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Durham Light Infantry, 1st/9th 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.
The 9th Battalion DLI, formed in 1908 from the old 5th Volunteer Battalion DLI, was a Territorial Force battalion with headquarters at Burt Terrace in Gateshead and eight companies in drill halls in Blaydon, Felling, Chopwell, and Gateshead.

On 3 August 1914, 9 DLI was on annual camp in North Wales with the rest of the Northumbrian Division, when the order came to return home and prepare for war. Over the next nine months, after spending a few weeks digging trenches at South Shields, the battalion’s part-time volunteer soldiers, formed into four companies, were trained at Ravensworth, Boldon, and Newcastle for full-time active service overseas.

Meanwhile, in September 1914, a reserve battalion was formed at Ravensworth Park as the 2nd/9th Battalion DLI. Later still, in June 1915, a 3rd/9th Battalion was formed for home service.

The 1st/9th Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Henderson, who had first joined the 5th Durham Rifle Volunteers in 1884, left Newcastle railway station for France on 19 April 1915. Within days, the raw Durham soldiers were fighting in the Second Battle of Ypres, suffering casualties from shelling and gas attacks on the Frezenberg and Bellewaarde ridges, but the battalion was spared the heavy losses suffered by the other Durham Territorial battalions.

As part of the 151st Brigade of 50th (Northumbrian) Division, the 1st/9th Battalion served until August 1916 in the trenches of the Ypres Salient and Armentieres. Then, just before the battalion was moved south to join the Somme fighting, Roland Boys Bradford was given command. He was only 24 years old.

In September and October, 1/9 DLI attacked towards the Starfish Line, north of High Wood, and the Flers Line at Eaucort l’Abbaye. There Lieutenant Colonel Bradford gained the Victoria Cross for his leadership and bravery. Finally on the Somme, 151 Brigade attacked the Butte de Warlencourt on 5 November. The Butte was captured by the 1st/9th Battalion but the Durham soldiers were unable to hold it and fell back. This battle cost the battalion 300 men killed or wounded.

In April 1917, 1/9 DLI fought at Arras and, in September, carried out a major trench raid at Cherisy. Roland Bradford was then promoted to Brigadier-General and left the battalion.

After another winter spent in the mud-filled trenches of the Ypres Salient, 1/9 DLI was given a new role in January 1918 as a Pioneer battalion. In future, the battalion was to dig and repair trenches and dugouts, move supplies, plus a hundred and one other jobs for the 62nd (West Riding) Division. But the new Pioneers, with their distinctive crossed rifle and pick collar badges, were still expected to fight as infantrymen, when the need arose.

On 21 March 1918, the German Army attacked on the Somme and the new Pioneers were needed as infantrymen. At Bucquoy, Private Thomas Young gained the Victoria Cross for rescuing wounded soldiers under fire. In July, the 62nd Division was sent south to join a French Army on the Marne and, once again, the 1st/9th Battalion was called on to fight.

After further fighting on the Somme, the 1st/9th Battalion joined the Allied advance, but clearing and repairing roads rather than fighting. On 11 November 1918, the battalion was near Maubeuge.

On 16 November, 1/9 DLI joined the Allies’ march into Germany, reaching Kommern, west of Bonn, on Christmas Day. The battalion spent less than a year as part of the British Army of the Rhine before it returned to Gateshead in October 1919 and demobilisation.

Contributed by Durham County Record Office