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Durham Light Infantry, 2nd/6th Battalion

Territorial Force battalion

Before the First World War began in August 1914, the Durham Light Infantry, County Durham’s own infantry regiment, was made up of nine battalions each of about 1,000 men. There were two Regular battalions of full-time professional soldiers, many of whom came from outside the North East of England; two Reserve battalions of part-time volunteers and ex-Regular soldiers; and five Territorial Force battalions of part-time volunteers centred on key County towns. There was also a Depot or headquarters shared with the Northumberland Fusiliers at Fenham Barracks in Newcastle upon Tyne.

By the end of the war in November 1918, the DLI had grown to 43 battalions, as new Reserve, Service, Territorial, Young Soldier, and other battalions were formed. Of these 43 battalions, 22 served in war zones from the Western Front to the North West Frontier of India.
As soon as the First World War began, so many recruits went to drill halls across County Durham to join the DLI’s Territorial battalions that second line battalions were soon possible. In September, the 2nd/6th Battalion DLI was formed at Ravensworth Park, where the 1st/6th was then in training.

The new battalion remained in the Gateshead area until early 1915. During these months, the two battalions exchanged men, as the first line battalion weeded out those soldiers less fit for active service.

When the Northumbrian Division was sent to France in April 1915, the role of the second line Territorial battalions was reviewed and it was decided to create a new reserve third line battalion from men, who were only fit for home service. Thus, in June 1915, the 3rd/6th Battalion was formed out of the 2nd/6th Battalion.

After moves to Doncaster in November 1915, and then to Catterick, Andover, and Colchester, the 2nd/6th Battalion arrived in Frinton in Essex in September 1917. There it was re-named as a Garrison Guard battalion of men unfit for active service.

The German attacks on the Western Front in April 1918 and the critical shortage of Allied manpower, however, saw the 2nd/6th Battalion sent to France in early May 1918, as part of the 59th Division – a ‘B’ division classed as unfit for battle.

In France, the 2nd/6th Battalion was set to work training and digging defences. Then, in late July, the 59th Division was needed at the front, and, on 30 September, the 2nd/6th Battalion went into action for the first time near Lavantie. By then the German Army was in retreat and there was no continuous front line.

In the few weeks of intense fighting and rapid movement before the Armistice was agreed on 11 November, the 59th Division so impressed the XI Corps Commander that he ordered that the 59th would no longer be classed as a second-rate ‘B’ division.

Contributed by Durham County Record Office