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49 Brigade history

Headquarters East is descended from the 49th Division, which was formed on 01 April 1908 as the West Riding Division in the Territorial Force of the British Army. The Division is commemorated at the National Arboretum at Alrewas in Derbyshire.

The Great War

Headquarters East, 49th (West Riding) Division, deployed to France with the White Rose of York as its insignia in 1915. It comprised three Infantry Brigades and saw extensive action during the First World War at Ypres and the Somme.

In 1917 the Division fought at Arras, Flanders Coast and finally at the Third Battle of Ypres. Three of its soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross. A 49 Brigade was part of 16 (Irish) Division and fought in the battles of Guillemont and Ginchy, and a 49 Brigade was in the line on 11th November 1918 at the Armistice.

The Second World War

49th Infantry Division saw action in April 1940 when two of its brigades took part in the ill-fated operations in Norway that were intended to retake the ports of Trondheim and Narvik from the Germans. Following the Allied withdrawal from Norway in May 1940, the Division was deployed to defend Iceland, where the insignia of a polar bear on an ice floe was adopted.

In 1942 the Division redeployed to the United Kingdom and was stationed in Wales, Scotland and East Anglia. In June 1944 it moved to Normandy as part of XXX Corps. Battlefield reorganisations saw the Division serving with I Corps, II Canadian Corps, and I Canadian Corps - it served as General Montgomery's left flank and campaigned in Belgium and Holland.

49th Infantry Division was nicknamed 'the Polar Bears' in Iceland, and the German propagandist 'Lord Haw Haw' coined the nickname the 'Polar Bear Butchers' after the battles of Cristot, Fontenay and Rauray in the Normandy campaign.

49th Infantry Division played a key role in the liberation of Le Havre, supported the liberation of Arnhem by 1st Canadian Army and liberated Utrecht and Hilversum. Its Reconnaissance Regiment was first into Amsterdam. It garrisoned the 'island' between Nijmegen and Arnhem. The Division played a humanitarian role in the final weeks of the war by bringing desperately needed food supplies to the starving population of Holland.

In 11 months of combat 1944-45, 49th Infantry Division suffered 11,000 casualties and one of its soldiers was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The Cold War Era

The 49th Infantry Division disbanded in Germany in 1946, but reformed in 1947 as 49th (West Riding) Armoured Division, a Territorial Army formation based in Nottingham. A 49 Brigade operated in Kenya during the Mau Mau emergency 1953-1956.

In 1956, 49th Division was renamed 49th (West Riding and Midland) Infantry Division and moved to Leeds. In 1961, it was renamed 49th (West Riding and North Midland) Division/District. It disbanded in 1967 when the Territorial Army reduced to a much smaller Territorial Army and Volunteer Reserve. Division/Districts were renamed Districts, and TA Brigades disappeared.

In April 1982, the brigade level of command was re-established and 49 Infantry Brigade formed as an operational formation in 2nd Division, with the role of reinforcing of 1st (British) Corps in Germany.

Options for Change

In the early 1990s, several Districts merged. These Districts were subsequently retitled as Divisions, each responsible for a specific part of the country. Eastern District was retitled 2nd Division.

49 (East) Brigade formed in Chilwell on 1st April 1995, following the merger of 49 (East Midlands) Brigade (Chilwell) and 54 (East Anglia) Brigade (Grantham and Colchester).

Strategic Defence Review 1999

49 (East) Brigade was placed under command the 4th Division, which had replaced South East District and had its HQ at Aldershot, Hampshire. In April 2007, 49 (East) Brigade came under command the 5th Division. This regenerative Division has its HQ at Shrewsbury, Shropshire, and also commands 143 (West Midlands) Brigade and 160 (Wales) Brigade.

On 16th February 2015, 49 (East) Brigade merged with 7 Infantry Brigade to form 7 Infantry Brigade and Headquarters East.

Acknowledgements: 'The Polar Bears - Monty's Left Flank', Patrick Delaforce, Chancellor Press 1995.