) (until January 1918)
  • 1/6th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment)
  • 1/7th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment)
  • 147th Machine Gun Company, Machine Gun Corps (from 26 January 1916, moved to 49th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps 1 March 1918)
  • 147th Trench Mortar Battery (from 12 June 1916)
148th (3rd West Riding) Brigade
  • 1/4th Battalion, King's Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry)
  • 1/5th Battalion, King's Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry) (until February 1918)
  • 1/4th (Hallamshire) Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment
  • 1/5th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment
  • 148th Machine Gun Company, Machine Gun Corps (from 6 February 1916, moved to 49th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps 1 March 1918)
  • 148th Trench Mortar Battery (from 12 June 1916)

Second World War[edit]

4.2-inch mortar of the 2nd Kensington Regiment, 49th (West Riding ) Division in action at Turnhout, Belgium, 1 October 1944
2nd Essex patrol the streets during the liberation of Arnhem, 14 April 1945.
Universal Carriers of 49th (West Riding) Division's Reconnaissance Regiment are welcomed by Dutch civilians on the outskirts of Kampen, 19 April 1945

During the Second World War, the 49th Division first saw action beginning on 15–17 April 1940 when two of its brigades took part in the short and ill-fated landings in Norway that were intended to retake the ports of Trondheim and Narvik from the German Army. The campaign was a complete disaster and the division withdrew from Norway in May 1940.

The division's 146th and 147th Infantry Brigades were thereafter stationed in Iceland and the 148th Infantry Brigade became a training brigade and was no longer a part of the division.[2] As a result, a new divisional insignia, featuring a Polar Bear standing on an ice floe, was adopted. The idea was from the divisional commander, Major General Evelyn Barker. In 1942, the division was transferred back to the United Kingdom where the 70th Brigade, from the disbanded 23rd Division, was assigned to the 49th Division.

Just after D-Day, in June 1944, the 49th Division moved to France as part of XXX Corps. During the fierce fighting in Normandy, the Nazi propaganda broadcaster Lord Haw-Haw referred to the division as "the Polar Bear Butchers". In October 1944 the 70th Brigade was disbanded due to a shortage of trained infantrymen in the British Army and the 56th Independent Infantry Brigade was assigned to the division, remaining with it for the rest of the war. During the rest of the war, the division served mainly with the First Canadian Army and was variously under the command of I Corps, the II Canadian Corps, and the I Canadian Corps. The 49th Division's last major contribution to the Second World War was the Second Battle of Arnhem and the fierce battles that led to it. During the course of the war the division suffered very heavy casualties of 11,000 wounded or missing in action with around 1,642 killed in action. In late September 1944 the division was awarded its first and only Victoria Cross of the Second World War, belonging to Corporal John William Harper of the Hallamshire Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment.

Order of Battle 1939–1945[edit]

146th Infantry Brigade (1939–1945)

147th Infantry Brigade (1939–1945)

  • 1/5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (to September 1942)
  • 1/6th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment (West Riding) (disbanded and merged into 1/7th Battalion on 17 August 1944, due to heavy losses during Operation Martlet)
  • 1/7th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment (West Riding)
  • 11th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers (from September 1942, replacing 1/5th West Yorkshire Regiment)
  • 1st Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment (from July 1944, replacing 1/6th Duke of Wellington's Regiment (West Riding))

148th Infantry Brigade (1939 – Apr 1940)

  • 1/5th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment
  • 1/5th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (to December 1939)
  • 8th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters
  • 2nd Battalion, South Wales Borderers (from December 1939, replacing 1/5th Foresters)

70th Infantry Brigade (May 1942 – Oct 1944, disbanded in North West Europe)

56th Infantry Brigade (Aug 1944–1945 replacing 70th Brigade)

Post 1945[edit]

The division was disbanded in Germany in 1946, but reformed in the Territorial Army in 1947, having been renamed the 49th (West Riding) Armoured Division. It was based in Nottingham, consisting of (on 1 April 1947):

In 1956, it was renamed the 49th (West Riding and Midland) Infantry Division, its base moved to Leeds, and the 8th Armoured Brigade was removed from its order of battle. Finally, it underwent its last major change in 1961, when it was renamed to the 49th (West Riding and North Midland) Division/District, and the 147th Infantry Brigade was removed from its composition. The Division/District finally disbanded in 1967, becoming simply X District.[3]

The polar bear flash is currently worn by 49th Brigade, which will be re-structured in 2015 to become Headquarters 7th Infantry Brigade and Headquarters East in Chilwell.[4]


  • Brigadier-General Archibald J.A. Wright: April 1908 – January 1910
  • Lieutenant-General George M. Bullock: January 1910 – September 1911
  • Major-General Thomas S. Baldock: September 1911 – July 1915
  • Major-General Edward M. Perceval: July 1915 – October 1917
  • Major-General Neville J.G. Cameron: October 1917 – June 1919
  • Major-General Henry R. Davies: June 1919 – June 1923
  • Major-General Alfred A. Kennedy: June 1923 – March 1926
  • Major-General Neville J.G. Cameron: June 1926 – June 1930
  • Major-General Sir Reginald S. May: June 1930 – September 1931
  • Major-General George H.N. Jackson: September 1931 – September 1935
  • Major-General George C. Kelly: September 1935 – April 1938

Dates in British form (dd.mm.yyyy) indicating the date they entered the command (or resumed command when there are multiple dates).

  • Maj. Gen. Pierse J. Macksey – 03.09.1939
  • Maj. Gen. Harry O. Curtis – 10.06.1940
  • Brig. Neville P. Procter – 12.04.1943 (Acting)
  • Maj. Gen. Sir Evelyn W. Barker – 12.04.1943
  • Maj. Gen. Sir Gordon H.A. MacMillan – 30.11.1944, 06.02.1945
  • Brig. R.H. Senior – 27.01.1945 & 24.03.1945 (Acting)
  • Maj. Gen. Stuart B. Rawlins – 28.03.1945, 27.04.1945
  • Brig. Edward N. Crosse – 18.04.1945 (Acting)
  • Brig. H. Wood – 23.08.1945 (Acting)
  • Major-General E. Temple L. Gurdon: September 1945 – October 1946
  • Major-General George W. Richards: January 1947 – December 1948
  • Major-General Ronald B.B.B. Cooke: December 1948 – December 1951
  • Major-General Reginald P. Harding: December 1951 – December 1954
  • Major-General Ralph Younger: December 1954 – December 1957
  • Major-General Richard E. Goodwin: December 1957 – July 1960


49th Infantry Division Memorial, Ypres

At the Site John McCrae just outside Ypres there is a memorial to the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division. It is located is immediately behind Essex Farm Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, on top of the canal bank.[5] It is shaped like an obelisk and accessed via a flight of stairs leading up the canal bank from the cemetery.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The image of a hunting Polar bear, with its head down, looking for seals, was thought by the new G.O.C., Maj. Gen. E.H. Barker, to be "...droopy timid looking...", and had it replaced by the head up, more aggressive looking version.[6]



  • Cole, Howark (1973). Formation Badges of World War 2. Britain, Commonwealth and Empire. London: Arms and Armour Press. 
  • Delaforce, Patrick (1995). The Polar Bears: Monty's Left Flank: From Normandy to the Relief of Holland with the 49th Division. Stroud: Chancellor Press. ISBN 9780753702659. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]