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Remembered Today:

20th Bn., Durham Light Infantry

Kevin Stillyards

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Kevin Stillyards

Can anyone tell me where the 20th Bn., Durham light Infantry trained etc between their formation (July 1915) and their transportation to France (6 May 1916?)

Also, what is the best source for their role in 3rd Ypres especially 21 Sept 1917.


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I don't have the details in front of me now (wiil tonight) but there is some info on training in Becke ORBAT Divisions - look under 41 Div. There is also a book by ? Miles that covers 20 DLI. I think another thread here gave details of a DLI website somewhere or other.

My grandfather was in the same Bde (123rd, in 41 Div) as 20 DLI, so I am interested in their movements too. I have a few notes & photographs too. I have briefly looked up the War Diaries of 123 Bde and 20 DLI at the NA/PRO but can't remember if I noted anything specific yet about Sept 1917.


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The 20th Battalion's war diary is held by the Durham Record Office (Reference D/DLI 043/4 - telephone number 0191-383-3253). If you live some distance away, you could always ask the DRO to photocopy the relevant page(s) for 21 September 1917, which they'll do for a modest charge. You might find it even more interesting to get the pages for 19-24 September.

The first CO was then Major K. W. L. Leather, previously second-in-command of the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion. Leather it was who wrote the battalion history after the war (with help from Lieut Bramlet) - 'The History of the Locally Raised 20th (Service) Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry', which was published privately in 1920. Captain Wilfrid Miles' (ex 13th Battalion, DLI), also, provides good coverage of the battalion in 'The Durham Forces in the Field, 1914-1918 (Volume II)', which was the only one of three planned works to be published, also in 1920. The other book that provides good coverage is 'Faithful: The Story of the DLI' by S. G. P. Ward, which was published by Thos. Nelson & Co (London) in 1962, which provides coverage of the day you're interested in on page 387. Unfortunately, all three books are now difficult to find, and if you're wanting to buy a copy they'll cost you £75 - £125 each. However, if you live near Durham, copies are held by the DRO, and any decent library ought to be able to get a copy, on request.

Recruiting for the battalion began on 19 August 1915, on which day it was 51 strong - Leather + 50 'Other Ranks'. Over the next two years, of the original men with the battalion, Leather returned home wounded, eight ORs were killed in action, and sixteen were wounded.

The men first assembled at St John's Wesleyan School, Sunderland (23 August 1915), and three days later a small advance party left for Wensley, North Yorkshire, to prepare for the battalion's arrival at training camp. The stay at Wensley ended on 21 October 1915, when the battalion, then about five hundred strong (all ranks), marched thirteen miles to Richmond, and later to Barnard Castle, to move into winter billets. Of the five hundred men to leave Wensley, ten officers (of nineteen) were wounded, fifty ORs were killed, four were 'Missing believed killed', and one hundred and twenty-six were wounded.

September 1915 to April 1916 was devoted to training and getting the men physically fit. On 15 October 1915, the battalion transferred to the command of the Aldershot Taining Centre, although it did not move to Aldershot until January 1916. It was offficially taken over by the War Office on 4 January, on which day it began its move south. The battalion landed at Le Havre on 5 May 1916. Of course, it served on the Western Front twice, and in Italy. On 11 November 1918, it was about two kilometres west of Nederbrakel, in Belgium.

During the Battle of Menin Road (20-24 September 1917), the 20th Battalion was near Bodmin Copse when its parent division, the 41st, launched its attack on 20 September. The battalion was held in reserve, and after several moves forward during the course of the day it occupied the backward slope of the 'Tower Hamlets' ridge. At 07:00 hours on 21 September, it took part in an attack on the centre of the 'Green Line', the third of the division's objectives, and it moved off on two half-company fronts. The covering barrage, which should have started at 09:00 hours, was far less than expected, in consequence of which German machine-gunners exacted a heavy toll. The attack pushed out about two hundred before it was halted and the men were forced to dig-in. At about 15:00 hours the first of four enemy counter-attacks was mounted. All were repulsed, and the battalion was able to hold onto its positions despite a heavy box-barrage put down later in the day. When relieved on 22 September, for very little gain battalion casualties numbered six officers killed, plus eleven wounded, and three hundred and fifteen ORs killed or wounded.

As you'll probably have gathered, I've researched this battalion's war record quite thoroughly and could provide more information, but I'm afraid that I don't have too much on individuals. Hope all of this helps, and if you'd like any more feel free to come back to me.

David T.

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