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Durham Light Infantry, 3rd Battalion

Special Reserve 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.
The 3rd Battalion DLI had its origins in the North Durham Militia that had been formed in 1853, when the old Durham Militia was divided into the North and South Durham Militias. The main purpose of the North Durham Militia, some 1,000 strong and with headquarters in Durham City, was to defend the County from foreign invasion, freeing Regular troops for service overseas. In 1881, the two Militia regiments became part of the Durham Light Infantry, as the 3rd and 4th Battalions DLI, and both served in South Africa in the Boer War. Further changes in 1908, however, limited the role of the old Militia battalions to little more than Reserve units, with the 3rd (Special Reserve) based in the DLI’s Depot at Fenham and the 4th (Extra Reserve) in Barnard Castle.

When the First World War began, the mobilisation call was sent out to all the DLI’s ex-regular soldiers, who were still serving in the Reserve. Once sufficient of these men had left to make up the 2nd Battalion’s numbers in Lichfield, the remainder were mobilised as the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion DLI. The battalion then left Newcastle for South Shields and Jarrow, as part of the Tyne Garrison, where it remained until the end of the war.

Though an important part of the North East’s coastal defences, the 3rd Battalion’s main role was to train recruits for active service, particularly with the 2nd Battalion DLI. Men, recovering from ill-health or from wounds received on the Western Front, were also sent to 3 DLI as part of their re-training.

When the First World War ended, both the 3rd and 4th Battalions DLI were stood down. Some of the old Militia officers had hopes that the battalions would be revived but they were to be disappointed. In April 1953, without ceremony and largely forgotten, the old Durham Militia battalions were finally scrapped.

Contributed by Durham County Record Office