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Durham Light Infantry, 16th Battalion

New Army Service 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 16th Battalion DLI was formed in Durham in October 1914, as part of Kitchener’s New Army, with volunteers from the 3rd Battalion DLI, after this Reserve battalion had been moved from the DLI’s Depot in Newcastle to reinforce the North East’s coastal defences. A first draft of 485 men from 3 DLI was soon joined by other drafts of recruits from the Depot.

Training began under the command of 50-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Grimshawe, late of the 3rd Battalion. But there was also time for sport and, in February 1915, 16 DLI fielded a rugby team in a match with Durham School. The battalion won.

However, unlike the DLI’s other New Army Service battalions, 16 DLI (and 17 DLI which had been raised at Barnard Castle at the same time) was not destined to serve overseas. Instead, in April 1915, 16 DLI became a Reserve battalion and was soon moved first to Darlington, and then, in September, 1915 to Penkridge Bank Camp near Rugeley in Staffordshire. There it remained as a training battalion regularly supplying drafts of soldiers for service overseas.

Whilst at Rugeley, the Reserve companies of the 22nd (Pioneers) Battalion DLI joined 16 DLI. These companies had been destined to form a 24th Battalion, when the Pioneers went on active service overseas, but 24 DLI was never formed.

Following the introduction of conscription in 1916, in place of the old system of regimental reserve battalions, 112 new Training Reserve battalions were created to train the recruits. So, in September 1916, the 16th (Reserve) Battalion DLI lost its link to the DLI and became the 1st Training Reserve Battalion. Finally, in late November 1917, the battalion was disbanded.

Contributed by Durham County Record Office