Durham Light Infantry
The Durham Light Infantry was the county regiment of Durham. Now disbanded, the history and artefacts of this famous infantry regiment can be studied at the the DLI Museum at Aykley Heads on the outskirts of Durham City. In the south transept of Durham Cathedral there is a chapel dedicated to the Durham Light Infantry where the cross pictured left (which was originally erected on the Butte de Warlencourt on the Somme to mark the regiment’s achievements there) and the regiment’s colours can be seen.
The Durham Light Infantry began life as the 68th (Durham) Regiment of Foot in 1758 being raised by Colonel (later Major-General) John Lambton (of Harraton Hall then Lambton castle and whose family have a long and historic association with the county – Penshaw Monument is dedicated to his grandson John ‘Radical Jack’ Lambton). In 1881 the 68th was amalgamated with the 106th Regiment of Foot (Bombay Light Infantry) raised by the Honourable East India Company in 1839 to become 1st and 2nd battalions with the militia and rifle volunteers of County Durham becoming 3rd and 4th battalions of the Durham Light Infantry.
The Durham Light Infantry whose nicknames were either ‘The faithful Durhams’ or ‘the Dirty Little Imps’ and of whom Field Marshal Montgomery said: ‘There may be some regiments as good but I know of none better’ has an unrivalled list of battle honours and since its formation has fought in almost all of the British Army’s campaigns including the Peninsula Wars, the Crimean War, the Maori Wars in New Zealand, the Boer War, the North West Frontier, World War I, World War II, Korea and Borneo. The regiment finally laid up its colours at a service in Durham Cathedral in 1968 when it merged with other county infantry regiments to become The Light Infantry.
Victoria & George Cross Winners
11 soldiers from the regiment have won the Victoria Cross – the military’s highest award for bravery: Private John Byrne VC – Inkerman 1854 (Crimean War); Captain Thomas de Courcy Hamilton VC – Sebastopol 1855 (Crimean War); Sergeant John Murray VC – Tauranga, New Zealand 1864 (Maori War); Private Thomas Kenny VC – La Houssoie, France 1915 (WWI); Lt Colonel Roland Boys Bradford VC MC – Eaucourt L’Abbaye, France 1916 (WWI); Private Michael Heaviside VC – Fontaine-les-Croisilles, France 1917 (WWI). Michael Heaviside VC died at his home on 26 April 1939 at Bloemfontein Terrace, Craghead. He was only 58 years old but his job as a miner, as well as his war service, took a profound toll on his health. Hundreds of mourners followed his coffin to St Thomas’s Church, Craghead as the colliery band played the “Dead March in Saul.” A firing party from the 8th Battalion DLI fired a salute then the mourners filed past dropping poppies into the grave as the battalion’s buglers played the ‘Last Post’; 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Youens VC – Hill 60, Belgium 1917 (WWI); Captain Arthur Moore Lascelles VC MC – Masnieres, France 1917 (WWI); Private Thomas Young – Bucquoy, France 1918 (WWI); 2nd Lieutenant Richard W Annand – River Dyle, Belgium 1940 (WWII). Annand’s was the first Victoria Cross awarded by the British Army in World War II. His uniform is on display at the DLI Museum; Private Adam Herbert Wakenshaw VC – Mersa Matruh, Egypt 1942 (WWII). The 2-pounder gun at which Wakenshaw was killed is on display at the DLI Museum.
In 1940, Sergeant Michael Gibson, Royal Engineers (who had orginally enlisted with the Durham Light Infantry) won the George Cross for defusing an unexploded bomb that had been dropped on Coventry. When the bomb was heard to be hissing he continued to work on it after sending the rest of his team to safety. Although he survived on that occasion he was killed later when a 250 kg device exploded.
Durham Light Infantry Old Boys
The regiment had many members who went on to distinguish themselves after their service but three of the most notable are perhaps General Sir Peter de la Billiere KCB, KBE, DSO, MC & Bar – Director of the United Kingdom Special Forces during the Iranian Embassy Siege and Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in the 1990 Gulf War; Sergeant Major Bill Nicholson – Tottenham Hotspur footballer, coach and scout; Lieutenant Leslie Phillips CBE – Actor