By David Thompson, MLitt

School of Historical Studies, University of Newcastle upon Tyne


Interest in the DLI remains strong despite the fact that it was disbanded thirty-four years ago. Successive events undermined plans to publish the First World War records of all battalions raised by the DLI, a regiment represented in all but one of the major actions on the Western Front. The social context of the regiment is not assessed here. This research re-affirms the number of fatal casualties sustained (12,557 men), and: how frontline and Pioneer battalions spent their time; the estimated number of men who served with the DLI (120,000-132,000), significantly more than most people would have credited; estimated battle and non-battle casualties (respectively, almost 54,000 and up to 70,000 men); prisoners of war (4,726); and the unenviable distinction the DLI had of having more men sentenced to death by Field General Courts Martial during the war than any other infantry regiment in the British Army.

These facts are brought into the public domain for the first time, amongst a wealth of other information. An explanation is provided that partially mitigates the significance of the number of death sentences passed. During 1914-1918, DLI battalions quadrupled in number, ample testimony to the magnificent response of both regiment and County Durham to the nation's 'Call to Arms', which was further manifested in the shared, unique distinction of raising one battalion without cost to the nation. The pride displayed in the regiment bearing the county's name ensured continuous support throughout. The performance of its frontline battalions enhanced the singular reputation of the DLI for its fighting spirit, tenacity, toughness, reliability, and prodigious digging abilities.

george 5

Image: HM King George V by the temporary cross on the Butte de Warlencourt

Author's Note (August 2014)

Readers will appreciate that this dissertation was written twelve years ago since when a number of changes have taken place, most notably the planned book has not been published! There are several reasons for this and it is not necessary to go into detail here, it may be sufficient to say that an unpublished manuscript for 'Memories of the Durham Light Infantry in the First World War, 1914-1919' exists but with many other demanding commitments there has simply never been enough time available to complete the work.

Durham County Record Office has re-catalogued the DLI archives held at County Hall and it may be that DRO references given in the Bibliography have changed since 2002.

David Thompson, August 2014


  1. List of Acronyms
  2. Acknowledgements
  3. Introduction
  4. The build-up and DLI organisation
  5. The people 
  6. The places
  7. The work 
  8. Aftermath, analysis and conclusions 
  9. Future use of the dissertation


  • 2nd Battalion Field Returns
  • Organisation of a typical infantry battalion, August 1914 
  • Categorisation of DLI battalions 
  • Prestigious decorations awarded 
  • DLI First World War battle honours 
  • Location of DLI battalions on 11 November 1918 
  • Allocation of time 
  • DLI casualties: Fatalities and Wounded 


List of Acronyms

The following acronyms are used throughout the narrative, and in the Appendices and footnotes:

BDE(s) Brigade(s)
Brig Gen Brigadier General
BEF British Expeditionary Force
CO Commanding Officer
DCM Distinguished Conduct Medal
D of W Died of wounds
DSO Distinguished Service Order
DLI Durham Light Infantry
DRO Durham County Record Office, County Hall, Durham
GHQ General Headquarters
HQ Headquarters
K in A Killed in action
LG(s) Lewis Gun(s)
Lt Col Lieutenant Colonel
2/Lt Second Lieutenant
MG(s) Machine Gun(s)
MID Mentioned in despatches
MC Military Cross
MM Military Medal
MSM Meritorious Service Medal
ORs Other Ranks, i.e., non commissioned officers and
private soldiers
PoW(s) Prisoner(s) of war
PRO Public Record Office, Kew, Richmond (now The
National Archives)
SR Special Reserve
VC Victoria Cross
WFA Western Front Association


Dr Martin Farr and Dr Joan Allen, both of the School of Historical Studies at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, must take credit for ensuring that this MLitt degree programme has added considerable value to the original book project planned, by broadening its scope, providing a better structure, and generally assuring output of the highest quality. My University supervisor, Dr Farr, has provided prompt and willing support, and his observations and constructive feedback throughout the programme have been much appreciated.

Major Randal Cross, Regimental County Secretary at the Light Infantry Office in Durham, has also been supportive, even before the degree programme began. His help, not least with technical input and the loan of a number of difficult-to-find published battalion histories, has been greatly appreciated. Other members of the Society of Friends of the DLI Museum have also been helpful, notably Major Donald McDonald (Editor of 'The Durham Bugle', the journal of the Society of Friends of the DLI Museum) and Stephen Shannon (Curator of the DLI Museum). During numerous research visits to County Hall, Durham, Carolyn Ball and all of her colleagues at the DRO provided assistance whenever needed. Carolyn was especially helpful with the production of many of the photographs used in this document.

Roger Nixon, a military researcher working mainly at the PRO, has supplied voluminous copies of war diaries and other primary source material, which has largely negated the need for lengthy, and costly, visits to Kew. While savings in overall costs have not resulted from this approach, having such material available to work on at home has been of tremendous benefit, the great 'added value' being that, eventually, it will be deposited with the DRO, to supplement the material currently available in Durham (Author's note: Done, in January 2004. Subsequently the DRO bound the copy war diaries in four volumes, which were placed in the Readers' Room for visitors to examine.). A modest research grant from the School of Historical Studies (University of Newcastle) made it easier to commit to the approach taken to the primary source data collection process.

Mention must also be made of fellow postgraduate student and relation Alan McBurnie, who first suggested the idea of a degree programme, and who later offered practical help, not least with the provision of copies of early lecture notes missed because of unavoidable late registration. Julian Putkowski, the military historian, willingly provided as yet unpublished material on DLI officers who faced Courts Martial during the First World War[1] and agreed to its use. Cheryl and John Morris also deserve acknowledgement for their help in preparing some of the maps used to illustrate Chapter 4 ('The places').

To undertake an MLitt degree such as this, and to devote the time, effort, and expense to it that I have done, would not have been possible without the unstinting support of my wife. Many times, she has encouraged me to do things that I might otherwise have hesitated over, especially the purchasing of expensive source material. My greatest thanks must go to her.


Approach adopted – Relevance and public interest in the DLI – Continuing links to the DLI – Family connections – Structure and content – Post-War plans for publication – Source material – Methodology

Underpinning this dissertation are the results of extensive research into the War records of each and every DLI battalion. The scope of the research includes: how and where battalions were raised; manpower, recruitment and reinforcement; training; equipping and re-equipping; main theatres of operation; experiences in the field; rest and recuperation; involvement in major actions; casualties; COs; and major decorations awarded. However, space limitations preclude such comprehensive treatment here, so a thematic approach has been adopted focusing on: the build-up to the War; organisation of the DLI; those who served with it, and the support they received from home; places of particular importance to the regiment; the work undertaken by each element of it; and the aftermath, including statistical analyses. It must be emphasised that, owing to the length of the work and the extent of the archives, what follows is a comprehensive military account of the DLI in the War, and those interested in the wider context will have to look elsewhere. Most of the supporting Appendices are original pieces of research.

In 2002, there are no known DLI survivors from the War, yet as the twentieth century closed the public showed tremendous interest in, arguably, the most momentous event of the century. For people seeking information about their forebears, there is nothing currently in print covering the DLI as a whole. Any relevant material was published, in the main, in the years following the War, and at no time has there been a single reference source. In County Durham, and possibly elsewhere in the North East, a high proportion of today's households are likely to have some sort of War connection with the regiment, simply because of the number of men who served with it.

Although the DLI was disbanded in 1968 and amalgamated with similar county infantry regiments into the Light Infantry Regiment, the connection and association between what remains and communities throughout the county is still strong, possibly more so than in any other. Indicators of interest are the thirty-eight thousand visitors in 2001 to the DLI Museum, and the number of enquiries for service records handled by the Museum, the Light Infantry Office in Durham, and the DRO, in all currently about one thousand per annum, most of which relate to the War.

Other evidence of the continuing connection includes: the large number of active Association Branches; numerous well-attended reunions held throughout the year; the number of Branch parades in various towns on Remembrance Sunday; and many War Memorials throughout the county. A reflection of the DLI Museum's importance is found in the initial funding, and ongoing support, provided by Durham County Council. The county remains the largest recruiting area for the remaining two battalions of the Light Infantry Regiment.[2]

The Light Infantry Office is still in Durham City, and three Light Infantry Territorial Halls remain in Bishop Auckland, Consett, and Washington. The DLI cap badge is still worn by DLI detachments of the Army Cadet Force. Approaching the ninetieth anniversary of the opening of hostilities and with the centenary in sight, future plans for a book, to build on the research undertaken to date, will satisfy an obvious demand for a comprehensive history of the DLI in the War. At the same time, both this dissertation and the book will, it is hoped, add greatly to the record of life in the North East during the twentieth century.

Family connections first awakened an interest in the DLI. The author's grandfather, John Campbell Thompson (Regimental Number 81348), joined the Regiment's 53rd (Young Soldier) Battalion in September 1917, before being posted to the 15th (Service) Battalion in April 1918. On 30 May 1918, during the Battle of the Aisne Campbell Thompson was wounded, probably by shrapnel. His cousin, 2/Lt Ellis Thompson had earlier been K in A while serving with the 18th Battalion at Gavrelle, on 18 May 1917.

There is no need here to cover regimental history, as the subject was addressed in an earlier research assignment essay.[3] Nor is it appropriate to consider such as the development and deployment of tactics; the rights and wrongs of using inexperienced troops in a major battle so soon after they arrived in France (Loos); the role of 1st Battalion in the Third Afghan War; or the markedly higher casualties suffered by units of the 21st Division, which included the 14th and 15th (Service) Battalions, most of which have also been covered in earlier assignments.

What this introduction does highlight is the relevance today of the subject matter addressed, notwithstanding the time elapsed. It outlines the structure and content of the dissertation, and goes on to describe unfulfilled plans in the 1920s to publish the DLI's War record, before reviewing the research material used and, finally, focusing on the strategy and methodology adopted for the research phase of the project. Chapters 2-6 deal with substantive findings, based on the thematic approach mentioned earlier.

The DLI was a product of Victorian Army reforms in 1873 and 1881, which saw a 'marriage of convenience' between the 68th (Durham Light Infantry) Foot and the 106th Bombay Light Infantry, to become, respectively, the 1st and 2nd Battalions DLI.[4]

It took many years for these two battalions to be assimilated fully, and lingering mutual resentment only disappeared in the 1890s, thanks largely to the 2nd Battalion's all-conquering polo team. The fame, fortune and glory it brought to the regiment finally overcame any animosity that might have been shown by the 1st Battalion towards its junior partner.[5]


Image: 2nd Battalion's all-conquering polo team of 1897[6]

Chapter 2 ('The build-up and DLI organisation') offers a brief insight to wider issues leading to the War, again covered more fully in an earlier research assignment essay,[7] before switching the focus to the DLI at the outbreak of hostilities. Then, it looks at the organisation of infantry battalions and how each element of the regiment expanded. Two of the three supporting Appendices represent original pieces of research.

Chapter 3 ('The people') warrants the greatest amount of attention, dealing with a plethora of issues, ranging from: the significant element of miners comprising ORs; the reputation earned by the DLI; recruitment and enlistment; early problems; training; extensive reliance on officers from the 'Reserve' and 'Retired' lists to enable the regiment to expand; supplying reinforcements to frontline units; motivation, stress, morale and discipline; leadership; and the support received from home.

In view of the limited space available, no attempt has been made to relate the full range of fascinating information about life with the DLI gleaned from many personal diaries and letters researched, rather perusal of the Bibliography will give an insight to the extensive research undertaken. However, a flavour of the leadership demonstrated by some men who served with the regiment is provided, by focusing attention on three officers linked by the later stages of the Battle of Cambrai. Also, it is appropriate in this Chapter to deal with PoWs, including: the treatment they received from the Germans; food shortages; mental stress; and, again, support received from home.

Appendix E supplements Chapter 4 ('The places'), listing DLI battle honours and the battalions involved in gaining each. The Chapter focuses on five places of particular importance to the regiment, as well as all theatres of operation where there was DLI representation, which are illustrated by bespoke maps.

Chapter 5 ('The work') describes the way in which each element of the regiment was employed, focusing especially on units that served overseas, in relation to which original statistical data is presented. An insight to the conditions under which battalions operated is also given, and the work of Pioneer battalions is given special attention.

The last substantive chapter, Chapter 6 ('Aftermath, analysis and conclusions'), touches upon post-Armistice events, as well as summarising key points and providing analyses on the way in which battalions spent their time; enlistments; casualties, including PoWs and 'Sick or Injured'; and major decorations awarded.

Finally, Chapter 7 ('Future use of the dissertation') outlines how the research findings, assignment essays, and this dissertation will be used as the basis for a definitive three- or four-part book on the DLI's War record.

Turning to post-War DLI plans to record the exploits of all County Durham units, by way of the publication of three volumes of 'Durham Forces in the Field, 1914-1918'', the considered view at the time was that the task was too large, and too onerous, for one person to handle, so the work was divided. The Regimental Historian, Colonel The Honourable W. L. Vane, who had been CO of the 2/6th Battalion for a large part of the War, undertook to continue his history of the nine pre-War battalions, which he had started to write in May 1914, as Volume I.[8] Captain Wilfred Miles (13th Battalion) undertook to write the history of all 'New Army' (Service) battalions, in Volume II,[9] and he also agreed to produce a separate work on the County Durham Volunteer Corps and other county units (Volume III).[10]

Consequent upon Vane's untimely death in 1920, a three-man committee was set up, to look after the editing and publishing of Volume I. The committee chairman was Brig Gen Hanway Robert Cumming, DSO, supported by Lt Col K. J. W. Leather, CBE and Major, later Lt Col David Lloyd Brereton, DSO. Cumming was assassinated in 1921,[11] after which Vane's draft manuscript disappeared, never to be found. Vane's extensive working papers now form an important part of the DLI archives held by the DRO.[12] Consequently, there has never been anything in print providing systematic coverage of all DLI battalions raised during the War. While Miles' Volume II of 'Durham Forces in the Field, 1914-1918'... is generally recognised as the definitive work on the DLI for this period, it has its limitations, not least that it covered only (Service) battalions and Cassell & Co published it in 1920, so it is now difficult to find.

'Faithful: The Story of the Durham Light Infantry', by S. G. P. Ward, was published in 1962. A book approaching six hundred pages in length published only six years before the DLI's demise, Faithful ... represents the only relatively recent comprehensive history of the regiment. Although the War is covered in one large chapter, all battalions were mentioned. Ward made no attempt to adopt a systematic approach to analyse the overall War record of the regiment. Clearly, he relied heavily on war diaries plus a limited number of personal papers.

A small book published in 1975, a little over six years after the DLI's demise, 'The Durham Light Infantry', by William Moore, was part of Leo Cooper's 'Famous Regiments' series. It, too, sought to cover the whole history of the regiment, but in-depth coverage was lacking with the War being covered in two relatively short chapters.

All other secondary sources particular to the DLI are battalion histories, most of which were written shortly after the War. Two recent books by Harry Moses, 'The Faithful Sixth: A History of the Sixth Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry' (1995) and 'The Gateshead Gurkhas: A History of the 9th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, 1859-1967' (2001), include significant coverage of the War, but this period represents only part of the story of these two battalions. A common trait evident in most battalion histories published in the 1920s is that they were written, primarily, for the consumption of members or ex-members of the battalion concerned, or of their families. Most drew heavily on war diaries as a primary source of information, although several authors, notably Raimes, Veitch, and Lowe, obviously made an effort to utilise personal diaries, correspondence and recollections.

'The Fifth Battalion The Durham Light Infantry, 1914-1918', by Major A. L. Raimes, DSO, TD was published privately, in 1931, by a committee of past and present officers of the battalion. Seemingly, most of the papers of both the battalion and the 150th Infantry BDE, of which it formed part, were lost in the disaster on the Aisne in May 1918. In his 'Preface', Raimes explained that incomplete records were available in relation to casualties and decorations, saying which he obviously went to considerable lengths to compile lists, which were incorporated in detailed appendices.

'The Story of the 6th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry: France, April 1915 – November 1918', by Captain R. B. Ainsworth, MC, was published by St. Catherine Press (London), in 1919. It was a short book written for the officers of the battalion and their families. No meaningful information was given in relation to ORs.

Harry Moses' book 'The Faithful Sixth...' provided a complete history of the 6th Battalion, but the War years received full treatment in ten chapters, although the appendices were somewhat selective. For example, there was a roll of honour for the Second World War, but not for the First. Most recently, Moses published a second battalion history, 'The Gateshead Gurkhas...' the approach to which is similar to that of his earlier work. Both have been thoroughly researched but conceivably they, too, might be construed to have only limited interest to those who served with the battalions or to members of their families.

Major E. Hardinge Veitch also addressed the whole history of a Battalion, in '8th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry, 1793-1926' (Durham, 1926). Unfortunately, Veitch only occasionally mentioned the number of wounded and 'Missing', and nowhere were total figures given yet the appendices still provided useful information.

'War History of the 18th (S.) Battalion Durham Light Infantry' was published in 1920 and the author, Lt Col W. D. Lowe, DSO, MC, the battalion's penultimate CO in the War, made no apology for having written the book, again, for consumption by members of the battalion and their families. As such, it went into great detail about life at the front. Of course, the 18th Battalion was quite unique, having been raised by a number of well-to-do people of the county, without expense to the nation.[13] In addition to the list of subscribers, several of Lowe's appendices were interesting.

'The History of the Locally Raised 20th (Service) Battalion The Durham Light Infantry', written by Lt Col K. J. W. Leather, CBE and published in 1920, was another typical battalion history. Though brief, it too was supported by helpful appendices.

The Bibliography illustrates the range of primary sources used, representing as they do, the main information source available, notably the numerous war diaries in the DLI archives held by the DRO and by the PRO. Personal diaries and letters, also held by the DRO and in the Liddle Collection (Leeds University, Special Collections), have been used to supplement information drawn from the war diaries.

In many respects, military historians today have a harder task to elicit information than did their predecessors, most obviously because so much research has been undertaken already. Most DLI battalion historians would have had access to information and records that are simply not available to researchers today partly because of the greater access they had when tackling their subject from within the Army, more importantly because records were not then protected by the one hundred year rule. Examination of war diaries held at the PRO by many different hands over the years has left some boxes terribly mixed up, so it was not surprising to find gaps and misfiles.[14] Some diary entries were very short, offering little or no accurate data, so war diaries too varied greatly in the quality of information provided. One limitation was that battalions were only required to maintain a diary from the time embarkation orders were received, so, in most cases, the difficulties encountered by the unit during preparation for overseas service were not always recorded in detail. Although war diaries, or digests of service, exist for most battalions that served overseas, there are gaps. Some were lost or destroyed during the War, such as that of the 1/5th Battalion related earlier and that of the 20th Battalion for April 1917, which was consumed in an Orderly Room fire.

War diaries are available for the only Regular battalion that served on the Western Front (2nd Battalion), all of the First and second-line TF battalions, except the 2/8th Battalion, which remained in the UK throughout, and all of the (Service) battalions that served overseas (10th-15th; 18th-20th; 22nd; and 29th). Digests of service, notably for the 1st Battalion in India and the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion, supplement war diaries, as do the many personal diaries and letters examined during the research phase of the project.

20th Battalion's war diary was different from the norm in that it was more in the form of a register.[15] Unusually, significant coverage was afforded to the period before embarkation for France and Flanders. Several newspaper cuttings gave useful information, including casualty figures. The diaries for the 13th Battalion were also unusual, the three narrative volumes being original Army Book notes prepared by battalion Adjutants, and from which the weekly war diary would have been written up. Each Adjutant carried an ordinary Army Book Number 153 in which to write notes of the day, as things happened. At the end of the week, these notes were copied onto forms supplied by, and sent to BDE HQ.

For most Home Service battalions, diaries do not exist as units were not required to maintain them, certainly not after 1 April 1916. Where they were maintained, for example by the 26th Battalion (WO95/5460) the majority of pages were often 'Nil' returns so useful information cannot be gleaned. In the absence of war diaries, it might not be unreasonable to assume that these formations experienced similar trials and tribulations over accommodation, equipment and training, as did those units for which information is more readily available.

Statistical data given in several Appendices represents a continuation of work undertaken in relation to research assignments. For example, fatal casualties have been updated using data available from the CD-ROM Soldiers Died.... Added knowledge gleaned from the material examined comes in the presentation of a wealth of new information, including: how battalions spent their time; definitive estimates of the numbers of men who served with the DLI and those who were wounded; fatal casualties; the significance of sickness on the efficacy of battalions; and the unenviable distinction the DLI had of having more men sentenced to death by Courts Martial than any other infantry regiment in the British Army.

To produce this dissertation and the research assignment essays that preceded it a six-fold strategy was developed, the execution of which was recorded in a comprehensive Postgraduate Personal and Academic Record (PPAR), itself used as a dynamic tool, to regularly review and refine project plans.[16] During thirteen supervisory meetings and regular e-mail exchanges, the first element of the strategy utilised the experience and expertise of the author's University supervisor, Dr. Martin Farr, to obtain advice and guidance. Most importantly, draft outputs were prepared at least a month before agreed due dates, to give Dr. Farr an opportunity to provide input before work was submitted for assessment.

Next, suitable research material was extracted from specialist Internet sites on the War.[17] The sites of several publishers were also examined regularly, as were various museum and other institution sites.

Third, full use was made of the Robinson Library at the University of Newcastle, supplemented by the fourth element of the strategy, namely expansion of the author's personal library. The fifth element, arguably the most important because it produced most primary source material, was a series of visits to the DRO, plus visits to the PRO, although, as related earlier and below, a more cost-effective way of accessing material held at Kew was later employed.

The final element was to exploit the direct support and help the author enjoyed from the Regimental Trustees and the DLI Museum, as well as to undertake visits to other institutions, such as Leeds University (Special Collections), Newcastle City Library, Tyne and Wear Archives, also in Newcastle, and regional press.

Reverting to the third element, periodically University Library databases were examined,[18] to search for suitable research material, but this potential source of information was not found to be an effective use of time, nor was the effort productive. Likewise, examination of the Trevelyan and Runciman Papers, held by the Special Collections section of the Library, produced nothing of direct relevance to the DLI.

Two hundred and twenty-five boxes of papers, volumes, albums, loose photographs, and other material were passed to the DRO by the DLI Museum, in September 1998. One hundred and forty boxes appeared to contain relevant War material, all of which were examined, at least once, during fifteen visits to County Hall. A temporary list of material in the archives has been created by the DRO, the intention being to complete the cataloguing process and add data to the DRO database, by the end of 2002. The temporary list can be viewed at

The PRO holds forty-four volumes of war diaries in relation to the DLI covering 1914-1918, some of which were examined during a two-day visit to Kew in June 2001. Rather than undertake further costly visits, nineteen volumes were subsequently copied,[19] the benefits of which have been explained already. The only diaries not examined or copied were those in relation to the 1/5th, 2/5th, and 2/6th Battalions, for which significant secondary source material was available, and the 10th and 14th Battalions (1,050 pages, in all), partly on cost grounds, more importantly as the added value they would bring to the dissertation was questionable.

In the Liddle Collection held by Leeds University (Special Collections), all twenty-nine files identified as including DLI material in relation to the War were examined during a two-day visit in 2001. Most files related to interviews with old soldiers conducted by Peter Liddle, or members of his staff, while he was at Sunderland Polytechnic in the 1970s, for which there are typed transcripts and a wealth of personal letters, diaries, photographs, and other memorabilia, deposited in the Collection. The original tape recordings, which are available, were not needed.

In addition to purchasing books to provide research material, difficult-to-find battalion histories were borrowed from the Regimental Trustees. Access was also secured to archival material still held by the Light Infantry Office, which the author catalogued for the Trustees. Unfortunately, efforts to obtain suitable research material from regional press offices, such as for the Newcastle Journal and Evening Chronicle and for the Northern Echo, produced nothing worthwhile. The idea of publicising the project via the press was not pursued when it became obvious that there was little real prospect of a positive response. Rather, appeals for information were publicised in specialist magazines: Issue No 3 of The Durham Bugle; and, to a wider audience, in Issue No 62 of the WFA's 'Bulletin' (February 2002). Unfortunately, these too produced nothing, but an approach to the military historian Julian Putkowski was more successful and he willingly furnished unpublished material, and agreed to its use.

Also worthy of note were: the systematic approach taken to the preparation of research notes, which ran to about 273,000 words, bound in seven volumes to ensure easy access and speed the information and data extraction process; the University of Newcastle Faculty of Arts and School of Historical Studies training programmes in Year 1; the author's involvement with the Postgraduate Board of Studies, the Staff-Postgraduate Student Committee, and organisation of the Faculty of Arts 2001 Postgraduate Conference; and a ninety minute address, delivered in July 2002, to members of the Northumberland branch of the WFA, 'Memories of the DLI in World War 1'.

The Build-up and DLI Organisation[20]

Britain's reasons for going to war – Victorian and Edwardian Army reforms – DLI immediately before the War – Battalion organisation – Mobilisation and expansion of the DLI – Fighting infantry – Pioneers – Regimental reserves – Training Reserve – Overseas garrisons – Home Service Battalions

Britain's position as, arguably, the world's premier industrial power was already threatened as the nineteenth century closed, and she was a reluctant, and ill-prepared, participant in the War. She went to war to maintain the status quo, to avoid a shift in the balance of power on the Continent, also to preserve world naval supremacy. It did not take long for the British Government to realise that a 'Business as usual' approach to managing the War effort was not a viable option. As early as December 1914 there was evidence that the foundations upon which Britain had formulated her War strategy were being undermined.[21]

The late nineteenth century was a period marked within the Army by resistance to change, but its indifferent performance during both the Crimean War (1853-1856) and the Indian Mutiny (1857) highlighted the need for change, even before the spectacular victories of the Prussians over the Austrians and French, respectively in 1866 and 1870, forced the issue.

The Army's lamentable performance during the early stages of the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902) attracted great criticism, and highlighted the need for further change. Afterwards, R B Haldane, Secretary of State for War (1905-1912), arguably the greatest of all Victorian and Edwardian Army reformers, introduced measures to address the lessons of that war, one of the most significant being the disbandment of the Volunteer Force, which was replaced by the TF. The 1908 reforms of Haldane provided the foundations upon which the British Army embarked upon the War.

Apart from creating the BEF and the General Staff, the Regular Army was not greatly affected by these reforms, but the Militia was replaced by the Special Reserve, a partially trained force used to reinforce the Regular Army in times of war, and the Volunteers were replaced by the part-time Territorial Force, which, largely for political reasons, was embodied for home defence duties only. All of these reforms notwithstanding, the fact is that in 1914 the British Army was too small to wage a war of continental proportions and, initially, it lacked the infrastructure to do so, yet the BEF was widely regarded as the largest, most professional, and best trained and equipped army ever to leave British shores.

A particular problem in the years before the War was a recruitment shortfall. County Associations, established in 1908 to organise and administer the TF, were unable to attract sufficient numbers of men to meet the notional peacetime Establishment,[22] which had been set at 312,000.[23] In May 1914, the Regular Army was nearly 11,000 men below its notional Establishment, and at about the same time the SR was 13,699 men below strength.[24] When war was declared, the Regular Army comprised 247,432 men (all ranks), of which 79,000 were in India. The SR and the TF totalled 270,859 men.[25]

In the North East, the build-up to the War saw no significant developments as regards the DLI. TF Battalions attended their annual summer camps and, in February 1914, the 1st Battalion participated in a short, successful, punitive expedition in the Malandri Pass across the North-West Frontier Province of India. In August 1914, the DLI could field nine battalions: two in the Regular Army (1st and 2nd); two SR (3rd and 4th); and five TF (5th to 9th), supported by the Regimental Depot, based in Newcastle.[26] Another twenty-eight battalions were raised during the War.[27]

ali musjid

Image: Ali Musjid Camp, North-West Frontier Province, India. Contrast the scale, space and sense of order with the following photograph[28]

shell holes

Image: Aerial view of shell holes behind British lines, west of Ypres, 1918 [29]

A battalion was, and remains, the major building block of any infantry regiment in the British Army. For frontline battalions, notional Establishments did not vary greatly throughout the War, except for MGs.[30] However, the number of rifles put into the line was always less than notional strength.[31] For such as the DLI, the frontline battalion of 1914 comprised about one thousand men.[32] The Transport Section was managed with about fifty men,[33] and the 1914 MG Section would have been equipped with two Maxim guns, or the more up-to-date Vickers guns.[34] The Signals Section used telephone communication and wireless, utilising Morse code. Primitive radio equipment was only just being introduced. Companies and Platoons sent messages by runner, signal flag, lights (again, using Morse code), and, later in the War, carrier pigeons.

Mobilisation procedures had been perfected in the years before the War, yet the order to mobilise appears still to have come as a surprise to some officers. Captain A. E. Irvine, 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion Adjutant, was not the only one to be unclear about instructions received,[35] a sharp rebuke being his reward for a query raised with Northern Command, as the opening of the reply to him on the 5th August 1914 shows:

'Dear Irvine,
What the hell are you panicking about as to whether you mobilise or not? Of course you do and more d----d quickly when you get the order from BC [Brigade Command to go... sic] to your War Station. See para 21 Mob. Regul. and my C645 of 29-10-13'[36]

In County Durham, the response to Lord Kitchener's famous recruitment campaign was about eleven per cent higher than the average for England, increasing to seventeen per cent against the national average.[37] Quite why the county's response was so much better than most others is now difficult to gauge, although the deprived economic circumstances of many people, with the added attraction of adventure overseas, might have been a factors. In addition to the nine pre-War battalions, eight TF, eleven 'New Army' (Service), and nine reserve and Home Service battalions were raised by the DLI.

An earlier research assignment essay explained how the regiment expanded and how units overcame the accommodation, training, clothing and equipping problems encountered by them all, to varying degrees.[38] Arms, clothing and equipment remained in short supply until early 1916 and, on more than one occasion, issues to second-line TF battalions were withdrawn and passed to units considered more needy, which not only had an adverse impact on morale but also delayed training.[39]

Appendix C categorises battalions into one of the six elements that made up the DLI during the War: Fighting infantry; Pioneers; Regimental reserves; Training Reserve; Overseas garrisons; or Home Service.[40] Fighting infantry were frontline troops, most commonly employed on the Western Front. The 12th, 13th, and 20th Battalions also served in Italy, and the 18th Battalion spent a short time in Egypt. The 1st Battalion remained in India throughout, from where considerable support was provided to other units, some to DLI units serving on the Western Front, also to non-DLI units serving in Mesopotamia and Egypt.[41]

As the true nature of static trench warfare came increasingly to be understood, the Army supplemented limited Royal Engineer resources by providing each division with a Pioneer battalion.[42] The 11th Battalion formed as a normal 'New Army' (Service) battalion but, because it was composed largely of miners,[43] it was soon selected for conversion to a Pioneer battalion. Pioneer battalions were in many ways similar to any other (Service) battalion, but they were additionally trained and equipped to build and maintain roads, trenches, and all manner of other things. The first DLI battalion raised specifically for this role was the 22nd, and other units later converted to it.

When hostilities were declared in August 1914, the only reserve formations immediately available to the DLI were the Depot and the two SR battalions. During peacetime, Regular Battalions left training Companies at the Depot, from which drafts of reinforcements and replacements could be provided, but the wartime role of the Depot changed, to that of an administrative function. The two SR Battalions were skeleton units in peacetime, most of their members being back in civilian life after completing a six months training programme. Their primary war role was to maintain the strength of the Regular battalions, with drafts of suitably fit, trained men, although they also had an important secondary role, namely coastal defence duties as part of the Tyne Garrison. Also, these battalions provided the nuclei for formation of the 16th and 17th (Reserve), and 20th (Service) Battalions. They maintained daily ration strengths well above those of normal frontline battalions,[44] and they probably trained in excess of 30,000 men during the course of the War.[45]

On 15 September 1914, TF members were called on to volunteer for service overseas. All DLI TF battalions so volunteered and, as they were re-designated,[46] each then formed reserve battalions, manned by those unsuitable for overseas service, on medical or other grounds. The reserve battalions became known as Second-line battalions, distinguished from their First Line 'parents' by the figure '2/' before the battalion number.[47] Formation of second-Line, and later third-line,[48] TF battalions addressed a weakness inherent in the organisation of the TF, namely the absence of a supporting organisation to supply replacements and reinforcements.

Long before conscription came into effect, the 16th and 17th (Reserve) Battalions lost their county association.[49] Conscription for men aged 19 to 41 was introduced at the beginning of 1916, which soon put regimental reserve units under considerable strain, as they struggled to cope with the influx of recruits. As a result, on 1 September 1916, the War Office formed the Corps of the Training Reserve. Here it is, perhaps, sufficient to record that the 21st and 23rd (Reserve) Battalions also joined the new organisation.

Once established, recruits continued to be posted to regimental reserve battalions until these were up to strength, and then to the Training Reserve. When drafts were required for overseas, they were first taken from regimental reserves. If the number of trained men was insufficient they were then taken from the Training Reserve. Shortly after formation of the Training Reserve, of which more in Chapter 5, it was decided that 'Young Soldier' and 'Graduated' Battalions should identify with, and be affiliated to, Regiments of the Line. Thus, at the end of October 1917, one 'Young Soldier' battalion became the 53rd Battalion DLI,[50] and its associated 'Graduated' battalions became the 51st and 52nd Battalions. None of these units fought abroad, although the 51st Battalion came close to doing so during the critical days of spring 1918.

Into the next category of DLI Battalion, those used for overseas garrisons, eventually fell all of the second-line TF battalions, except for the 2/8th Battalion, which remained a Home Service unit until it was disbanded in December 1917. The 2/5th[51] and 2/9th moved to Salonika, while the 2/6th served in France,[52] and towards the end of the War the 2/7th was sent to North Russia.

In relation to the Home Service battalions, it is appropriate here to mention the 23rd Provisional Battalion TF, which was formed on 26 May 1915 comprised of officers and ORs of the 6th-9th TF Battalions who, again, had not volunteered or who were medically unfit, for service overseas. Originally, it was designated as the 3rd North Coast Defence Battalion, which title sufficiently explains its function. Officers and men of the 5th Battalion who were similarly circumstanced were sent to the 25th Provisional Battalion TF. These battalions later formed the nuclei of the 26th and 27th Battalions, for Home Service only.

It was not only on the Western Front that severe labour shortages were felt. Formation of the 25th (Works) Battalion as a labour depot for Northern Command (Home Service) reflected the need at home.[53] In addition, other Home Service units sometimes formed special Companies to meet the general shortage of labour on the land.[54]

The People

Recruitment and enlistment – Early problems – Medical classifications – Manpower shortages – Training – Reinforcements and replacements – Impact of sickness – Mental stress – Values and motivation – Fear – Discipline – Rest and relaxation – Leadership – Officers – Support from home – PoWs – Decorations awarded

Nationally, the total number of men of military service age during the War was about 7,550,000, which divided conveniently into three similarly sized groups: those who volunteered before conscription came into being; those conscripted; and those who were medically unfit or were granted exemption from call-up because they were in reserved occupations.[55]

In 1915, County Durham's population of men of military age numbered about 220,000,[56] many of whom were miners.[57] Inherent to the qualities demonstrated by many such men was a tough mental strength, reflecting the preponderance of heavy industry underpinning the economy of a region whose people had always lived, and been influenced by, geographical and climatic extremes. This strength helped build for the DLI a reputation for tenacity, endurance, toughness, and prodigious digging abilities. Their fighting abilities, combined with a tendency for miners to be shorter than average, might explain why several battalions enjoyed nicknames incorporating the word 'Gurkhas'.[58] Several authors have claimed that the closeness of the relationship between County Durham and the DLI was, perhaps, unique in the British Army, reflecting the shared sacrifices of the War that not only cemented close bonds originating in the eighteenth century, but also led to a happy, mutually beneficial and enduring relationship.[59]

The impact of shortages of all manner of clothing, equipment and arms both interrupted training and affected morale. The hutted and canvas camps used to accommodate men during their training also caused dissatisfaction.[60] The lack of enough experienced training instructors, and even such as experienced supply clerks, was a major hindrance to the ability of units to complete their training and prepare for service overseas. Despite being partially trained, TF units took over eight months to reach a standard of proficiency sufficient for them to be sent overseas. Formed with even less experience and expertise, most 'New Army' units took even longer.[61]

On enlistment, recruits were medically examined and classified according to their fitness and level of training. In theory, only men classified A (i) were sent to frontline units, although manpower shortages later in the War brought about a dilution and saw some B (i) men used in this capacity.[62] Manpower resources became so stretched that the BEF had no option but to undertake a major reorganisation early in 1918, when many BDEs and battalions were disbanded. On 24 January 1918, the 11th (Service) Battalion (Pioneers) received its first draft of B (i) men and, on the 7 February, it also received six officers and 118 ORs from its sister 14th Battalion, which was one of the battalions disbanded at the beginning of that month.

menin road

Image: LG defensive positions along the Menin Road, January 1917 – A small example of defence in depth and broad fields of fire[63]

In peacetime, basic training for infantry took ten weeks, before Platoon and Company training began. After five months recruits graduated to training at battalion and BDE strength, by which time specialist training would have been well underway.[64] 1914 training programmes reflected the lessons of the Boer War, with emphasis placed on, inter alia: musketry skills; the establishment of smaller tactical units such as sections; attack based on momentum and superiority of firepower; defence in depth, with good fields of fire; and high levels of field craft.[65] Experience in the field soon highlighted shortcomings in the training delivered to TF and 'New Army' formations, and the lack of experienced troops in these units meant that, initially, they lacked the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances on the battlefield.

The need for closer co-operation between infantry and artillery was also demonstrated early on, although it was to be 1917 before this began to be truly effective.[66] The importance of support weapons for the infantry was recognised in 1915,[67] as increasingly was the importance of the Platoon, and its leaders, as the most effective unit in an attack. During 1917, more limited and realistic objectives began to be set for battles and, as the year progressed, TF and 'New Army' formations demonstrated far greater capability than before. Paddy Griffith highlighted the impact that extensive debriefs, and GHQ questionnaires often completed immediately after combat, had on development of battle tactics, the importance of which is sometimes overlooked by historians.[68]

Using the Cambrai offensive as an example, units underwent several weeks training before the assault was launched, and officers had the benefit of seeing detailed maps and sand models of the area to be attacked. Notwithstanding all of the improvements referred to above, although the British attack on 20 November 1917 made great gains even then there were marked shortcomings in execution. 2/Lt Hubert McBain, MC (2nd Battalion) was scathing:

'As our objectives are limited, we have to sit still when we get to them – meanwhile the Germans are rushing up troops to fill the gap, and places that might have easily been captured the first afternoon are not taken in spite of our heavy fighting a few days later'[69]

Casualties sustained demanded a steady stream of trained, proficient reinforcements and replacements . The first draft from the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion intended to replace losses suffered by 2nd Battalion left the county on 1 November 1914. The first drafts of reinforcements for TF battalions left for the Western Front towards the end of June 1915. By the time TF battalions were involved in the 1916 Battles of the Somme, replacements and reinforcements emanated from their third-line formations. These officers and men were considered to be well trained and reliable, and many distinguished themselves during the later stages of the Somme campaign.[70] It was not just the SR and reserve battalions that supplied reinforcements and replacements. In 1914, disappointment at having to remain in India was so acute in the ranks of 1st Battalion that, when volunteers for drafts were called for, 880 out of 900 men applied.[71]

Pioneer battalions presented a particular problem, as evinced by several entries in 11th Battalion's war diary, for example: 'Draft of 52 men arrived: only 3 of these men were suitable for a Pioneer Battalion. Grocers, agents, musicians, etc, are not fitted for the hard work of pioneering'.[72] However, other drafts were considered eminently suitable: 'Reinforcement 50 ORs arrive. One of the best drafts received. Good, strong, hardy looking men, all from Durham'.[73] Retaining the better, more capable men of the battalion was also a problem, as the diary complained in October 1915: 'This continual drain on our best skilled workers seriously affects efficiency of a Pioneer Battalion'. Early on it was noticeable how many drafts for the 11th Battalion emanated from the 16th and 17th (Reserve) Battalions, but within months a large proportion of the regular small drafts received comprised men who had recovered from their wounds, or sickness or injury, and were returning to their unit.[74]

Trench life was hard, and sickness returns show a whole range of medical conditions. Apart from dental work and the well-known problems of diarrhoea and trench foot, men suffered from: razor rash; boils; scabies; blood in their motions; eye problems; swollen groins; and pyreseia (fever). Rarely do historians afford the same level of attention to sickness losses as to battle casualties, which is surprising given the impact they must have had. The number of sick and injured in the BEF in France and Flanders for the period August 1914 to December 1918 was 3,496,388, against a 'Wounded' figure of 1,837,613, so for frontline units the ratio of 'Wounded' to 'Sick or Injured' was about 1 to 1.9.[75] Possibly, therefore, the DLI could have had approaching 70,000 of the latter casualties. There is not enough evidence to show that DLI experiences were significantly different from those of other units on the Western Front, but what little there is certainly confirms that such losses were, at least, as great as those due to battle wounds.

To illustrate the impact of the problem, between August 1917 and February 1918 forty-four officers and 1,031 ORs were recorded as having been 'struck off' 11th Battalion's strength.[76] 18th Battalion's diary entry for 30 November 1917 recorded: 'Sick parades for the past three days average over 100 men, mostly suffering from sores and owing to rundown condition'.[77] On 16 June 1918, 2nd Battalion's war diary mentioned an epidemic fever, resembling influenza in its symptoms, which began seriously to affect battalion efficacy while in billets at Cormette.

The mental strain of forever being alert, combined with the physical strain of coping with, sometimes, dire living conditions and appalling weather, plus constant working parties, stretched many men to the limit, and beyond. Heavy casualties sustained during major actions added to the anguish felt, but the effects of almost daily exchanges of artillery and trench mortar fire, together with the constant threat posed by snipers, meant that men in forward areas had little respite. However, it would be quite wrong to interpret this as meaning that all men were forever scared and depressed whenever they were in frontline or supporting trenches. Some relished the situation in which they found themselves, and nearly all of the diaries and letters examined attest to the camaraderie.

13th Battalion's diary entries at the end of May 1916 illustrate the pressure under which men worked, officers especially: 'Lt Col Elwes cracked up' and 'Major H. Danvers cracked-up'.[78] Within days, on 6 June, the first CO who had taken the battalion to France (Biddulph) wrote to say that he would not be returning, and only weeks later, on 30 July 1916, Lt Col R. V. Turner was admitted to the 23rd Division Rest Camp at Baisieux. Apart from Biddulph, once the battalion had moved overseas only one other CO commanded for more than six months,[79] and no CO managed to stay in the post for anywhere like twelve months.

13 battalion

Image: 13th Battalion assembly trenches before the Battle of Menin Road Ridge, 20 September 1917 – the strain under which many men found themselves is apparent on the face of the soldier looking towards the camera[80]

Several sources of information emanated from 2/Lt John Walcote Gamble (14th Battalion). On the Liddle file, there is a note possibly representing the views of Peter Liddle:

'War in the trenches is a most awful strain on officers and men. Perhaps, it is worse for an officer. He suffers just the same hardships, worse, he has the anxiety of responsibility. Men seldom understand this. While they may sleep ... the officer has to be awake – ever-watchful for an assault, and ever-jealous of the honour of his regiment and his name' [81]

Gamble provided another example of the pressure under which some officers operated. In a Field Report:

'An officer has just collapsed near here when walking down the Canal Switch. He called out for help and said he was played out ... I don't know who he is, but he [sic] says he is an Artillery Major ... Have sent up to our Headquarters by stretcher bearers' [82]

And, in a letter home:

'Poor old Iveson did not last very long this time – three days in the frontline were enough to knock him over again. I met him the last night he was up and he was gibbering like a kid, with nerves all gone again, and he's gone off to hospital again. So has Eyre' [83]

During his second spell with the 1/6th Battalion, Captain Percy Hugh Bowes Lyon, MC became a PoW. On the outbreak of war he held strong pacifist views influenced largely by the writings of Norman Angell, who argued that war was economic nonsense from which there could be no winner, and in particular that the cost of war would deter states from engaging in it. However, Bowes Lyon began to doubt his conviction wondering whether it was simply a desire to escape the whole business of fighting, and a combination of peer pressure and the expectations of his family caused him to seek a commission with the DLI.[84] It is difficult today fully to appreciate the values and the outlook of men who served their country during the War. Undoubtedly, peer pressure was not only a major factor behind the success of Kitchener's recruitment campaign, it influenced the development and maintenance of an espirit de corps within DLI battalions. Two factors above all others contributed to the maintenance of morale: regular rest and relaxation; and, a highly efficient postal service that ensured speedy delivery of letters and parcels from home. A third important factor was evident on some occasions: the quality and leadership of officers.[85] For some, religious beliefs provided sustenance amongst the carnage that surrounded them.[86]

Private George Edward Ramshaw (18th and 13th Battalions) recalled his natural fear when he reached the Somme sector. Others in the battalion must have felt the same way: 'but none made any complaints'. His fear was largely overcome when he was 'volunteered' for a detail to cover a wiring party and found himself under fire for two hours, having to lie flat in the open until an opportunity presented itself to crawl back to battalion lines.[87]

William Allen (10th Battalion) recalled a Sergeant Davidson who, seemingly, appeared fearless but who was invariably disqualified from receiving the many decorations Allen felt he deserved because of his penchant for drink. Allen also mentioned numerous reports of cowardice, the more serious of which were dealt with by Field General Courts Martial, with the inevitable 'sentenced to be shot' verdict. He rationalised this simply: one man running away was liable to start a panic, so it was customary for a responsible officer or senior non commissioned officer to bring up the rear whenever a body of troops were moving to take up battle positions.[88]

An earlier assignment essay touched upon the subject of discipline, highlighting the DLI's mixed record.[89] As in any large organisation, the attitude and approach of men ranged from one extreme to another, with a few exceptional characters and a few downright 'bad apples', the majority falling somewhere in between. For example, one of the last entries in 20th Battalion's war diary before it moved overseas recorded:

'Record of Absentees up to the time of embarking from the date the Battalion was raised: 71 Courts of Enquiry were held 16 OR absconding recruits who never joined 18 rejoined subsequently Total of 37 deserters, one of whom joined the A & S H, and one rejoined the Royal Navy[90]

Although no DLI officer was sentenced to death, a dozen appeared before Courts Martial, between 1914 and the signing of the Armistice, two officers twice. Three were acquitted, otherwise the sentences ranged from forfeiture of seniority, to severe reprimands, four dismissals and one case where the officer was cashiered and sentenced to three years penal servitude.[91] No DLI man was charged with mutiny, but seventy ORs were sentenced to death following Courts Martial hearings, the highest number in any infantry regiment in the British Army. Two Battalions (19th and 2nd) were largely responsible for this, accounting for two thirds of the total number of sentences.[92] 'Desertion' was, by far, the most frequent offence (thirty-nine cases, or 55.7 per cent), followed by 'Cowardice' (twenty cases, or 28.6 per cent), and 'Quitting' (seven cases, or 10.0 per cent).[93]

It could reasonably be estimated that the DLI would have borne sixty-five death sentences, of which eight or nine might have been implemented, against an actual figure of only seven. When trying to rationalise the reasons for the regiment's poor record, the war diaries provided no help whatsoever. 19th Battalion's diary, for example, makes no specific reference to the November 1916 incident, which could well have been attributable to the sort of panic referred to by Allen. Afterwards and until 6 February 1917, the battalion moved to billets and supplied large working parties. When it returned to frontline duties, the suspicion must be that the Limons sector, in which it found itself, was relatively quiet, as working parties continued to repair roads and very few casualties were recorded.[94]

No DLI officer was sentenced to death, a trait common throughout the Army.

One final illustration of the importance attached to discipline was provided by then-Major J. Falvey-Beyts, CO of the 15th Battalion, who, in his first Operations Order, included the following remarks about the need for discipline during attacks:

'Many instances have accrued of men searching for souvenirs instead of instantly consolidating their position and in consequence being unready to meet the enemy's counter-attack. It is therefore to be distinctly understood that any officer, NCO or man in possession of any such souvenir, will be tried by Courts Martial'[95]

Reverting to rest and relaxation, British Army policy was to rotate fighting units regularly, so that men had time to relax and recuperate, as well as to receive training. Rarely did war diaries mention home leave for ORs, but that of the 11th Battalion was an exception, from which it appears that parties of fourteen to twenty men were regularly given a few days leave in the UK. This suggests that ORs might have received leave about once per annum. Seemingly, officers were allowed leave in groups of three.[96]

To illustrate the leadership qualities displayed by some DLI officers, it might be sufficient to focus here on three men, for whom the German counter-attacks at Cambrai, on 30 November 1917, was the common link. First, Captain and Quartermaster Joey Shea, MC, DCM (2nd Battalion) organised every possible man from the transport lines,[97] to hold an important ridge when the Germans broke through near Gouzecourt, until relieved by the Guards Brigade. Shea was mortally wounded, and his death was felt greatly throughout the regiment, as an obituary appearing in the 1st Battalion's Digest of Service demonstrated.[98]

Next, Captain Arthur Moore Lascelles, VC, MC (14th Battalion) was awarded the VC for his actions that day, for continuing to lead 'A' Company against German attacks, despite his wounds.[99] Although captured, briefly, as German pressure prevailed, Lascelles escaped and, as soon as he recovered from his wounds, he volunteered to return to France where he joined the 15th Battalion. Unfortunately, on 5 November 1918 Lascelles was K in A during that battalion's last action of the War.

Finally, it is impossible to write a history of the DLI in the War without at some stage focusing on Brig Gen Roland Boys Bradford, VC, MC the youngest of four brothers, all of who served with distinction during the War.[100] An exceptional and fearless soldier, in higher commands Bradford was a perfectionist and strict disciplinarian, yet he was also an inspirational leader, to whom his men were devoted. He joined the 9th Battalion,[101] and was awarded the VC for his actions leading both it and its sister 6th Battalion in the capture of Eaucourt l'Abbaye and the trenches east of Le Sars, on 1 October 1916. During the sixteen months Bradford was with the 9th Battalion, for much of the time as CO, it became one of the finest fighting units on the Western Front, as a reward for which he was promoted.[102] At just twenty-five years of age, he was the youngest Brig Gen in the British Army but his command lasted only twenty days. On 30 November 1917 he was killed near his Brigade HQ, by a German shell.

2 battalion

Image: 2nd Battalion officers at Noeux-Les-Mines, August 1917 – Captain and Quartermaster Joey Shea is seated, on the left [103]


Image: Arthur Moore Lascelles, VC, MC [104]


Image: Roland Boys Bradford, VC, MC [105]

Given the extent to which the BEF was forced to expand, an inevitable problem faced by the Army was a critical lack of sufficient commissioned officers,[106] a situation exacerbated by the lack of experience, notably at higher command levels. Until officers could be appointed and trained, those on the lists of 'Reserve' and 'Retired' Officers were employed. At least, twenty retired officers, collectively often referred to as 'Dug Outs', commanded DLI battalions at one time or another. Sometimes, 'Dug Outs' was a derogatory term but without them the DLI would not have been able to expand as it did.[107] Many such men provided admirable service, most obviously with the training of (Service) battalions to the point of embarkation for France and Flanders, and in the regimental reserve battalions. It is impossible now to gauge how many struggled to cope, because of age, health, or inability to change anachronistic notions of warfare, but it is clear that the lack of Regular Army officers had a marked impact during the DLI's expansion.[108] Other 'Old Soldiers' served at all ranks, and it is important to stress that the shortage, and lack of experience, was equally acute at non commissioned officer level, if not more so.

On the outbreak of hostilities, existing DLI battalions had COs from within the regiment, as did the 10th-12th Battalions, albeit the last two were 'Dug Outs'. In addition to the 'Reserve' and 'Retired' officers used to help expand the regiment, thirty-seven DLI officers rose to command DLI battalions for a month or more. In all, one-hundred-and-twenty-one men did so, of whom nine relinquished their commands because of ill health or as a result of injuries sustained by accident; eight did so because of wounds received; and, eight were K in A or D of W. In this latter connection, five of the eight were COs of the 15th Battalion, an unenviable record.

It is worth noting that the basis upon which many officers were promoted was that of acting or temporary command, while their substantive rank remained unchanged.[109] One DLI Regular Army officer attained the rank of Lieutenant General; two were, eventually, appointed to the rank of Major General; and eight were appointed Brig Gen.[110] At least fifteen DLI officers commanded battalions of other regiments during the course of the War.[111]

A wealth of evidence exists to demonstrate the extent to which the support received from home was appreciated, especially in the form of letters and parcels, which contributed greatly to the maintenance of high morale. Many organisations existed to send clothing, tobacco, cigarettes and other little luxuries to troops, as well as to PoWs. Funds were raised by appeals publicised regularly in local newspapers and periodicals, and by community events held throughout the county. Citing an extract from the 2nd Battalion's war diary:

'To show how well the men are clothed in trenches, it may be mentioned that they received warm soft SD [Service Dress] caps, fur waistcoats, excellent waterproof capes, gum boots, cork soles to put inside their ankle boots, besides an excellent supply of all underclothes, which are supplemented by as many warm articles such as mitts, socks, etc, as we like to ask for, from the County of Durham'[112]

The published 18th Battalion history reinforces the point:

'For these Christmas dinners, as well as for uncounted presents of all descriptions during the war, we were very much indebted to the continuous generosity of friends at home who had subscribed with such a free hand. In the same way we owed very much indeed to the 'Lady Anne Lambton Fund' for mufflers, socks, gloves, badges, etc. Many associations, and also the readers of many newspapers, sent presents of tobacco, cigarettes, papers, magazines... It was all these kindnesses, continued so regularly and for so long a time that had made life under the stress and hardship of war still liveable'[113]

Many archival records emanated from PoWs. Some evidence can be found to support claims of mistreatment, certainly in the days immediately following capture. Commenting on his journey to a PoW camp, Captain H. Wilkinson (8th Battalion) recorded: 'But for the kindly attentions of the French people in villages on the way, who gave us water, many of us might never have reached Hirson'.[114] After his capture on 28 May 1918, having had his wounds dressed by a German first aid man, 2/Lt Edwin Joicey (15th Battalion) lay by the roadside for two days before a party of French PoWs took him to a field dressing station. Later, only after making a great fuss about maggots covering his leg were his wounds re-dressed daily.[115] However, in an undated letter written not long after his capture at the end of April 1918, Sergeant Ron Kennedy (1/8th Battalion) made clear that the Germans had treated him well, despite him having to wait over twenty-four hours to be taken to a dressing station to have his wounds attended to, because it was simply too dangerous to cross open ground.[116]

Many PoW camps were so far to the east of Germany that there was little realistic chance of escape. Food was always in short supply and its quality was, at best, indifferent. Joicey, again:

'For breakfast 2 slices of bread about 2½" to 3" square with a small quantity of substitute jam or honey, with what they called tea. Midday meal was usually a basin of any of the following: potato, carrot, turnip, kohlrabi, sauerkraut, and what we called Billposters Paste as it just looked like that. Twice a week a thin slice of meat about 3" square was issued ... Sometimes macaroni in various shapes was served'[117]

Wilkinson provided another example: 'Fish again – a peculiar, evil-smelling fish was supplied to us here, which nobody even ate. Indeed, it was impossible to touch it, so foul was it, in look and smell'.[118] Undoubtedly, things would have been far worse had it not been for Red Cross food parcels received by most, but not all, PoWs. Captain Hugh Bowes Lyon, MC (1/6th Battalion) made a point of recording that the parcels were untouched by the Germans.[119] He was not alone in remarking on the fact that near the end of the War PoWs appeared to have been better fed than the civilian population living near the camps, because of the parcels. Parcels were shared, to make sure that supplies would last until the next delivery. PoWs could be surprisingly well informed about events in the War,[120] and they exchanged money from home with camp paymasters which could then be used to purchase food and other material things. Bowes Lyon recalled few instances of bullying, or of homosexual behaviour, but the shame he felt about having to surrender in May 1918 was a humiliation he appears never to have overcome fully.

The mental stress of captivity recurs throughout the diaries of all PoWs. Most suffered from depression from time to time, and one thing shared by officers and ORs was the monotony of captivity. Wilkinson, again:

'Six weeks since capture, and the time had passed slowly. My morning was tedious, but the afternoon – the soup seemed to be poorer now – passed in sleep and sketching ... Our orderly (Wood) gave me a Woodbine, the first since capture, which turned me quite dizzy, but was just delicious! Oh, how I wished for more of them!'[121]

The monotony evident was despite the wide range of facilities and amenities to fill the time. For example, at Danholm camp on an island off the Baltic coast where Wilkinson was held, facilities included: bookseller; barber; library; and cobbler; as well as canteens and a cookhouse. Various classes were organised, including: French; shorthand; architectural history; art; mathematics; and physiotherapy; and sport was popular, especially during the later stages of captivity. Several concerts were held, as well as Church Services every Sunday.[122]

Acting Sergeant Fred Hunter, 1/7th Battalion,) was also captured at the end of May 1918, but his experiences were very different to those related above. He never received a response to the many letters and postcards sent home,[123] notwithstanding which he continued to take advantage of the weekly postcard and the fortnightly letter allowed. He looked forward with great anticipation to receiving parcels from home, and most of his postcards and letters reminded his family about them, but throughout his captivity he appears to have received only one parcel and that from the regiment.

Towards the end of 1914, various ladies connected with the regiment started the 'DLI Charitable Fund for PoWs', in a small way. In the spring of 1915, operations were thoroughly reorganised and placed on a sound regimental basis.[124] The Fund bore all expenses connected with the provision of parcels, from money raised by all classes of people, chiefly in the county, to whom the Earl of Durham had appealed for increased financial support as more DLI battalions moved overseas.[125] During the latter part of the War, three parcels were sent to each registered PoW every fortnight.[126] The Fund Committee was concerned only with the welfare of ORs, not officers, irrespective of their place of origin or class, all of who received equal consideration.

Before leaving the subject of PoWs, only 13th Battalion's war diary attempted to summarise the number of German prisoners captured during the War.[127] Interestingly, the diary also recorded that the battalion stopped, for a night or more, in one-hundred-and-twenty-nine towns and villages during the time spent in France, Flanders and Italy.

Finally and for the sake of completeness, it is appropriate to end this Chapter with a brief mention of decorations awarded to DLI men. Many war diaries hardly mentioned them, and others did so only spasmodically, so the information provided in Appendix D is intended only to illustrate the minimum number of honours awarded to members of the regiment.


Battle honours – Butte de Warlencourt – Second Battle of Ypres – Battle of Hooge – Battle of Loos – Chemin des Dames – Trenches – India – Salonika – Italy

western front

DLI battalions were represented in all major battles or series of battles on the Western Front, with the exception of the Retreat from Mons (23 August to 5 September 1914).[128] The Western Front map, above, highlights some of the places of importance to the regiment. Of fifty-eight battle honours relating to this front, fifteen were won around Ypres, and at least thirteen were won in the Somme sector.

The Butte de Warlencourt stood out as having a special meaning for the DLI. It does not appear in Appendix E, as the actions merely formed part of the Battle of the Ancre Heights, the penultimate battle of the Somme operations in 1916. The British front line lay about 250 yards from the Butte, which the 1/9th Battalion was tasked to take, while 1/6th and 1/8th Battalion's objectives were the nearby Gird and Gird Support Trenches.

Appalling weather made for an uncomfortable night in the assembly trenches, which were so bad that several men drowned before the attack began, at 9.10 am on 5 November 1916. The Butte was secured with relative ease, which helped the 1/6th Battalion partially to achieve its objective, but part of that battalion, its sister 1/8th Battalion and Australian forces also involved in the attack, met heavy opposition, and all soon retired to their start positions. This left the 1/9th Battalion on the other side of the Butte, to face a series of German counter-attacks, which became more determined as the day wore on.[129] Towards midnight, 1/9th Battalion men drifted back to British lines, short of ammunition and grenades. The three DLI battalions suffered almost one thousand casualties that day,[130] for an objective of limited military value. In his report, Lt Col Bradford expressed the opinion that had the Butte been taken it would have been awkward to hold, as it was badly sited in relation to German support positions. He believed that from British positions the Germans could have been prevented from using the Butte as an observation post. However, he acknowledged that its capture had become something of an obsession to British high command.[131]


Image: Sketch of the Butte de Warlencourt, April 1918, by an unknown artist within the DLI [132]

Clearly, space precludes attention to every action for which battle honours were awarded but four others are worthy of special mention.

The five First-line TF battalions landed in France on or about the 19th April 1915. Almost immediately, they were rushed forward to the Ypres area, where the BEF was under such severe pressure that, within days, 50th (Northumbrian) Division units were split to fill gaps in the line.[133] Appendix E lists four separate battle honours in relation to the Second Battle of Ypres (22 April to 25 May 1915),[134] St. Julien (24 April to 3 May) holding a particular significance for the DLI. In relation to this particular battle, between them DLI TF battalions lost, at least, sixty-two officers K in A, D of W, wounded or gassed, invalided home or 'Missing'. The number of OR casualties for the 1/6th Battalion is not known, but the other four battalions sustained 1,377 casualties, so it might be reasonable to assume overall casualties were, probably, in excess of 1,700 men. Indeed, so high were they that the 1/6th and 1/8th Battalions were merged temporarily, to form the 6/8th Battalion,[135] and it was to be over a year before these TF battalions were involved in another major battle.[136] 1/8th Battalion alone lost nineteen officers and 575 ORs, most in the defence of Boetleer's Farm where heavy casualties were inflicted until German pressure prevailed and the battalion was forced to retire, early on 26 April. Only six officers and 142 ORs answered the battalion's roll call after it was finally withdrawn from the line.

The performance of the 2nd Battalion on 9 August 1915, during the Battle of Hooge, was generally considered to be one of its finest actions.[137] 2nd Battalion was selected to deliver a counter-attack against the Germans, who had taken the outbuildings of Hooge Chateau on 30 July,[138] for which it deployed in the area of Sanctuary Wood on 9 August. A bayonet fight followed a rush to their objectives, during which about five hundred Germans were killed, most bayoneted, and one hundred and fifty were captured. At roll call the following day, it was found that six officers and ninety-two ORs of the battalion had been killed, and six officers and 262 ORs had been wounded. One hundred men were also reported 'Missing'. The accompanying photograph of Hooge Crater, the result of a mine fired under the German position in July 1915, was taken on 10 August. The Crater, fifty yards across, played a prominent part in the battle, and the photograph illustrates a mass of detritus, including sandbags, firearms, ammunition, and trench stores.


Image: Hooge Crater, 10 August 1915[139]

14th and 15th Battalions had just as traumatic baptism to the Western Front as did their sister TF battalions. Only a fortnight after landing in France, they were thrown into the Battle of Loos (25 September to 8 October 1915), with tragic consequences. It is, perhaps, sufficient to say that the two newly arrived divisions (21st and 24th) were held in reserve too far from the point of attack, so that when moved forward they had a long and a tiring march to reach the battlefield.[140] There, on 26 September 1915, they were tasked to secure the town of Annay, after first clearing a German redoubt on Hill 70, attacking over ground that had not been reconnoitred. Confusion among the attacking units led to a general retirement before the mistake was recognised and fresh attacks were mounted, but heavy MG fire and the absence of supporting artillery fire soon forced the two attacking divisions to retire.[141] 14th Battalion lost in killed and wounded seventeen officers and 277 ORs while, according to Ward, 15th Battalion lost twelve officers and 450 ORs.[142]

In May 1918, when 1/6th and its sister TF battalions were sent to the Chemin des Dames sector to recover from earlier battles, Captain Percy Hugh Bowes Lyon, MC thought that the authorities had done so because there remained in the units very little fighting ability.[143] In this supposedly quiet sector lying north east of Paris, eight weak British and French divisions were simply overwhelmed by forty-one German divisions during what was better known as the Battle of the Aisne (27 May to 6 June 1918). In just a few days, the Germans advanced thirty-five miles and took 55,000 prisoners and 450 guns.[144] The German attack on 27 May captured almost fifty per cent of all DLI officers lost as PoWs during the War.[145] The DLI TF battalions that formed part of 50th (Northumbrian) Division were all but annihilated. Although the decimated Division later reformed it did not then have DLI representation, as the decision had been taken already to reduce the remnants of the 1/5th, 1/6th, and 1/8th Battalions to training cadre strength, until all three were finally disbanded, at the beginning of November 1918.[146]

When TF units entered the improvised trench line in April 1915, many trenches were not recognisable in the way that most people envisage them to have been. Often, men simply occupied shell holes in the ground, covered with branches to provide some form of camouflage. As they developed, trench systems became relatively complex and sophisticated, as the photograph overleaf of La Bassée sector illustrates. However, ground conditions dictated the way in which trenches were constructed. 18th Battalion moved into the line east of Festubert, in August 1916, to find that front and close support lines consisted of island breastworks, or small, disconnected posts at considerable intervals, very low, in very bad repair and with hardly any communication from island to island.[147] Whenever a unit moved into the frontline, the departing unit provided detailed information on the trench system, including a trench map, covering such things as: the condition of wire entanglements; work in progress; positions of hostile MGs and snipers, danger points, listening posts, small arms ammunition reserves, bomb stores and trench stores; method of communication with supporting artillery; arrangements to meet an attack and launch a counter-attack; sanitary arrangements; water supply; and the best route for the transport of rations.[148]


Image: 2nd Battalion frontline trenches, opposite Frelinghien village, 1915 Enemy lines were only eighty yards away [149]

la bassee

Image: Aerial view of La Bassée Canal sector, an intelligence map below [150]

The degree of discomfort endured in the frontline varied greatly, depending on the season, the weather and the extent to which enemy artillery had damaged the trenches. Trenches were often waterlogged, sometimes waist-deep in mud, and they, along with the rest of the battlefields, were infested with vermin, notably rats, which contaminated food and spread disease. Trench warfare was so different to any that had been experienced before that several months passed before regular supplies of water could be properly organised.[151] 2/Lt Gamble recorded the circumstances in which he wrote a letter:

'I am writing by the flicker of a weak French candle in a wee dug-out, which is anything but palatial. A couple of monstrous rats seem to object to my presence: so does one Fritz or Frederic or Hans ... This show is over-ridden by vermin, rats, mice, and Germans. The two smaller specimens are most irrepressible ... They'll soon be off to fetch their pals, for their nightly meal of my rations, equipment, and – if they had their way – the tender parts of my body'

Gamble also provided an insight into other aspects of trench life. In the same letter:

'We never get more than 3 hours sleep ... and never undress – fairly good food, although I shall never want to eat anything that resembles red plum jam after this. I say resembles – because I can't swear that the stuff we get so much of is made of plums – but it tastes as much like plums as gooseberries – and more than most other fruits. It is extremely cold here, and I am not properly warm even now ... I'm as fit as I have ever been ... and quite contented with life; but can you suggest how to get rid of six hundred thousand million rats: It beats me'[152]

German trenches could be as close as fifteen yards away, although a more typical distance was two to three hundred yards. In any event, patrolling and wiring were precarious duties. 'No Man's Land' contained considerable quantities of barbed wire, in some places up to ten belts of it just before the frontline trenches. The area could be full of broken and abandoned material, and large numbers of bodies were often left for days before an attempt could be made to recover them. Advances across 'No Man's Land' were difficult, with soldiers having to contend with the barbed wire and water-filled shell holes, as well as running the risk of being shot or blown-up.[153] British policy was to dominate 'No Man's Land', by re-digging trenches closer to the enemy's and staging frequent trench raids.[154]

Action in the War was confined largely to Europe and the Middle East. The DLI was not represented in the lengthy, but small and relatively insignificant campaign in East Africa, nor did any DLI battalion participate in the Dardanelles foray. Otherwise, the only theatre of operations outside Europe and the Middle East with DLI representation was the North-West Frontier Province of India. Here, the 1st Battalion was based at Nowshera, near Peshawar, before later transferring to Rawalpindi, the locations of which are shown on the accompanying map. The battalion mobilised twice during the War, and spent much of its time patrolling a chain of blockhouses, quelling riots and uprisings, and dealing with other local emergencies. By the time permission was granted to wear the 1914 Bronze Star, from 23 June 1918, there remained with the battalion only two officers and six ORs entitled to do so.[155]


Apart from the officers and men drafted from the 1st Battalion to serve with non-DLI units in Mesopotamia and Egypt, DLI representation in the Middle East theatre of operations was minimal. 18th Battalion's first overseas station was Egypt, but it spent less than three months there before moving to France, in March 1916. Britain's involvement in Salonika was widely regarded as non-productive, a diversion of scarce resources from more needy theatres.[156] The attitude of Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff (1915-1918), is best illustrated in a letter to General Sir A. J. Murray:

'I wish to goodness you could get some of the troops from Salonika or that they could be sent somewhere else. Salonika is doing more to prevent us winning this war than anything else and we spend more than half our time over the wretched place'[157]


Two second-line DLI battalions, the 2/5th and the 2/9th served in Macedonia Both arrived in mid-November 1916, spending the first few months on guard and road-making duties. Throughout, the 2/9th Battalion fulfilled similar duties, while, from March 1917, the 2/5th Battalion served in the frontline, on the Butkova Front, despite it too comprising largely of men of B (i) medical classification. The position held on the lower slopes of the Krusha Balkans range of mountains, overlooking the Struma valley, was exceptionally strong. The Bulgars held equally impregnable positions on the other side of the valley, some distance away, as a consequence of which the front was static and, with the enemy largely inactive, patrols were molested on very few occasions.[158] Battle casualties were slight and it was disease, mainly malaria and dysentery that caused most deaths.

The only other land theatre with DLI involvement was Italy, where the Italians fought the Austro-Hungarians in a series of eleven costly battles centred on the Isonzo River. This resulted in stalemate until, in October 1917, a combined Austro-Hungarian and German force won a decisive victory at Caporetto. Italian resistance and morale showed distinct signs of collapse, to support and bolster which France and Britain immediately withdrew several divisions from the Western Front and sent them to Italy. The British contingent included the 12th, 13th, and 20th Battalions. The Italian front stabilised, partly along the River Piave and on the Asiago Plateau, and the three DLI battalions quickly settled into the routine of trench warfare. The situation they faced was very different to that on the Western Front, and all sustained relatively few casualties during their time in Italy.[159] In June 1918, the Austro-Hungarians pre-empted a planned Allied offensive by launching one of their own. By this time, events in France and Flanders had caused the 20th Battalion to be withdrawn and returned there in March and, once the situation in Italy appeared more favourable, the 13th Battalion followed in September 1918. The 12th Battalion remained in Italy, to participate in the final defeat of the Austro-Hungarians, at Vittorio-Veneto.


When the Armistice with Germany came into effect, sixteen DLI battalions were serving overseas, eleven on the Western Front. Nine Home Service battalions were still in existence, making a grand total of twenty-five battalions in the field on 11 November 1918.[160]

The Work

Working parties – Billets and training – Impact of the weather – Trench duty – Equipment carried during, and additional officers for an attack – Pioneer Battalions – Regimental reserves – Bombardment of Seaham – Training Reserve – Labour

1st Battalion remained in India throughout the War as one of eight seasoned British battalions retained to provide substance, experience and expertise to the forces garrisoning the sub-continent. Its policing role has been mentioned already.[161] The form of warfare experienced on the Western Front was very different to that in India, and it was very new. Here, frontline units soon adapted to the rigours of trench warfare. Long periods of monotonous routine in constantly dangerous and difficult conditions were interspersed with offensives against well-prepared defences, the likes of which had never before been experienced.

The scale of Western Front operations demanded vast quantities of labour, to which fighting infantry units were expected to contribute, whether or not they were in the line. The work was hard[162] and, on occasions, parties had to walk long distances to and from where they worked. An analysis of ten war diaries suggests that frontline battalions devoted almost fifteen per cent of their time exclusively to providing working parties, usually supervised by Royal Engineer or Pioneer personnel. This equates to about twenty-five per cent of the time that battalions were not holding frontline or close support positions, but the reality was greater, for working parties were often provided even when the main task of the day was to hold the line, or to undertake training. Invariably, when used principally as a source of labour a battalion would provide several work parties on any one day, ranging from only a handful of men to several hundred men. With many men having a mining background, DLI battalions were especially popular with Royal Engineer Tunnelling and Mining Companies. One task rarely mentioned in other diaries is the amount of salving undertaken while 12th Battalion occupied trenches.[163]

When in billets, a Company or two was detached occasionally to man support trenches. Sometimes, however, proper billets were not available when a battalion was relieved, so men had to bivouac in the open, or make do with shelters cut into bank-sides. Apart from the constant demand for working parties, time in billets was spent cleaning up, drying clothes, attending lectures and undergoing training. Men were released for special training, such as machine gunnery, and bomb throwing.[164]

At times, the weather was so bad that it affected both the ability of units to undertake whatever tasks were required of them, and living conditions. For example, 13th Battalion's war diary revealed that, on many occasions, planned training was postponed because of inclement weather. The entry for 3 November 1915 was typical:

'Weather wet ... Trenches inundated, parapets and dugouts caving in'

A little later:

'Raining during the night. Enemy heard pumping water over parapet ... towards our lines'

Similar entries are to be found in many other battalion diaries.

As new units arrived on the Western Front, many enjoyed the benefit of a familiarisation tour with an experienced unit. In March 1915, for example, 2nd Battalion introduced to Western Front conditions: the 3rd Canadian Infantry; 48th Highlanders; and 5th Battalion North Staffordshire, TF. 12th and 13th Battalions were two that benefited from similar introductions, and they soon exhibited great self-confidence.[165] However, by no means all battalions benefited from such treatment, as demonstrated already for the DLI TF and 14th and 15th Battalions.

By early 1915, a trench routine operated that was far more efficient than the ad hoc arrangements employed during the early months of the War. One battalion tended to share duties with another, each holding the front line for four days, followed by four days in billets.[166] The system saved considerable work, and semi-permanent billets encouraged a variety of shops to open close to the front, such as tailors and boot makers. By early May 1915, 2nd Battalion held a nine hundred yard front, with generally three Companies in the frontline, and one in reserve.[167] When short frontages were held, two Companies might be in the frontline, with the other two in the support and / or reserve trenches. This allowed inter-Company relief from time to time. To minimise casualties from artillery bombardments, troops were often removed from forward trenches during the day.[168]

Moving forward to the frontline, and retiring after being relieved, was done in stages, as illustrated in 12th Battalion's war diary, with many mentions of 'B', 'C', and 'D' positions, together with BDE, Division and Corps reserve, and rest billets.[169] From late 1916, tours of trench duty began to lengthen. Notwithstanding notional frontline battalion strength of about 1,000 men (all ranks), availability for duty in the trenches was always less.[170] On entering the frontline in the Italian theatre towards the end of 1917, it was noticeable how much effort 12th Battalion devoted to improving the trenches inherited, especially the drainage and to working on defensive flanks,[171] an approach encouraged by higher command who were determined to impress the Italians and to employ the lessons of the Western Front.

Sergeant G. Thompson, MM (1/7th Battalion) provided a different perspective on life with a frontline unit. Thompson was the Number One driver in the Transport section, which was always kept a little way behind the frontline, but near enough to provide direct support, when required. When the battalion moved into the line near Ypres in April 1915, the Transport train moved to White Chateau, from where details were immediately tasked to take ammunition to troops in forward areas. However, White Chateau proved to be too near German guns and the train soon relocated to St. Jean, not far from the famous 'Hell's Corner'. On arrival, Thompson recorded:

'There were about 200 KOSB men – they were in an awful state ... I saw a spy shot here ... All the time we were stationed at St. Jean our horses never had their harnesses off. We slept under the wagons best we could. We got shelled all day long ... after a few days, we went further back'[172]

Thompson also recalled several incidents involving animals of the train: 'There was a shortage of horses for the Artillery and they took from us 20 of our horses and gave us 20 mules'.[173] Twice in his recollections, Thompson related stories of British artillery seemingly taking delight in opening fire just as horse transport passed by, which inevitably frightened the horses and caused chaos.

Men were expected to carry a prodigious amount of equipment during an attack. In addition to his rifle and bayonet, typically a man was expected to carry or wear: steel helmet; haversack; filled water-bottle; entrenching tool; waterproof sheet; tube gas helmet; box respirator; two sandbags; two grenades; 120 rounds of small arms ammunition; two flares; one day's preserved meat and biscuit; one iron ration; and a field dressing. Every other man carried a large tool on his back, in the proportion of five shovels to two picks. Lewis gunners, signallers, and other specialists carried their own weapons and equipment. Wire-cutters, Very pistols and cartridges, and SOS rockets, also had to be taken forward.[174]

When preparing to take part in an offensive, additional officers were occasionally brought in specifically for the attack. Captain, later Major General, R. R. Money was an example. From his Field Message Book, it is clear that Money joined the 15th Battalion, on 18 June 1916, for the attack opposite Fricourt, on 1 July. His role was to take over from the battalion CO had the latter become a casualty, which happened. The Second-in-Command had been ordered to remain in the Transport line for the duration of the attack, which was common practice for major offensives, so that, had the battalion suffered inordinate losses, he, along with others held back, would form an experienced nucleus upon which to rebuild it.[175]

Although similar in many ways to any other (Service) battalion, Pioneer battalions were additionally trained and equipped to supplement limited Royal Engineer resources. While Pioneers took part in offensive actions, they were usually only ordered forward when the situation was considered sufficiently favourable for their work to be carried out, although sometimes they simply accompanied the second wave of attackers.[176] Their role was not as attacking infantry rather their priorities were to repair roads, tracks and bridges, and to dig communications trenches between the successive lines gained.

Only one DLI battalion, the 22nd, was raised specifically for the Pioneering role, although the 11th Battalion converted to the role soon after its formation. The other two DLI Pioneer battalions, both TF battalions (1/7th and 1/9th), were converted to the role after serving for a time as fighting infantry.

Selection of the 1/7th Battalion for conversion was by a somewhat convoluted decision-making process. For 50th (Northumbrian) Division, 1/8th Battalion was first recommended for the role, but the recommendation was overruled because the battalion did not have the 700-800 men specified by GHQ. 1/6th Battalion was rejected for the same reason and, with well over 900 men its sister 1/9th Battalion was rejected because it was deemed to be too strong. This left the 1/7th Battalion as one of the only other options available to the Division, which appointment was approved.[177] A period of intensive training followed, lasting thirty-three days. Interestingly, the programme included both pioneering and conventional infantry training. Surprisingly, 1/9th Battalion's war diary makes no reference to the battalion's selection as a Pioneer unit until the change became a reality. Nevertheless, from late 1917 it was noticeable that much less time was spent in the frontline than hitherto, and the battalion was increasingly called upon to provide working parties and undergo training, which continued to include conventional infantry training.[178]

Pioneer battalions operated to a different work pattern than other frontline units. Most days were spent with, at least, one Company working. Days when a whole battalion was at rest were rare and, to a large extent, Companies operated as autonomous units, so one Company could be resting or training, while the rest of the battalion worked.[179] Often one Company would relieve another, to continue whatever task the battalion had been given. Companies, generally, worked six to eight hours a day.[180] Sometimes, work could only be undertaken at night, which allowed men to rest or train during the day.[181]

The work of Pioneer battalions was varied, ranging from: constructing, maintaining and repairing roads and mule tracks; railway work; digging, improving and maintaining trenches, including draining them, laying trench boards, general cleaning, cutting and revetting fire steps, repairing parapets and paradors; tunnelling and mining; installing defensive wiring; building camp huts and stables; making wooden hurdles for trench walls; constructing dugouts, MG positions and redoubts; laying / burying cables; building and linking saps; sinking wells; salvage work; filling or reinforcing craters; and, during major offensives, Companies were sometimes employed as stretcher-bearers. 11th Battalion's war diary highlighted the heavy nature of Pioneer work:

'The men are thoroughly weary on arrival in bivouacs after work. They parade at 07.15, carry haversack rations, and return at 16.30. They take both breakfast and dinner in the dark. Some are too tired to eat dinner – others too weary to turn out for rum rations.'[182]

Occasionally, shortage of materials could also delay the completion of work: 'Work continued satisfactorily with the exception that great difficulty is experienced in obtaining sufficient material for revetting the island points'.[183] At other times, while materials were readily available:

'Great difficulty is experienced in getting up materials, especially for dugout work. The Infantry carrying parties often fail to reach their destination at all owing to the mud in communication trenches and the great amount of traffic in them'[184]

Other difficulties could be attributed to the weather and, on occasions, to the reliance on guides to get Companies to the location of their work. 22nd Battalion's war diary recorded several instances of guides unwittingly leading Companies astray so that, by the time they arrived at their place of work, only an hour or two of darkness remained and, at dawn, work had to be stopped until the following night. While they worked under overall supervision of the Royal Engineers, generally, working parties remained under battalion command. Friction between Pioneer battalions and the Commander, Royal Engineers was not unknown![185]

11 battalion

Image:11th Battalion moving forward by light railway, shortly before the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, July 1917 [186]

The propriety of continuing conventional infantry training was shown during the critical days immediately following the 1918 German Spring Offensive, when Pioneer battalions operated as fighting infantry. In the period 21 March to 1 April 1918, 22nd Battalion sustained casualties of twenty-three officers and 469 ORs, which demonstrates the extent of its involvement in the fighting.[187]

On 26 March 1918, 1/7th Battalion (Pioneers) covered the withdrawal of the 149th BDE, and attempted a counter-attack the following day, with little success and heavy losses. The battalion was withdrawn from the line on 1 April, but there was little respite as it was soon attached to its old BDE, the 151st, and on 10 April it delivered a counter-attack near Merville. It then spent four days wiring and digging trenches. All three Company Commanders were killed during this period, which was spent largely without artillery support. Its persistence and stoicism won the praise of the divisional commander who expressed 'how proud [he] was to have such a Pioneer battalion in the division'. By 6 May the battalion arrived in the Chemin des Dames sector, to 'lick their wounds and rest their jagged nerves'.[188] As demonstrated earlier, the respite was only temporary!

The 1/9th Battalion (Pioneers) distinguished itself in the defence of Bucquoy (26 to 31 March), an action in which Private T. Young gained the DLI's sixth, and last, VC of the War. On 12 February 1918, it had transferred to the 62nd (West Riding) Division and, on 1 March, the battalion was reorganised on a three Company basis,[189] which reflected the reorganisation that was forced on the BEF because of severe manpower shortages. The battalion was used again as fighting infantry in July 1918, when it delivered an attack on 21 July 1918. Heavy casualties were sustained for a gain of about 600 yards, albeit on a relatively wide front.[190] Following a brief relief, the battalion was ordered to mount a further attack, on 23 July, but after sustaining seventy casualties in the assembly trenches, it withdrew to reorganise before reforming for the attack, which was successful.[191]

The primary function of the three groups of regimental reserve battalions[192] was to supply efficient, trained reinforcements and replacements to frontline units, the demands from which were enormous.[193] Their role was vital, for without the ability to replace casualties quickly it would have been impossible to maintain frontline units in the field. In all, the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion despatched one hundred and fifty-three drafts overseas, the last one leaving on 26 November 1918. Occasionally, drafts were also provided to other regiments. At the end of April 1915, for example, two hundred and two men were transferred to the 3rd Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers to form a draft for France. It is interesting to quote the Digest:

'The men were naturally much upset at having to leave the regiment but they were reported to have behaved magnificently in France at a critical moment, and to have almost died to a man'[194]

For the reserve battalions, little of interest happened to break the monotony of training drafts until July 1916, when a German submarine bombarded Seaham. Beforehand, there was the occasional flurry of excitement over coastal defence, particularly at the time of the Easter Rising in Ireland, in April 1916.

At 10.20 pm on 11 July 1916, a German submarine surfaced about five hundred yards east of the mouth of Seaham Harbour and, for five minutes, it proceeded to fire, perhaps, twenty to forty rounds, apparently aiming for the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion's camp, the Wireless Station and Seaham Colliery. Little actual damage was sustained, other than to one dwelling, the occupant of which, an old woman, later died of her injuries. Otherwise, the reserve battalions continued with their training, and regularly received praise from Inspecting Officers.

Eventually, a scheme was introduced to provide progressive training for recruits who were under 19 years of age. Forty-two battalions (of one hundred and twelve) in the Training Reserve were selected for this purpose, fourteen becoming 'Young Soldier' and twenty-eight becoming 'Graduated' battalions, with two of the latter linked to one of the former. 'Young Soldier' battalions received recruits and delivered basic training, then passed them on as Companies to their 'Graduated' battalions. Normally, recruits completed their training with the 'Graduated' battalions, which were organised in four Companies according to age (one Company for recruits ranging between 18-18¼ years; one for those 18¼-18½; one for 18½-18¾ year-olds; and one Company for men aged 18¾-19). Every three months, a Company of 19-year old men was ready for drafting and, as recruit training finished, a whole Company would be drafted to the Western Front, to be replaced by another 18-18¼ Company.[195]

As garrison guards, the role played by second-line battalions was limited to guard duties, providing labour, and undergoing inspections. Few Home Service formations kept war diaries, and those that survived provided little or no meaningful information. As the War progressed, UK divisions were continually providing either units or drafts for various fronts, and in this way many DLI officers and men serving with them went abroad as they became trained and ready for service. The 25th (Works) Battalion was a labour depot for Northern Command (Home Service), and the men did not undergo military training, nor did they carry arms. However, this battalion transferred to the Labour Corps as the 7th Labour Company, which was sent to France in March 1917, spending much of the time around Frevin Capelle, working on broad gauge railways under the direction of Royal Engineers.[196]

Aftermath, Analysis and Conclusion

Armistice – Post-Armistice work – Return of miners and demobilisation – Enlistments – Allocation of time – Casualties – Closing remarks

When the Armistice with Germany came into effect, twenty-five DLI battalions still existed.[197] The German collapse had come suddenly and, for many, unexpectedly. The sense of relief and thankfulness brought by the end of hostilities was tinged with widespread grief for those lost during the War. However, in some cases, notably those who had been badly wounded or maimed, there was a numbed indifference to the turn of events, as the Armistice had come too late for them.[198] PoWs immediately found for themselves a degree of freedom of action, but they still had to be careful to avoid trouble with German troops who had returned home disillusioned and angry.[199] It took time for the Allies to organise repatriation of PoWs and Captain Wilkinson's diary recorded the obvious frustrations caused by the delays:

'Several outbreaks of impatient men last night – fire in the Gym; a statue broken; and sentry boxes knocked over ... one [British] officer shot dead and another wounded by the soldiers who now had charge of us – the Commandant had apparently no control over them, and they were young men from the Front. Everybody was very incensed over this murder.'[200]

Hostilities with the Austro-Hungarians were concluded on 4 November 1918. News of an imminent Armistice with the Germans reached some battalions as early as 8 November 1918. However, Armistice Day, itself, appears to have passed largely unmarked. Taking 18th Battalion as an example, the only entry for 11 November was: 'Moved to Quesneau'.[201]

Unlike casualties, the number of drafts received appears to have been meticulously recorded in 19th Battalion's diary. These totalled 102 officers and 2,729 ORs, including two or three-dozen 'Casuals'.[202] DLI battalions continued to receive drafts of replacements or reinforcements until shortly after the Armistice. 15th Battalion received a draft on 10 November, comprising three officers and 140 ORs. In all, its diary recorded drafts totalling thirty-seven officers and 2,282 ORs,[203] both of which numbers were, probably, under-stated.

Only two DLI battalions were involved in the march to the Rhine, the 2nd and the 1/9th (Pioneers). The 1/9th Battalion, then part of the 62nd (West Riding) Division, started its march on 16 November 1918, working at intervals on the roads, although every effort was made to allow troops respite from the routine of marching and working. On Christmas Day 1918, in a snowstorm, the battalion reached Komhern, Germany, where its Colours finally caught up with it. However, the last entry for that day was 'No facilities for festivities', which was almost the last entry in the diary.[204]

Unsurprisingly, war diary entries after the Armistice tended to be succinct. For those battalions not heavily involved in repair and salvage work, virtually all fell into one of three categories: training, including recreational training; moves; or inspections. In the weeks that followed the Armistice, several battalions helped clear the battlefields, recover salvage, and provide working parties to undertake graves work, road repairs, railway repairs, and crater repairs. These battalions tended to move frequently from one location to another, but every effort was made to continue training programmes and to provide opportunities for both compulsory and voluntary educational classes. In the case of the 13th Battalion, this work continued until the end of April 1919, after which there was a noticeable reduction, possibly reflecting the impact of demobilisation, a topic not really mentioned in the diary.[205] Some battalions were not heavily involved in recovery and repair work, and virtually all of their time was given over to sports and recreation, inspections, training and the usual educational classes. They tended to be demobilised more quickly.

The shortage of skilled labour in the UK soon led to battalions receiving orders for ex-miners to be medically examined to establish their fitness to work in the mines. For example, 11th Battalion (Pioneers) received orders on 30 November 1918, and the very next day one-hundred-and-eighty-two miners were discharged and began their return to the UK. Another fifty miners left on 20 December, eight more left by the end of the year.[206] George Ramshaw (13th Battalion), himself an ex-miner, had to wait until January 1919 before he was discharged. Much later he recalled mixed feelings about his War experiences:

'With a new civilian suit and £27 in the Bank ... I wouldn't like to do the same again, I mean '14-'18, but at the same time I would not like to have missed it, at any price. I had an experience which has remained in my mind and, in my advanced age, given me plenty to think about.'[207]

At the beginning of December 1918, 1st Battalion's strength was six hundred and two men (all ranks). Demobilisation began early in 1919. On 29 January, one hundred and twenty-three ex-miners returned to England and by 15 March four officers and two hundred and thirty-four ORs had returned.

Throughout the early months of 1919, rapid demobilisation took place, but 1/7th Battalion (Pioneers), for example, appears to have waited a long time for orders to return to the UK. The impact of demobilisation limited the amount of training and work that could be undertaken, and the diary gave the impression that educational classes, sport - especially football - dances and concerts filled most of the time available. During March and April, several drafts of officers and ORs were supplied to the 2/6th and 1/9th Battalions.[208] 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion opened a demobilisation office on 11 December 1918, but training continued until the following month, when the battalion began to dismantle coastal defence trenches. However, disembodiment of the battalion was completed by 28 February 1919, at which time all men ineligible for demobilisation transferred to its sister 3rd (Reserve) Battalion.

The absence of a definitive figure for the number of men who served with the DLI between 1914-1918 is surprising and there is no easy way to calculate this. Using regimental numbers, close scrutiny of the data on the CD-ROM Soldiers Died[209] reveals that most OR casualties had numbers within the range 10,003 to 99,887, although there are obvious gaps beyond 87,000. So, the present author's revised estimate of the number of men who served with the DLI during the War is at least 120,000 men, possibly as many as 132,000 (all ranks).[210]

Appendix G shows how frontline and Pioneer battalions spent their time.[211] War diaries are notoriously incomplete or inaccurate, and for certain DLI battalions there are gaps, ranging from several days to several weeks. Further, the size and complexity of such documents inevitably leads to minor counting errors, which means that accuracy of only better than ninety-five per cent can be claimed for those battalions for which data has been compiled. So, for fighting infantry, it is estimated that, on average, battalions spent: forty-one per cent of their time 'In the Line';[212] fifty-one per cent of their time 'In Billets';[213] and eight per cent of their time 'Moving'.[214] A number of factors influence these figures,[215] but the total number of battalions examined probably produces meaningful overall averages.

Adopting the same approach for Pioneer battalions: sixty-six per cent of time was spent undertaking Pioneering duties; twenty-two per cent was spent 'In Billets'; and eight per cent was spent 'Moving' from one location to another. The remainder of the time, four per cent, was spent as fighting infantry, notably during March and April 1918.

In this latter connection, there was some variance between battalions, with the 1/9th Battalion spending eleven per cent of its time as a Pioneer unit in this capacity.[216] 11th Battalion was used as a fighting infantry formation towards the end of 1915,[217] again in November 1916, and during the German Spring Offensive in 1918. The 11th Battalion's diary is interesting, in that a meticulous log was kept of the number of incoming shells and the amount of small arms ammunition expended.[218]

Appendix H summarises DLI fatal and estimated wounded casualties, by battalion, totalling a little over 49,000 men (all ranks).[219] While data for fatalities is readily available, albeit with some insignificant variance between sources, estimated 'Wounded' is far more difficult to establish, as few primary or secondary sources provide definitive data. In relation to the British Army, the ratio of 'Fatalities' to 'Wounded' falls within the range of 1: 2.3 and 1: 2.9.[220] Definitive data in relation to five DLI battalions produces a DLI average at the very top of this range.[221]

Clearly, Home Service units would not have sustained battle casualties, so it is safe to assume that they could not have had any 'Wounded'. A significant proportion of 'Wounded' were able to remain at duty. Self-inflicted wounds were not uncommon, although they were not great in number. Similarly, War diaries recorded relatively few cases of shellshock. By far the most common cause of wounds was shrapnel. Although retiring towards Germany during the closing weeks of the War, the Germans continued to offer very stiff resistance, on occasions. For example, during the week beginning 3 October 1918, 13th Battalion, which started the week with twenty-seven officers and 560 ORs: lost five officers and forty-five ORs K in A; fifteen officers and 311 ORs wounded; and one officer and seventy-four ORs 'Missing'; a grand total of twenty-one officers and 428 ORs, so leaving the battalion with only six officers and 132 ORs.[222]

Interestingly, using the CD-ROM Soldiers Died produces slightly different fatal casualty figures to those calculated by a physical count of the published material,[223] notably for the 14th and 15th Battalions. For an earlier research assignment,[224] fatalities for these two battalions were calculated, respectively, as 623 and 1,543 against figures of, respectively, 724 and 1,440 using the CD-ROM. The combined totals are almost exactly the same, and other differences are also minor, so a conscious decision has been taken to use the CD-ROM figures in Appendix H. Ward is often cited as providing definitive statistics for ORs K in A or D of W.[225] It appears that Ward used the official statistics but several minor differences have been identified, which the present author attributes to mathematical or transcription errors.[226]

Writing about killed, wounded and missing in relation to 'New Army' divisions, Becke recorded 938,085 casualties.[227] Using the number of months each division was on active service,[228] on average each lost 875 men per month, rising to 1,003 for those divisions that saw service only on the Western Front. Given that notional battalion strength was about 1,000 men (all ranks), each division lost the equivalent of one battalion a month in casualties. However, the reality may have been far worse, as casualties invariably came from frontline troops and most battalions could rarely provide a rifle, or trench, strength more than 600 at any one time, often significantly less. 21st Division, which included 14th and 15th Battalions, had the unenviable distinction of having the highest average number of casualties of any division.[229] Indeed, with an average fifty per cent more casualties than the average for other divisions, its record was significantly worse than any other, but in the absence of an in-depth study of its War record it would be dangerous to speculate on the reasons for this.

What little evidence there is about DLI 'Sick or Injured' casualties reveals that such losses were about the same as those for men wounded, possibly a little higher. The largest sample found was in relation to 1/9th Battalion, with one primary source document quoting sixteen officers and 560 ORs as having been wounded against twenty-six officers and 575 ORs lost due to sickness in the same period.[230] Generally, the number of men 'Sick' was not regularly summarised in war diaries. Overall, the limited evidence available is not enough to suggest that DLI experiences were significantly different from those of other units that served on the Western Front. It would not be unreasonable to estimate the number of DLI 'Sick or Injured' casualties as numbering, at least, 40,000 possibly even approaching 70,000. Despite the adverse impact such losses must have had on operational efficiency, eighty-four per cent of 'Sick' casualties eventually returned to duty in the frontline, while another nine per cent returned to other duties, with Lines of Communications units, garrisons or in sedentary occupations. Only six per cent of casualties were discharged as medically unfit, and one per cent died.

In comparison, about sixty-four per cent of 'Wounded' eventually returned to frontline duties, and another eighteen per cent returned to other, less onerous duties. Seven per cent of 'Wounded' D of W during their treatment by the medical services, the remaining eleven per cent either being discharged as invalids or falling under the 'Not Stated' category.[231] Unfortunately, information on the length of time it took for 'Sick or Injured' and 'Wounded' casualties to return to frontline duties is not readily available, although perusal of war diaries suggests that this could have been several weeks, on average.

While battle casualties in the Salonika theatre might not have been significant, the same cannot be said for the rigours of malaria and other diseases. For the British Army as a whole, the ratio of malarial cases was 325 for every thousand men. In addition, troops had to contend with uncomfortable surroundings, very few proper billets or entertainment, and very little leave.[232]

1/9th Battalion's war diary recorded the officers who served with it during the War, Roland Bradford being a notable omission. Clearly, several officers must have returned to the battalion after rest or recovering from wounds received, so it might be reasonable to say that something in the order of two hundred officers served with the battalion. Of these: thirty-four (about fifteen per cent) were K in A or D of W, including one accidental death; forty-nine (twenty-five per cent) were wounded, including two who were gassed; and, fifty-seven (almost thirty per cent) returned to England sick, including one who was accidentally injured. Interestingly: only two cases of shellshock were mentioned, although five officers were specifically mentioned as having returned for a period of rest; thirty-nine (twenty per cent) were transferred to other units; four became PoWs; one was posted 'Missing'; twenty-seven were demobilised; and nine had nothing against their name, so whatever became of them was uncertain.[233]

20 battalion

Image: Officers of the 20th Battalion, DLI. Of the thirty shown: five were K in A or D of W; nine others were wounded; two were awarded DSOs; and three were awarded MCs [234]

Casualty figures would be incomplete without allowance for 'Missing' and PoWs. For the purpose of calculating overall DLI casualties, the number of men recorded as 'Missing' is ignored. Conceivably, some men initially reported 'Missing' will have returned to their units several days after roll call, and others will have been captured, to be included in the PoW statistics given below. However, the likelihood is that most men reported 'Missing' were K in A, or D of W. Officially, they were assumed to be 'Missing, believed killed', so they should have found their way into the official statistics for battle casualties.

The total number of registered DLI PoWs was 4,589 ORs. By May 1919, 4,102 had been repatriated, and it was known that 222 died in captivity. It is not appropriate here to speculate on the 265 men who were unaccounted for. In addition, 137 officers were also made PoWs,[235] so producing a total figure of 4,726, ignoring the unexplained discrepancy in relation to ORs.

Three dates account for almost eighty per cent of DLI officer PoWs (actual: 79.6 per cent), and it might not be unreasonable to assume that the percentages were similar for ORs. Almost fifty per cent of officers were lost on the 27 May 1918 during the Battle of the Aisne; almost thirty per cent were lost during the early stages of the 1918 German Spring offensive; and, on the 27 April 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, 8th Battalion lost ten officers (7.3 per cent). On the whole, if due allowance is made for the circumstances faced by the Germans, it is hard not to conclude that PoWs appear to have been treated reasonably well.

The DLI was disbanded in 1968, yet the public's interest in the regiment remains strong. Researches demonstrate how frontline battalions spent their time, and they provide an estimate of the number of men who served with the regiment significantly higher than most people would have credited. Data in relation to the number of men K in A, D of W, or died from other causes has largely been re-affirmed, and that in relation to PoWs has been brought into the public domain perhaps for the first time. Possibly, the most definitive estimate of the number of 'Wounded' casualties that can now be calculated is offered (36,600).

The DLI was represented in all major battles or series of battles on the Western Front, except the Retreat from Mons. Space limitations allow inclusion of only a few examples of the many feats of arms. Peer pressure was a principal motivating factor as regards both enlistment and maintenance of discipline. Regular periods of rest and relaxation, plus the support received from home in the form of letters and parcels, helped to maintain the morale of units in the field.

There were no recruiting problems in the area in relation to ORs, indeed the people of County Durham responded to the national 'Call to Arms' significantly better than those in most other counties. Although manpower resources available in the county struggled to cope with all of the demands placed upon them,[236] tremendous support was given to the thirty-seven DLI battalions raised, and the county displayed great pride towards the regiment. The 18th Battalion was raised by subscription in the county without cost to the nation, a unique achievement.

Research has also revealed the unenviable record that the DLI had more ORs sentenced to death by Courts Martial than any other infantry regiment in the British Army. Nevertheless, the record is not significantly different to what might have been expected from an examination of the relevant data and, perhaps, it can be at least partially offset with the knowledge that a single incident accounted for over a third of the total death sentences passed,[237] and that not one DLI man appeared before a Courts Martial accused of mutiny. Indeed, many DLI Battalions built for themselves tremendous reputations for their fighting spirit, endurance, tenacity, reliability, and prodigious digging abilities. All in all, the War consolidated the regiment's reputation for being 'Faithful'.[238]

Future use of the Dissertation

Case for a book – Potential market and benefits for the region – Structure of the book – Potential sales channels – Competition and resources

Never has the war record of the DLI been brought into the public domain on a systematic basis, dealing with each and every battalion that took part in the War. Despite the fact that there might not be too much to relate for some battalions, notably the Home Service units, the general public continues to show considerable interest in the exploits of the DLI during this period of history. There is scope, therefore, to build on the research, the assignment essays, and this dissertation, to produce a manuscript for a three- or four-part book, for publication either in 2003 or 2004. While a manuscript could be ready by the middle of 2003, a strong case can be made to delay publication until the following year, so as to coincide with the ninetieth anniversary of the outbreak of the War.

There has never been anything in print relating exclusively to the War record and experiences of the DLI as a whole.[239] This dissertation, and the planned book to follow it, will address a gap in the recorded history of the regiment. The book will capitalise on the public's reflective mood towards major events of the twentieth century. It will satisfy family historians and other researchers by providing a sound starting point treating, as it will, each and every battalion separately for the first time ever,[240] and in so doing it should produce benefits for the recorded twentieth century history of the North East.

While it is always possible that another author could adopt the same, or a similar, approach to that planned, the likelihood of this happening is remote. For one reason, as time elapses military historians have an ever-increasing choice of events to hold their attention. For another, assuming the project reaches fruition it will be unique and future military historians will no longer be able to make such a claim, which would discourage many from making the effort. The project meets with enthusiastic support from the Regimental Trustees, who have undertaken to enlist the services of a recognised expert, to provide a military perspective when reviewing the manuscript before submission to publishers and, later in the project, to help enlist a well-known, well-respected figure to write the book's Foreword.

The first part of the planned book ('Britain at war') will focus on wider national and regional issues, based on the first three assignment essays submitted in relation to the author's MLitt degree programme. The second chapter ('British Army strategy and tactics in the First World War, 1914-1918') will be supplemented by an overview of the way in which the War was conducted. In all, Part 1 might run to about 34,000 words.

This dissertation will form the basis of Part 2 ('The DLI at war'), in which it might also be appropriate to include a chapter based on the final research assignment essay.[241] Without constraints on word count, there may be scope to expand the narrative, so the author currently envisages Part 2 being about 40,000 words.

The voluminous research notes compiled provides a sound basis to treat each battalion separately in Part 3 ('DLI Battalion records'), in four chapters dealing with the five natural elements of the regiment. Each of the chapters dealing with the Regular and TF battalions (1) and the 'New Army' battalions (2) might run to 40,000-50,000 words, with the remaining two chapters dealing with the Pioneer battalions (3) and all others (4) being of 10,000-15,000 words each.[242] This should allow inclusion of a few examples of original material, such as reconnaissance and raid reports and operational orders, as well as to give more attention to actions in which battalions were involved.

Whether or not Part 4 ('Roll of Honour') will be included is uncertain. Ideally, permission will be obtained from the copyright owner to use the rolls in Officers Died... and Soldiers Died... with minimal alteration. The copyright owner could be the publisher Naval & Military Press (Dallington), but if not they might be best placed to secure the necessary permission to use the material, given that they have reproduced it on CD-ROM. The other consideration is simply one of sheer size. Part 4 is likely to run to, at least, 150,000 words, so a major consideration will be to decide, in conjunction with the book's publisher, whether or not space can be made available to allow its inclusion. At this stage, it is anticipated that the book will be of between 500-625 pages, depending on whether or not Part 4 is included.

Potential sales channels include booksellers within the region, of which there are about fifty suitable candidates; specialist national booksellers and publications; Middle and Senior Schools, Colleges, and libraries throughout the region, of which there are could be in excess of four hundred outlets, in all; the DLI Museum Shop; and, perhaps, via the Internet. It is too early to consider specifics in relation to publicity and promotion, but the author envisages a programme involving approaches to the channels listed above, together with regional newspapers. In addition, weekly and 'free press' newspapers could be targeted, as well as local radio, regional periodicals such as Durham Life and Living North, and possibly regional television.

Analysing the competition, the fact is there is no direct competition. Most books relating to the DLI in the War are out of print, and these are often difficult to find and expensive to buy. In terms of resources required to complete the project, most of the detailed research has been undertaken already, although a small amount of additional research will be necessary to fill a few gaps. It is estimated that to write a manuscript will require commitment of about two hundred man-days. The author plans to submit a detailed Book Proposal to three potential publishers in turn, in the near future.[243]


appendix A

appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D

appendix E

appendix F

appendix G

appendix G contd

appendix H

appendix H contd

Bibliography (as at 2002)

Primary Sources

DLI archives held by the DRO, in particular:
D/DLI 003/2 and D/DLI 098/26/2 (1st Battalion); D/DLI 019/3, D/DLI 042/1-4, D/DLI 049/1 & 4, D/DLI 077/5, D/DLI 096/20/6, D/DLI 098, D/DLI 104/39/15, D/DLI 109/52/6, D/DLI 112/61/8/1, D/DLI 144/1, and D/DLI214/4613 (2nd Battalion); D/DLI 098/26/2 (3rd (Reserve) Battalion); D/DLI 034/1, D/DLI 043/4 and D/DLI 104/39/15 (4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion); D/DLI 076/10 (1/5th Battalion); D/DLI 098/24/10 (2/5th Battalion); D/DLI 098/24/3 (1/6th Battalion); D/DLI 043/1, D/DLI 052/15, D/DLI 214/9/5, D/DLI 216/12 (1/7th Battalion); D/DLI 052/15 and D/DLI 099/1/2 (1/8th Battalion); D/DLI 020/5, D/DLI 043/3, D/DLI 098/24/12, D/DLI 112/60/4/1 and D/DLI 112/61/10/1 (1/9th Battalion); D/DLI 098/24/11 (2/9th Battalion); D/DLI 214/4594 (10th Battalion); D/DLI 042/5-7 & 10 (13th Battalion); D/DLI 216/1 & 4523 (14th Battalion); D/DLI 098/26/2 (16th and 17th Battalions); D/DLI 189/10/25 (18th Battalion); D/DLI 043/4 (20th Battalion); D/DLI 098/26/2 (26th and 27th Battalions); D/DLI 096/20/4 and D/DLI 098 (Casualties - General); D/DLI 095/18/8 (Depot); D/DLI 098, D/DLI 095/18/8 and D/DLI 111/58/1/4 (POWs); D/DLI 098/26/2 (50th Northumbrian Division and TF); D/DLI 095/18/8 (Battalion COs); D/DLI P10, D/DLI Ph24, D/DLI V2, D/DLI V19, D/DLI 082/1/7, D/DLI 096/20/6, D/DLI 115/68/3/66, D/DLI 150/1, D/DLI 155/1, and D/DLI 158/3/6 (Photographs and Illustrations); and D/DLI 067-070 (Army Lists)

DLI archives held at the Light Infantry Office, Durham, in particular 'Under Hell's Flames'

DLI archives held by the PRO, in particular:
CAB37/128/28 (Recruitment); CAB37/128/30 (Recruitment); CAB37/128/32 (Recruitment); WO95/1617 (2nd Battalion); WO95/2837 and WO95/2840 (1/5th Battalion); WO95/4923 (2/5th Battalion); W95/2840 (1/6th Battalion); WO95/3023 and WO95/5462 (2/6th Battalion); WO95/1702, WO95/2823 and WO95/2840 (1/7th Battalion); WO95/5423, WO95/5462 and WO95/5463 (2/7th Battalion); WO95/2841 and WO95/2842 (1/8th Battalion); WO95/2840 and WO95/3077 (1/9th Battalion); WO95/4803 and WO95/5462 (2/9th Battalion); WO95/1907 and WO95/1908 (10th Battalion); WO95/2108 (11th Battalion); WO95/2182 and WO95/4236 (12th Battalion); WO95/1617 (14th Battalion); WO95/2161 (15th Battalion); WO95/2361 and WO95/4590 (18th Battalion); WO95/2484 and WO95/2490 (19th Battalion); WO95/2639, WO95/2643, and WO95/4243 (20th Battalion); WO95/1702 (22nd Battalion); WO95/430 (25th Battalion / 7th Labour Company); WO95/5460 (26th Battalion); and WO95/1895 (29th Battalion)

  • Liddle Collection (Leeds University, Special Collections), in particular:
  • SAL 033 (Hill: 2/5th Battalion); GS 1811 (5th, 7th, and 8th Battalions); GS 0994
  • (Lyon: 1/6th Battalion); GS 0757 (Hickey: 1/7th Battalion); GS 0886 (Kennedy: 1/8th Battalion); GS 0017 (Allen: 10th Battalion); GS 1112 (Mitchell: 13th Battalion) and ITA 16 (Ramshaw: 13th and 18th Battalions); GS 0603 (Gamble: 14th Battalion); and GS 0864 (Joicey: 15th Battalion); and GS1126 (Money: 15th Battalion)
  • Muggleswick Parish and District: Memorial and 'Welcome Home' Minutes (Muggleswick Parish Council, County Durham)
  • Newcastle City Library Archives (Princess Square, Newcastle upon Tyne), in particular many of the 1917 issues of the Newcastle weekly Illustrated Chronicle
  • Photograph Archive, The Imperial War Museum, London, in particular Q2641 (11th Battalion, Battle of Pilckem Ridge); Q5970 (13th Battalion, Battle of Menin Road Ridge); and Q50557 (2nd Battalion, trenches opposite Frelinghien village)
  • Julian Putkowski, hand-written notes on Courts Martial relating to officers, 1914-1920, for an as yet unpublished work (December 2001)
  • Stephen Shannon, unpublished Name Index for The Durham Forces in the Field, 1914-18, Volume II, by Captain Wilfred Miles
  • Tyne & Wear Archives (Blandford House, Newcastle upon Tyne), in particular DX 730/1/1-4 (9th Battalion Memorial) and T 118/75 (Whitburn Church of England Mixed School Log Book)

Secondary Sources

  • Ainsworth, Captain R. B., MC, The Story of the 6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry; France, April 1915 – November 1918 (London: The St. Catherine Press, 1919)
  • Anon, Brigadier-General R. B. Bradford, VC, MC, and His Brothers (Newport: Ray Westlake – Military Books, date uncertain)
  • Anon, List of British Officers taken prisoner in the various Theatres of War between August 1914 and November 1918 (Newport: Ray Westlake – Military Books, date uncertain)
  • Anon, Officers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919 (Polstead: J. B. Hayward & Son, 1988)
  • Anon, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919: Part 62, The Durham Light Infantry (Polstead: J. B. Hayward & Son, 1989)
  • Anon, Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire during the Great War, 1914-1920 (Dallington: The Naval & Military Press, 1999)
  • Ascoli, David, A Companion to the British Army, 1660-1983 (London: Harrap Limited, 1985)
  • Banks, Arthur, A Military Atlas of the First World War (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Limited, 1998)
  • Becke, Major A. F., Order of Battle of Divisions: Part 1 – The Regular British Divisions (Nottingham: The Sherwood Press Limited, date uncertain)
  • Becke, Major A. F., Order of Battle of Divisions: Part 2A – The Territorial Force Mounted Divisions and The 1st-Line Territorial Force Divisions (42-56) (Nottingham: The Sherwood Press Limited, 1987)
  • Becke, Major A. F., Order of Battle of Divisions: Part 2B – The 2nd-Line Territorial Force Divisions (57th-69th), with The Home Service Divisions (71st-73rd) and the 74th and 75th Divisions (Newport: Ray Westlake – Military Books, 1988)
  • Becke, Major A. F., Order of Battle of Divisions: Parts 3A – 'New Army' Divisions (9-26) (Newport: Ray Westlake – Military Books, date uncertain)
  • Becke, Major A. F., Order of Battle of Divisions: Parts 3B – 'New Army' Divisions (30-41); & 63rd (R.N.) Division (Newport: Ray Westlake – Military Books, date uncertain)
  • Brown, Malcolm, The Imperial War Museum Book of the First World War (London: Guild Publishing, by arrangement with Sidgwick & Jackson, 1991)
  • Bruce, George, Collins Dictionary of Wars (Harper Collins Publishers, 1995)
  • Cave, Colonel Terry, CBE, 'The Reserve and the Training Reserve' (Issue Number 36 of Stand To!, the journal of the WFA, 1992), pp 25 to 27
  • Cave, Colonel Terry, CBE, 'The Regular Army – 1914' (Military Fact Sheet No. 1, the WFA, 1983)
  • General Staff, GHQ, British Trench Warfare, 1917-1918: A reference Manual (London: The Imperial War Museum, in association with The Battery Press, Nashville, 1997)
  • General Staff, GHQ, Order Of Battle of the British Armies In France (Including Lines of Communication Units) and Order Of Battle of the Portuguese Expeditionary Force, November 11th, 1918 (Publisher and date uncertain)
  • Harris J. P., with Niall Barr, Amiens to the Armistice: The BEF in the Hundred Days' Campaign, 8 August-11 November 1918 (London: Brassey's, 1998)
  • James, Brigadier E. A., OBE, TD, British Regiments, 1914-18 (London: Samson Books Ltd, 1978)
  • James, Captain E. A., A Record of the Battles and Engagements of the British Armies in France and Flanders, 1914-1918 (Dallington: The Naval & Military Press, 1998)Laffin, John, British Butchers and Bunglers of World War One (Godalming: Bramley Books, 1998)
  • Leather, Lieutenant-Colonel K. J. W., CBE, The History of the Locally Raised 20th (Service) Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry (Privately published, 1920)
  • Lowe, Lieutenant-Colonel W. D., DSO, MC, War History of the 18th (S.) Battalion Durham Light Infantry (London: Humphrey Milford, with Oxford University Press, 1920)
  • McCord, Norman, North East England: The Regions' Development, 1760-1960 (London, B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1979), p. 117
  • Middlebrook, Martin, Your Country Needs You: From Six to Sixty-Five Divisions (Barnsley: Leo Cooper an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Limited, 2000)
  • Miles, Captain Wilfred, The Durham Forces in the Field, 1914-18: Volume II, The Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry (London: Cassell and Company Ltd, 1920)
  • Mitchell, Major T. J., DSO, MD, ChM, and Smith, Miss G. M., MBE, MA, Medical Services: Casualties and Medical Statistics of the Great War (London: The Imperial War Museum, in association with The Battery Press, Nashville, 1997)
  • Mitchinson, K. W., Pioneer Battalions in the Great War: Organised and Intelligent Labour (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Limited, 1997)
  • Moore, William, The Durham Light Infantry (London: Leo Cooper Ltd, 1975)
  • Moses, Harry, The Faithful Sixth: A History of the Sixth Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry (Durham: County Durham Books, 1995)
  • Moses, Harry, The Gateshead Gurkhas: A History of the 9th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, 1859-1967 (Durham: County Durham Books, 2001)
  • Neillands, Robin, The Great War Generals on the Western Front 1914-1918 (London: Robinson Publishing Ltd, 1999)
  • Oram, Gerard, Death sentences passed by military courts of the British Army, 1914-1924 (London: Francis Boutle Publishers, 1998)
  • Perry, F. W., Order of Battle of Divisions: Part 5B – Indian Army Divisions (Newport: Ray Westlake – Military Books, 1993)
  • Putkowski, Julian, British Army mutineers, 1914-1922 (London: Francis Boutle Publishers, 1998)
  • Putkowski, Julian and Sykes, Julian, Shot At Dawn (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Limited, 1999)
  • Raimes, Major A. L., DSO, TD, The Fifth Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, 1914-1918 (Published in 1931 by a committee of past and present officers of the Battalion)
  • Simpson, Andy, The Evolution of Victory: British Battles on the Western Front, 1914-1918 (London: Tom Donovan, 1995)
  • Tallett, Kyle and Tasker, Trevor, Battleground Europe: Gavrelle (Barnsley: Leo Cooper an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Limited, 2000)
  • Van Emden, Richard, Prisoners of the Kaiser: The Last POWs of the Great War (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Limited, 2000)
  • Veitch, Major E. Hardinge, MC, TD, 8th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry, 1793-1926 (Durham: J. H. Veitch & Sons Ltd, date uncertain, probably 1926)
  • Ward, S. G. P., Faithful: The Story of The Durham Light Infantry (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd, 1962)
  • Westlake, Ray, Kitchener's Army (Staplehurst: Spellmount Ltd, 1998)
  • Westlake, Ray, The Territorial Battalions: A Pictorial History, 1859-1985 (London: Guild Publishing, part of Book Club Associates, by arrangement with Spellmount Ltd, 1986)
  • Wilks, John & Eileen, The British Army in Italy, 1917-1918 (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Limited, 1998)
  • Wyrall, Everard, The Fiftieth Division, 1914-1919 (Dallington: The Naval & Military Press, 1999)

Other Secondary Sources

  • Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, CD-ROM (Version 1.1) constructed by The Naval & Military Press, Dallington, 1998
  • (Great War Statistics)
  • (Hellfire Corner)
  • (Internet Modern History Sourcebook)
  • (Public Record Office: Learning Curve)
  • (The British Army in the Great War)
  • (The Great War)
  • (Land Forces of Britain, the Empire and Commonwealth)
  • (Various sub-sections, including Peaceful; Maxim gun; Vickers; Lewis; Barrage; Tunnelling; 'No Man's Land'; Flame-throwers; Mustard Gas; Infantry; etc, all suffixed by .htm)
  • (The Great War Society)
  • (Trenches on the Web)


Add comment

Security code

Back to top