What was the Chatham Port Division of the Royal Navy?
The Chatham Port Division of the Royal Navy developed to become one of three “manning stations” of the Royal Navy by the First World War. Its development was part of the great naval reforms led by Admiral Sir John “Jacky” Fisher during his time as First Sea Lord between 1904 and 1910.
Fisher’s intention was to improve the Navy, both in terms of ship design and in terms of the men who served on them. Through the development of better training, he sought to create an efficient navy throughout all the ranks. The port manning system that came into place divided the country into areas. Men from the east coast of Britain, stretching from Kent up to east coast of Scotland, were drawn into the Chatham Division. Those from the central counties and the south coast were allocated to the Portsmouth Division, while those in the north-west, south-west and Wales were allocated to Devonport. It provided an equal opportunity for men to serve on a range of Royal Navy ships from Dreadnoughts to smaller destroyers.
The headquarters of the Chatham Port Division was the Naval Barracks of HMS Pembroke, a new redbrick Edwardian establishment which opened in 1904. It was located between the Victorian steam yard and the historic dockyard at Chatham. By the outbreak of the First World War, the division was manning a third of the Royal Navy – 205 ships in total. This had a dramatic impact on the Medway Towns. With the increase of sailors coming through Chatham, it meant an increase in family members who settled close to the barracks.
During the First World War, there were a number of major losses of life from the division that had an impact on the local area. Fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins died in a naval conflict that saw a total of over 8,500 lives lost in four years from the Chatham Division alone. The naval memorial erected in 1920 on top of the Great Lines marks this sacrifice and is one of three, the others in Portsmouth and Devonport.
The Chatham Port Division would continue on to the Second World War supporting the naval effort once again to protect the country.