Cyprus,Palestine and Iraq

Early in December 1940 news reach the 6th ,8th, 9th Durham light Infantry battalions that they were soon set to move overseas once more. The 6th DLI following a period of training and a spell of embarkation leave  embarked on the `Duchess of Windsor` known to her crew as `The Drunken Duchess` due to her tendency to roll even in the calmest of waters.A total of over three thousand men embarked alongside 6th DLI were the men of the 8th Durham Light Infantry and various Greek and Free French Units.The 9th DLI sailed on the SS Orduna a converted meat carrier!


As the convoy set sail on the 23rd May 1941 their  destination was known only by a select few although most aboard voiced their own views on  where their ultimate destination lay.Not many would have been able to plot as varried a route as the actual one the convoy took during the course of it`s  journey.After three days the men heard the worrying news that `Bismarck`was loose in the area and had already sank HMS Hood.Never-the-less the convoy sailed on the occasional bombing raid did not stop it reaching  the port of Freetown,South Africa on the 4th June 1941 after a three day stay  the convoy having sailed once again arrived  at Durban on the 20th June 1941.


The 9th DLI went on to Aden (4th July) shore leave was denied to all but the officers something the men of 9DLI did not take kindly to indeed they turned the ships fire hoses on their officers on their return to the `Orduna`!

Port Suez,Egypt was reachedon the 8th July.The men of the 6th & 8th DLI disembarked on the 9th July and after an uncomfortable wait in the blistering son were ferried by lorry and train to a vast tented camp covering almost 12 square mile situated at El Qassassin,the 9th DLI joining them shortly after.Just as the Durham Brigade were settling into a routine orders were received to re-embark,the fall of Greece and Crete had worried the British and they feared the Germans would turn their attentions to Cyprus so it was decided that 151 Durham Brigade consisting of 6th 8th & 9th DLI would form part of its defence.

On the 24th July 1941 the 6th  DLI were herded aboard the destroyers `Kimberley` and Abdiel whilst the 2nd Cheshires boarded the `Abdiel`.The three destroyers left at 1430hrs in a bid to land their Human cargo during the hours of darkness to avoid any possible Luftwaffe bombing raids. Once landed the 6th DLI  were moved first to Larnica before being deployed in the Hamlet of Kokinni Trimithea

The 8th DLI to were split into two groups one traveling on a standard type destroyer whilst the second travelled on HMS Latona which at the time was regarded as state of the art.Once landed in the early hours of 30th July the 8th DLI were transported via a narrow gauge railway to the islands capital Nicosia where it was deployed preparing defences around  the airfield

The 9th DLI had travelled on the `Leander` and `Jaguar` the `Leander` carried Colonel Percy part of HQ Company together with `A` & `B` Companies before anchoring off Famagusta they were then ferried ashore by the `Jaguar` with `C` `D` ad the rest of battalion HQ following later under Major Slight.On the 27th July the two groups were reunited at Kato Lakkatamia before moving to take up defensive positions  at Nicosia Satalette Aerodrome here defences were prepared should the Germans attempt to land parachutists.

Men of the DLI photographed on Cyprus shortly after their arrival in late July 1941.

Kokinni Trimithea is situated on thePlain of Nicosia in the centre of Cyprus here the men of the 6th DLI were dispersed to various concealed positions beneath the olive and fruit trees which grow in the area.They set about the construction of fortifications and defences which would be soon required if the Axis powers decided to turn their attentions to the island.An underground base was envisaged to hold both supplies and personnel protected by a network of pillboxes,trench and wire systems and surrounded by minefields.It was during this period that command of the 6th DLI passed to Lieutenant Colonel Battiscombe who suceeded Lieutenant-Colonel Yate who had not been in the best of health second in command at this time passed to Major P B Robinson who had saw service with both the 9th DLI and the 10th DLI. Time other than that spent on fortifications was spent training in both day and night fighting.One member of the 6th DLI was killed during this period on the Island a second member of 6th DLI lies alongside although he did not die until 1944 presumably of wounds because at this time 6th DLI were in NW Europe. 

2987713 L/Cpl John Taylor Robertson formerly of The Argyl and Sutherland Highlanders now 6th Durham Light Infantry.Son of Robert and Annie Robertson, of Shettleston, Glasgow Died 18/08/1941 at rest Nicosia War Cemetery Section 5 Row B Grave 5

4467617 Pte Thomas Flatley 6th Durham Light Infantry. Died 04/09/1941 at rest Nicosia War Cemetery Section 5 Row B Grave 1

The 8th DLI worked hard on their airfield construction and defences,solid rock had to be blasted away and the large number of ex-pitmen in the Durham`s ranks made excellent progress.Italian aircraft occasionally put in an appearance with recce flights and the odd bombing raid but they were kept very much at bay thanks to the Hurricanes of 213 Squadron.When not involved with construction the men of 8thDLI took part in various training exercises.It was during one such exercise that `C` Company were involved in a most tragic accident when a grenade exploded prematurely and  two men received fatal injuries.

4463871 Pte William Wilkinson 8th Durham Light Infantry.Son of Charles Fredrick and Catherine Wilkinson, of Gateshead, Co. Durham; husband of Dorothy Wilkinson, of Gateshead Died 03/10/1941 at rest Nicosia War Cemetery Section 4 Row C Grave 5

160885 2/Lieutenant  Alfred Alexander Wood 8th Durham Light Infantry.Son of Alfred and Ethel Wood, of West Hartlepool, Co. Durham Died 03/10/1941 at rest Nicosia War Cemetery Section 4 Row C Grave 3

A few days later there was another tragic accident when a member of `B` Company was killed by a 2" Mortar shell

4458960 Pte John Frederick Lobley 8th Durham Light Infantry.Son of Frederick Lobley and of Maud Lobley (nee Ball); stepson of Mrs. E. J. Lobley, of Fairfield, Buxton, Derbyshire Died 12/09/1941 at rest Nicosia War Cemetery Section 5 Row b Grave 10

The expected German Invasion did not materialise,Hitlers attention had turned East,to Russia, and his rapid progress towards the Caucasus,and the Iranian and Iraqi oilfields,would determine the Durhams next move.Although not an unpleasant posting Cyprus was left behind the Durham battalions leaving on the 4th November 1941.

 

6th/8th/9th Battalions The Durham Light Infantry Western Desert

Men of the 8th Durham Light Infantry man a mortar position during the campaign in North Africa and the Western Deserts

9th Durham Light Infantry Mersah Metruh 27th June 1942

.The 9th Durham Light Infantry performed many acts of gallantry that day the most notable was Wakenshaw`s VC action which has been covered on the awards section of this site, but what many people perhaps do not realise was this was not Wakenshaw`s first act of Gallantry. This occurred earlier when the Company cookhouse, which was a large hole in the ground covered with various tarpaulin ,scrim nets and camouflage, caught fire trapping some of the battalions cooks Pte Wakenshaw using his bare hands and his bayonet tore away at the netting enabling the cooks to make good their escape.

The 27th June 1942 will be remembered by many  as the day Pte Wakinshaw won his Victoria Cross,but the action in which it was won had an even more important meaning for the families of those serving within the ranks of 9th DLI.This was the day the battalion were all but annihilated by Rommels Africa Korps,those lucky few who escaped would soldier on but for many it would be their last

The morning of 27th June 1942  9 DLI were some 15miles South of Garawla at a place  called  Raqabet El Sikka .151 brigade whom 9DLI were part had the job  of protecting part of the Mersah defences so the town of Mersah Metruh  was not cut off. Rommels armoured columns swept around Matruh and cut off the 10th  Indian and 50th Tyne Tees division.At 0200hrs on the 27th `B` Company of the 9thDLI were attacked by a German patrol,at 0515hrs the whole of  9DLI were attacked by superior numbers of German infantry supported by  tanks,mortars and heavy artillery fire this was a heavy frontal assault  and casualties were high on both sides in the ensuing hand to hand combat,at 0730hrs all three rifle companies found themselves isolated
from each other and their battalion headquarters and were overun with large numbers  of casualties killed,wounded,missing and taken prisoner.
At 0900am orders were given for survivours to withdraw unfortunately due to their positions many could not and were forced to surrender. 9th DLI lost 20 killed on the 27thJune 1942 many more died of wounds over the next few days/weeks .

 The other Companies who were sheltering in a basin on the scarpe had dug in yet the fierce shelling was inflicting heavy casualties at about 1100hrs most of the rifle companies had either been killed or taken prisoner.One such group including 4037297 Cpl (A/Sgt) James Hawkins he amongst others were marched away into the desert with no food or water and clad in only the clothes they were wearing when initially captured during the march a British armoured car appeared and the German escort fled the men took their chance and made a break for it over a hundred men ,most were recaptured(including Hawkins) but some did make it back to the British lines and rejoined the battalion.

Columns of individuals attempted to break free of the German encirclement  the 9th DLI along with the other DLI battalions the 6th and 8th DLI assembled at Ikingi Maryut and Amiriya on the 1st July 1942 most of 9DLI survivors came from HQ Company and battalion headquarters staff other stragglers came in during the next couple of days,however on the 2nd July when the battalion moved to camp 3 at Mareopolis it comprised around 10 Officers and 283 other ranks

Those who died 27th June 1942

Amongst the casualties on the 27th June 1942 was a young man from Staffordshire.

Cpl Frederick Ernest Harrison 9DLI Photo courtesy of Mick Baker

Frederick Ernest Harrison was the son of Alfred Ernest and Alice Maud Harrison, of Upper Gornal, Staffordshire.Frederick Ernest Harrison was born on the 2nd March 1920,he originally joined the Royal Engineers at Brompton Barracks, Chatham, Kent before joining The Durham Light Infantry his brother Bert was a Dispatch rider and it was hoped by the family that Frederick too would eventually join his brother sadly,1877013 Lance Corporal Frederick Ernest Harrison was killed in action on  June 27th 1942. He was at this time serving with the 9th Battalion The     Durham Light Infantry in the Western Desert Campaign .He was aged  22yrs              

FATHER

IN THY GRACIOUS KEEPING

LEAVE WE NOW

THY SERVANT SLEEPING

L/Cpl F. E. HARRISON

THE DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY

Today he lies at peace and in good company in The War Cemetery at El Alamein Section XXIX. Row B. Grave No 9

PHOTOGRAPH SUPPLIED COURTESY OF MICK McCANN  at BRITISH WAR GRAVES

 

Victoria Cross Action 4270383 Pte Adam Herbert Wakenshaw 9DLI

Pte  Adam Herbert Wakenshaw 4270383 9th Btn The Durham Light Infantry

Page from the London gazette of 11th September 1942 announcing the award of the Victoria Cross

War Office 11th September, 1942                                    

The KING has been graciously pleased to  approve posthumous awards of the VICTORIA CROSS to the undermentioned: —

No. 4270383 Private Adam Herbert Wakenshaw, The Durham Light Infantry

(Newcastle-on-Tyne).

On the 27th June, 1942,. South of Mersa Matruh, Private Wakenshaw was a member of the crew of a 2-pounder anti-tank gun that was sited on a forward slope in front of the infantry position. Shortly after dawn the enemy attacked and an enemy tracked vehicle towing a light gun was brought to within short range of, the position. The gun crew opened fire and succeeded in putting a round through the engine immobilizing  the enemy vehicle. Another mobile gun then came into action. All members of the crew manning the( 2- pounder including Private Wakenshaw were killed or seriously wounded and the 2- pounder was silenced. In this respite the enemy moved forward towards their damaged tractor in order to get the light gun into action against our infantry. Realising the danger to his comrades, under intense mortar and artillery fire which swept the gun site, Private Wakenshaw crawled back to his gun. Although his left arm was blown off above the elbow, he loaded the gun with one arm and fired five more rounds. These succeeded in setting the tractor on fire and damaged the light gun. A near, miss then -killed the gun aimer and blew Private Wakenshaw away from the gun giving him further severe wounds. Undeterred he slowly dragged himself back to the gun, placed a round in the "breach, and was preparing to fire when a direct hit on the ammunition killed him and destroyed the gun.  

  In the evening after the action the body of Private Wakenshaw was found stretched out at the back of the breach block beside the ammunition box.  This act of conspicuous gallantry prevented the enemy from using their light gun on the infantry Company which was only 200 yards away. It was through the self sacrifice and courageous devotion, to duty of this infantry anti-tank gunner that, the Company was enabled to withdraw and to embus in safety.

ADAM HERBERT WAKENSHAW V.C

Adam Wakenshaw was born in Duke Street Newcastle upon Tyne on  9 June 1914, the youngest of a large family. His father was a labourer and the family struggled constantly against poverty and hardship. When he was 14, Adam left St Aloysius' Roman Catholic School to work as a miner at Elswick pit. Later he worked at Hazelrigg  as a general labourer. Four years later, In 1932, aged eighteen years, he married Dorothy Ann Douglass. By 1939, they had three children, John, Thomas and Lilian and were all living at 16 Duke Street, Newcastle upon Tyne.  He enlisted at Gateshead as a Private in the 9th Battalion DLI. He fought in Belgium and Northern France in 1940 with the British Expeditionary Force and was wounded, before returning home after the Dunkirk evacuation.

 In February 1941, Adams son John Wakenshaw, aged just seven years, was killed in a road accident near his home. His father was given a few days compassionate leave to return home to Newcastle. It was the last time that Dorothy and her surviving children would see Adam.

In June 1942 at Mersa Matruh on the Egyptian coast 9 DLI was part of a force trying to stop the German advance. Before dawn on 27 June, 9 DLI lay in wait behind boulders and low stone walls. In front of them were 9 DLI's 2-pounder anti-tank guns. Each of the four guns had its own crew. One of those included Private Adam Wakenshaw. The German infantry attacked just after 5 o'clock, supported by tanks and artillery. As they advanced, a tracked vehicle towing a gun came within range of Adam Wakenshaws anti-tank gun. His gun opened fire and hit the vehicle but another German gun returned fire and all the soldiers manning the anti-tank guns, including Adam, were killed or wounded. With the DLI's anti-tank guns silenced, German soldiers moved towards their damaged vehicle and gun in an attempt to bring it back into action. Pte Eric Mohn and  Adam Wakenshaw  crawled back to their gun in a bid to stop the Germans opening up on the exposed infantry ,at this point the DLI gun received a second direct hit killing Pte Mohn and once again inflicting serious wounds on Pte Wakenshaw Unbelievably,  he once again dragged himself over the rocky ground and back to his place by the gun. As he was placing one more round in the breech and preparing to fire, another  direct hit killed him and silenced his gun for ever. After that, there was nothing to prevent the German attack and within a few hours the Durhams were surrounded. On that day, 9 DLI lost 20 men killed and 300 taken prisoner.

  Dorothy Wakenshaw and their eight year-old son  Thomas went to Buckingham Palace on March 4, 1943, to receive Adam Wakenshaws  medal from King George VI; the King pinned the medal on  Thomas`s chest.

On the 3rd December 1942 the 9th DLI (The position of the British Forces now much improved) moved to Galal. During the capture of the 300 prisoners the battalions payroll of £600 had been buried by Lt Pickering somewhere near Mersah Matruh with the new camp, not far off from this area, some of the more enterprising members of the battalion decided,although it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack, to return to the scene and search for the missing payroll.

 

Adam Wakenshaws Gun stands guard over his lonely grave.

 Sgt George Lambert , Pte Arthur Thompson, Pte Len Green and Pte Dai Jones returned to the scene of the battle but did not find the payroll what they did find was the body of Pte Wakenshaw and two other DLI soldiers untouched ,unburied lying exposed in the desert (The bodies may have been buried in shallow graves but George Lambert states in the book `The Gateshead Gurkhas that it was obvious no one had been to the site since the action) The DLI men re-buried their comrades and Sgt Lambert organised a cross for the graves.,but instead of the standard transfer printing Pte Dave Walton,a sign writer in civilian life,painted on the details and added a regimental badge.

 

 Official Re-Burial of Pte Adam Herbert Wakenshaw VC

On February 16th 1943 news was received from the Graves Registration Unit that Pte Wakenshaw had been re-buried with full military honours, at El Alamein,Plot: XXXII. D. 9 Egypt there were two members of the regiment present and acted as pallbearers His gun after spending some time as a gate guardian at the cemetery was returned to England together with the last shell Wakenshaw had loaded into it and was on display at the DLI Museum in Durham City until its closure in 2016.

4458979 Pte Eric Mohn who was killed with Adam Wakenshaw also lies at peace in the Cemetery at  EL ALAMEIN Section XXXI Row D Grave number 1.He was the eldest son of Harold and Lillian Mohn of Hayfield Road,New Mills in Cheshire.A member of The 9th Durham Light Infantry Eric Mohn was never officially recognised for a medal yet he to played a vital part in the above action.He was aged just 22 when he was killed on the 27th June 1942.Eric who worked in the finishing department of Birchvale Printworks joined the army in 1940 and had been serving in the Middle-East  for about twelve months.He was a member of Bich Vale Cricket club and was reported to be a very promising young batsman.Eric Mohns hobby was fretwork and was reported to have produced some very artistic work prior to his enlistment.News of Eric Mohns death was received just prior to the Cricket Match between Birch Vale and Dove Holes where a two minutes silence was strictly observed to a true hero.

4458979 Pte Eric Mohn The 9th Durham Light Infantry

Military Medal Action 4453215 L/Cpl William Charlton 4453215

4453215 L. Cpl. W. Charlton, 8th Durham Light Infantry

    London Gazette 24 September 1942. The original recommendation states  ‘At Gazala, during the night of 14th-15th June 1942, when the 151 Infantry Brigade broke through the enemy lines, one of the columns of the 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, ran into an enemy minefield. A mine exploded and blew up a Quad, but it did not damage the Gun or Ammunition Limber. A truck was called for and without hesitation 4453215 Lance-Corporal William Charlton drove his vehicle forward into the minefield and hitched it up to the Gun and Limber. He then towed them out of the minefield to safety. His personal courage in the face of great danger was an example to all.’

William Charlton was a native of Ebchester, Co. Durham the MM was awarded for the battles around  Gazala he was also awarded the 1939-45 Star; Africa Star, clasp, 8th Army; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals

Military Medal Action  4455484 Lance-Sergeant T. M. Swallow   8th DLI

 4455484 Lance-Sergeant T. M. Swallow   8th DLI

London Gazette 24 September 1942. Recommendation states: ‘4455484 Lance-Sergeant T. M. Swallow   8th DLI has proved himself most courageous under fire. He drove his vehicle in the lead of “C” Column both in the withdrawal from Gazala and Mahtruh. When leading “C” Column from the Gazala box, his vehicle was blown up and damaged on a minefield. When others showed hesitation at continuing through the minefield, and though under heavy enemy fire at the time, he succeeded in getting his engine started again and unhesitatingly led the way through the enemy lines. His coolness and bravery have certainly greatly contributed to the successful evacuation of the column on both occasions 14th and 27th  June’

Thomas Meldrum Swallow enlisted into the D.L.I. T.A. on  May 2nd 1939.He was with the 8th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry at Honiton on 4th March 1941prior to his service in the Middle East from May 1941-August 1943 and was ,as stated,awarded the Miltary Medal for his bravery during the retreat from Gazala and Matruh. Further service followed in Sicily and North West Europe. He was discharged from the Army on 20 July 1948 and from the Reserve on 31 July 1951.Also awarded the 1939-45 Star; Africa Star, 8th Army clasp; Italy Star; France and Germany Star; Defence and War Medals,

 

Military Medal Action 4440719 Pte Bernard Holmes. 8th D.L.I

 4440719 Pte Bernard Holmes. 8th D.L.I

Awarded for services in North Africa Citation reads. In the MERSAH MATRUH area on the night of 28th/29th June1942. the Btn B Echelon group were passing through enemy positions when they came under heavy M.G. fire from enemy positions. Casualties to personnel and damage to trucks was caused and 4440719 Pte Bernard Holmes , although under heavy M.G. fire went to the assistance of some wounded men, dressed their wounds and brought them safetly out of danger. By his coolness and initiative the wounded were safely brought back to hospital and he showed complete disregard for his own safety because transport was limited and he risked being left behind in an enemy position to attend to the wounded men. During the operations his courage and cheerfulness was an example to all and materially assisted in saving the lives of several men. He served in the 8th D.L.I.

 Pte Holmes was also awarded The 1939-45 Star,Africa Star,Defence Medal and War Medal.For his long service in the Territorial Army he was granted The Territorial Efficiency Medal bar Territorial.

Military Medal Action 4457457 Cpl Henry Pearson 8th Durham.L.Inf

  4457457 Corporal Henry Pearson 8th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry

4457457 Cpl Henry Pearson Born in Sunderland in 1922, he served with the 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry during the Second World War. He was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery during the Battle of El Alamein in November 1942, when he was severely wounded.

 4457457 Corporal Henry Pearson`s recommendation reads as follows;-

`During the night attack of the 1st/2nd November 1942an enemy post in a vehicle held up the advance of Company Hq and another section.Cpl Pearson,who was in command of the section charged the post but was unable to reach it before he was wounded.He then reorganised his men again and after engaging the enemywith LMG fire he charged the post again and cleaned it out though in doing so he was once again wounded.He set a very high standard of courage to all his men.`

After recovering, Corporal Pearson returned to 8 DLI and was killed in action at the Battle of Mareth on 22 March 1943. He was 24 years old. He is buried in Sfax War Cemetery in Tunisia Section XIV. Row E. Grave 19.. Henry Pearson was the son of John and Emma Pearson, of Sunderland, Co. Durham.His mother Emma collected his Military Medal from Buckingham Palace.

Distinguished Conduct Medal Action 3660867 Private James Hudson, 6th DLI

 3660867 Private James Hudson, 6th  DLI

Citation ;-On the night of 21st/22nd March during the 151 Brigade attack on the Mareth defences 3660867 Private James Hudson was with 'C' Company 6th DLI. On sighting an enemy Machine Gun post he immediately led a group of men forward with fixed bayonets. He succeeded in capturing the post, killing many of the enemy personally.

This action of Private Hudson's enabled the rest of his Company to move forward onto the position. Before leading the charge, his Company Commander had been seriously wounded beside him. He showed outstanding courage and complete disregard for his own safety

Distinguished Conduct Medal Action  4453016 Sergeant Edward Gallon, 9th DLI 

  4453016 Sergeant Edward Gallon, 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry

Citation Immediate Award;- 4453016 Sergeant Edward Gallon found an abandoned Bren Carrier on withdrawing from the Mersa-Matruh Box and having repaired it as well as they could, proceeded to Alamein, arriving on 29th June 1942. By this time Sergeant Gallon was very weary and the carrier was breaking down every half mile. Eventually, at Alamein they ran into heavy shelling and the carrier was repaired again by Sergeant Gallon, with complete disregard to his own safety. He had just withdrawn from the shelling area when he was asked if he could tow a serviceable 3 ton lorry, which was out of petrol, from the centre of the shelling area, so that it could be refuelled and used for evacuating the many troops needing transport. Without a moments thought Sergeant Gallon and L/Cpl Ferguson drove their carrier straight to the lorry. The rate of shelling increased immediately, but Sergeant Gallon dismounted, affixed a tow rope to the lorry and towed it to safety where it was refuelled and used to evacuate troops. Sergeant Gallon proceeded a few hundred yards when he observed that the path of a Ration Convoy, coming up the line was blocked by four immobilised 3 ton lorries which were a direct target for the enemy shelling which was very heavy. Sergeant Gallon, at once, drove his carrier to the four trucks and one at a time, with his life in immediate danger, he affixed a tow rope and managed to tow out all four lorries thus allowing the Ration Convoy to make its effort to get through the barrage.

The complete disregard for his own safety under heavy and continuous shelling his devotion to duty under these conditions and in his tired state and above all his rapid appreciation of the urgency of clearing the way for the Ration Convoy, regardless of personal cost, his patience in the unsuccessful evacuation by the abandoned Bren Carrier, all showed the most distinguished conduct and inspired those who were privileged to see him.

Military Medal Action 4449153 Pte George Robert Fearon 8th Durh.L.I

 4449153 Pte George Robert Fearon The 8th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry

During the night withdrawal from the GAURAWLA NULLA on the 28th JUNE 1942 a column was surprised at the head of the NULLA and became heavily engaged.The Column became divided by heavy machine gun,mortar and A/Tank fire and further advance was help up.Pte Fearon immediately came forward with his Bren Gun placed it in position and engaged the enemy remaining in position for a good hour although under very considerable machine gun fire at very close range.By his actions the enemy fire was sufficiently reduced to enable the withdrawl to continue.

George Robert Fearon was a native of Sunderland Co Durham and before enlistment had lived in Woodbine Street ,Hendon,a former regular member of The 2nd Durham Light Infantry he saw service pre-war with the 2nd Battalion in India and the Sudan.He enlisted in the Durham Light Infantry between 1st May 1931 - March 1933.

Military Medal Action 2987438 L/Cpl John  McFarlane 6th Durham.L.Inf

During the withdrawal from MERSAH MATRUH on the evening of June 28th 1942the rear party of the battalion was attacked by a strong enemy force. There were many casualties and during the whole engagement L/Cpl McFarlane a stretcher bearer attended to the wounded with outstanding efficiency .He continually showed complete disregard for his own personal safety by attending to wounded in full view of the enemy. On one occasion he crawled towards a badly wounded gunner who lay in a most exposed position he found the gunner so badly wounded that it was apparent that little could be done for him.L/Cpl McFarlane crawled back to the Regimental Aid Post obtained Morphia and bandages and once more crawled forward to the wounded man and did all that was possible. The whole ground was being swept by machine gun fire from enemy armoured fighting vehicles.

On the 26th and 27th July the battalion was again in action on the El Alamein front and again L/Cpl McFarlane showed the same disregard for his own safety. Seven badly wounded men were lying in an open position under shell fire. As there was no transport available for the evacuation of the casualties. L/Cpl McFarlane went forward 200yards at a time when shell fire was very heavy, obtained a truck and himself directed the truck back to the casualties. During the action as at other times his work was outstanding and of the highest character.

John Owen McFarlane was a proud Scotsman from Holytown who had worked with the Pit ponies in his local colliery before the war.John originally joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Left) and was initially deeply disappointed to be transferred to the Durham Light Infantry.Joining the 6th battalion in the desert he became a true`Durham` in every sense of the word and later wrote to his wife `They`re a grand crowd of chaps and we`re all as thick as thieves`Deeply loyal to the Durhams his loyalty was repayed by the Army in the forfieture of his treasured Military Medal following his conviction for mutiny at Salerno when half fit men from the 50th and 51st Divisions eager to rejoin their Battalions were misled by the Army and used as reinforcements for other units other than ,in Mc Farlanes case,his beloved Durham Light Infantry.

McFarlane was nearly captured at Tobruk but managed to escape in the breakout his MM citation hardly bears any real detail of his couragous efforts to save the gunner trapped beneath a Gun and Limber by his arm,it does not touch on the heart rendering decision he made to amputate the gunners torn limb with a Jack knive in an effort to save his life or the fact that the gunner did not die but succumbed to his wounds days later.

As John Owen McFarlane stood on that beach at Salerno together with three Sgts,four corporals,seven lance corporals and sixty one privates of the 6th,8th and 9th DLI he recalled how he had no intention of obeying an order to move because it would mean an end to his time with the Durhams,He recalled later If I moved I knew that I would be joining a new unit and I was`nt prepared to do that,it was rejoin the 6th Durham Light Infantry or nothing...they could have shot me then and there but I was`nt moving!

Convicted of mutiny John never did rejoin his beloved DLI and instead reluctantly saw action with other units.The British Army did its best to have the mutineers killed with extra duties in the frontline no rest,no relief but John was determined to survive but spent many days/months/years imprisoned or on the run and all because of his loyalty to his Regiment and comrades.

Right is a newspaper cutting announcing Johns Military Medal and details of his friendship with other local youths from the Holytown area.

 

Military Medal Action 4457637 L/Sgt Albert Dunn 6th Durham.Light Inf

4457637 L/Sgt Albert Dunn The 6th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry

During the night attack on the night of 1st/2nd November after his platoon commander had been wounded, L/Sgt Dunn led his platoon throughout with great dash and enthusiasm .He himself set a fine example closing with the enemy and personally bayoneting three men. Throughout the action he kept his platoon under control although the advance was a long one and showed leadership of the highest order,

During the next night his platoon was so toughly organised that it was able to quickly overpower and destroy an 88mm Gun and tractor which drove into the Platoon lines.This was in great part due to the way L/Sgt Dunn had organised and controlled his platoon.

 Born in Sunderland, he was working in Pyrex glass factory before the War Once he was  called up he joined the 6th Battalion DLI. He was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery on the opening night of the Battle of El Alamein, when he led his Platoon "with great dash and enthusiasm, .

 On 11 August 1943, he was killed trying to defuse a booby-trapped mine on the road near Altarella in Sicily. Albert Dunn was buried in Catania War Cemetery in Sicily

 

4457637 Sgt Albert Dunn was selected to front the Salute the Soldier Campaign this photograph taken from `The Daily Sketch in April 1943 shows him with rifle and Pick Axe on his shoulder a typical `British Tommy`.


4455810 Pte Norman Flynn 8th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry

4455810 Private Norman Flynn
8th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry


Norman Flynn was the son of Mr. and Mrs. O. Flynn of 10 Kepier Crescent, Durham,he was mobilised with 8th Battalion at the outbreak of the war; served in France, Belgium and after escaping as part of the BEF returned to England.Norman served in the  Middle East and is  presumed to have been taken prisoner in the retreat from Libya to Egypt,possibly wounded he  died as a prisoner of war in a field hospital in Benghazi, Libya, 31st  October 1942; Norman is buried in Tripoli Military Cemetery, Libya

Military Cross Action 4442194 RSM Arthur Page 6th Durham Light Inf

 Military Cross Action 4442194 RSM Arthur Page 6th Durham Light Infantry

On the 27th June 1942 RSM Page  was in charge of a platoon under the command  of Captain R M Ovenden who was commanding a composite company ordered to hold the escarpment at BIR HAMAN as an outpost position.

At about1830hrs the position was attacked and although only commanding a mixed platoon which included clerks, RSM Page put such heart into them  that the two rear sections held on doggedly after the forward one had been captured. With the armoured cars within 150 yards range he repeatedly stood up and sniped at them as the commanders, kept on trying to open their turrets. Later working around to the right he brought an abandoned two pounder gun into action and personally knocked out a self propelled gun. He also put the enemy commanders car out of action and killed the officer. A large number of papers and maps were taken from the car.

Although wounded in the leg at the beginning of the action nobody was aware of the fact until after the operation. During the whole period I consider he showed personal disregard for danger and that it was largely down to his personality and courage that the position was held

...........Lt Colonel C R Battiscombe Commanding 6th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry

On the 2nd November 1942 during the El Alamein offensive the 6th DLI were taking heavy fire RSM Page along with Sgt Bramwell went forward with others from HQ Company and cleared the German Machine Gun Posts with the point of their Bayonets the survivors were sent back as Prisoners of War a heavy German barrage wounded the RSM in the leg  as he tried to reach Pte Clough who had been hit His wounds were tended by Cpl Davies ,the stretcher bearer (Medical Officer Captain J Gibson and Medical Sergeant Fairley having both been killed) The group were convinced that the position they occupied would soon be the site of the Battalion headquarters however at first light it was found they were less than forty metres from the German positions with little cover and under almost constant sniper fire the group survived to midday when the brave RSM was shot dead by a sniper Sgt Bramwell and Pte Clough remained at the position until they eventually  found an opportunity to slip away.

4442194 Arthur PAGE. (Military Cross) Warrant Officer Class1. (R.S.M.) , 6th Durham Light Infantry died according to the CWGC on the 2nd November 1942 however it appears this may have occurred on the 3rd November 1942 aged 39 He was the son of William and Elizabeth and husband of Doris Harriet of Drill Hall, 16, Croft Street, Crook, County Durham. He is at rest in El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt. XXIII. F. 8..


The bleak desert grave of Arthur Page Regimental Sergeant Major of the 6th Durham Light Infantry he was reburied at El Alamein War Cemetery on the 12th July 1943 from the grave concentration NZ/GR/HO/255

Military Cross Action 164872 (T)Capt Geoffrey Bartlett Beattie 9th DLI

164872 (T)Captain Geoffrey Bartlett Beattie 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry

on November 2nd during an attack by the Company under my command on the German positions between the 300-301 grid line this officer showed throughout the operation the greatest personal courage,leadership and initiative.
He attacked,single handed with the bayonet,a dug in tank by which an Italian was standing ,forcing the remainder of the crew to surrender and so undoubtedly saved an already depleted force further casualties.
His leadership and iniative in dealing with numourous strong points was an inspiration to all who saw him throughout the operation.
He set a fine example of Bravery and disregard of his own safety.(Operation Supercharge El Alamein)

Photograph of Geoffrey Bartlett Beattie taken in 1941 displayed here by kind permission of his Grandson David

Military Medal Action 4460624 Cpl Stanley Lishman 6th Durham.L.Inf

 4460624 Corporal Stanley Lishman The 6th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry

Cpl Lishman was NCO in charge of four stretcher bearers travelling with the Battalion HQ and the Medical Officer at the rear of the battalion in the attack on the night of November 1st/2nd.Many casualies were brought back from the forward companies for the MO to deal with.While these were being attended to the medical officer and the medical orderly Sergeant were killed by very heavy Machine Gun fire.With complete disregard for his own safety Cpl Lishman continued to attend to wounded and with the help of others moved them back out of the fixed lines of fire.At first light he obtained a truck and took the wounded to the Advanced Dressing Stationsubsequently reporting to battalion HQ which was then established well forward about mid-day.During the afternoon the battalion suffered casualties from heavy shelling and Cpl Lishman continued to attend the wounded .On one occasion going forward in a carrier to badly wounded in the forward companies and bringing them back.Cpl Lishman`s actions were responsible for saving many lives in the battalion and his conduct throughout was of the highest order.


Military Medal Action 4460708 Pte Charles William Swatten 9th DLI

 4460708 Pte C W Swatten The 9th Durham Light Infantry

 Area of El Alamein.This man is a company stretcher bearer and was attached to No 12 platoon for the attack on November 2nd 1942 on the area 300-301 grid lines.
During the operation this man was a prisoner for two hours gaining valuable information about a counter attack and the layout of enemy positions-He escaped then decided to go back and try to obtain a marked map of whose existance he was aware.He was unsuccessful in this but succeded in escaping again by pretending to look for German wounded.
Subsequently on return to the platoon he performed numerous deeds of gallantry in bringing in and attending to our own and enemy wounded,under heavy mortar fire-at all time showing a complete disregard of his own safety.
He set a fine example of brave and unselfish devotion to duty to all who saw him.
He was finally severely wounded in the execution of his duty,after giving his slit trench up to a wounded man whom he was attending.


Military Medal Action 4464185 A/Cpl Joseph William Young 9th D.L.I

 4464185 Pte (A/Cpl) Joseph William Young 9th Durham Light Infantry

 Area of El Alamein.Cpl Young throughout the action conducted himself with conspicious bravery and great determination.
On one occasion he approached an enemy tank and singlehand and regardless of personal  danger compelled the crew to surrender.
On another occasion when his section was fired on by a trench full of Germans he advanced and standing above them raked the trench with Tommy gun fire killing the Germans.

Military Medal Action 5046992 A/Cpl Patrick Bernard Jordan 9th DLI

 5046992 A/Cpl Patrick Bernard Jordan The 9th Durham Light Infantry

During the attack on November 2nd on the German positions between the 300 & 301 grid lines this NCO showed courage iniative and leadership of the highest order.
He led his section throughout the operation with a complete disregard of his own safety and by his example encouraged and inspired all those near him.
His individual actions in the encountering of  all enemy strong points with speed and the maximum of offensive action were mainly responsible for thesmallness of our own casualties in the area.
After capturing and consolidating the final objective he volunteered and came on a  small recce party 500x into the enemy lines showing great coolness and personal disregard for danger.He was always the first man of his section to attack enemy strong points and gave his platoon a fine example to work under. 

Military Medal Action 1857292 SJT.F.C.D'AUVERGNE. 6th DURH.L.I

1857292 Sgt Frank Columbia D`Auvergne 6th Durham  Light .Infantry

During the night attack made by the battalion on the early morning of November2nd 1942 Sgt D`Auvergne was with `A` Company as Platoon Sgt of No 7 Platoon
During the advance the platoon was temporarily held up by heavy fire from a dug in tank.An attempt to stalk it was unsuccesful and the platoon forced to withdraw a short distance.Having got behind a low ridge Sgt D`Auvergne shouted "This is no good! Give me that Bren!"He seized a Bren Gun and ran forward fifty yards where he took up a fire position and brought accurate fire to bear on the bank from an exposed position.He kept the gun in action until he was seriously wounded but his action caused the crew to withdraw and abandon the tank.The platoon then continued their advance made possible by Sgt D`Auvergne`s action
.

Military Cross Action 164870 2/Lieutenant (a/Capt) F. L. Cole 6th DLI

 Military Cross 164870 2/Lieut (a/Capt) Frederick Levens Cole 6th Durham Light Infantry

In the Gazala area on the 30th May 1942 with his section carriers and with his own great initiative and daring he attacked an enemy convoy capturing one lorry complete with driver and stores and at the same time completely destroying two others. He also shot up a further two lorries full of Infantry . Earlier during the same day he had captured another lorry. There is no doubt that this successful operation was carried through so well by all ranks of his carriers entirely through his leadership.

Next day about 17 Armoured vehicles of the enemy prevented further raids these vehicles occupied the intervening high ground. Captain Cole was ordered to try and drive the opposition off with the section of carriers.4 Anti tank guns and one section of Machine guns. With great dash he took his party to a flank and up onto the high ground bringing all the weapons he had into action with great speed. The fire of the enemy was too great and he was compelled to withdraw but not before he had been severely wounded and his driver killed. Finding that he could not get his driver out of the drivers seat he held the dead mans leg onto the accelerator and steered the carrier himself until an artillery O.P came to his assistance and drove the carrier in.

Military Medal Action 4455641 Pte James Edward Coglan 6th Durh.L.Inf

 4455641 Pte James Edward Coglan The 6th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry

Between the 27th May and 14th June 1942 a small column provided by the Battalion supported by other arms was carrying out harrassing operations against the Enemy.Pte Coglan was a driver of an anti-tank gun portee in the newly formed anti tank platoon of the battalion.On the last day a small force comprising one section of carriers,four detachments of anti tank guns,of which Pte Coglans was one, and a section of Machine Guns was ordered to attempt to dislodge a force of approximately 17 armoured cars from a high feature which had been used as an O.P by the column.This small force made a dash for the enemy,but being hopelessly outnumbered were compelled to withdraw-it was noticed that another gun had received a direct hit and that the driver was lying seriously wounded on the ground clear of his vehicle.Although under heavy machine gun fire at the time Pte Colgan ran over to the wounded man,carried him to his own vehicle and then drove to safety.Pte Colgan`s action showed a complete disregard for danger.Again in action in the ALAMEIN line in July he showed the same courage and set a wonderful example by his coolness and daring spirit to the other members of the Anti-tank platoon.

Distinguished Conduct Medal Action 4034189 Cpl C R Haseley 6DLI

4034189 Corporal (A/Sgt) Charles Reginald Haseley, 6th Bn. Durham Light Infantry

During the Battalion attack on the night 1st/2nd November when a gap was formed in enemy lines, 'D' Company was Right Forward Company of the Battalion. No.4034189 Corporal Haseley, C.R. was in command of No.3 Section of 16 Platoon and during this attack and throughout the entire action his dash and personal leadership were most outstanding. When the Company came under fire of fixed lines from enemy MG's Cpl. Haseley, with complete disregard to his own safety moved about among the men of his own platoon, leading them through and giving them encouragement by his own personal example

Two enemy dug in M.13 Tanks which had been holding up the advance a short while previously were rapidly engaged and once again Cpl. Haseley lead his section with great dash, and himself killed the crews of both tanks. Immediately afterwards Cpl. Haseley gave chase to a third M.13 tank. Cpl. Haseley was responsible for taking many prisoners during the advance and whilst the Company was consolidating the position gained he led his section forward searching the ground and bringing in two more prisoners. His leadership was of the very highest order


Killed in Action 29th June 1942

 

 

The original grave marker of six soldiers of the 9th Durham Light Infantry killed in Action on June 29th 1942. They lie, still, together today in a collective grave alongside  William Bridgewood Thompson who is not named on the marker above. 

BEAUMONT, CHARLES
Rank: Private
Service No:4456597
Date of Death:29/06/1942
Age:22
Regiment/Service: Durham Light Infantry 9th Bn.
Grave Reference: Coll. grave IX. G. 22.
Cemetery: EL ALAMEIN WAR CEMETERY
Additional Information: Son of Charles and Isabella Beaumont, of 7 Hexham Old Road, Ryton on Tyne, Co. Durham

BURRELL, JOHN (above)
Rank: Private
Service No:4459163
Date of Death:29/06/1942
Age:24
Regiment/Service: Durham Light Infantry 9th Bn.
Grave Reference: Coll . grave IX. G. 22.
Cemetery: EL ALAMEIN WAR CEMETERY
Additional Information: Son of J. T. and Emily Burrell, of  7 Dunelm Road, Thornley, Co. Durham.

BELL, CLASPER
Rank: Private
Service No:4445711
Date of Death:29/06/1942
Age:34
Regiment/Service:Durham Light Infantry 9th Bn.
Grave Reference:Coll. grave IX. G. 22.
Cemetery:EL ALAMEIN WAR CEMETERY                                                           
Additional Information ;-Son of James and Isabella Bell, brother of Margaret and Bernard Bell.4 Holly St Felling Durham born Dunston nr Whickham in the Parish of Heworth.

ORMSTON, NORMAN
Rank:Corporal
Service No:4455880
Date of Death:29/06/1942
Age:22
Regiment/Service:Durham Light Infantry 9th Bn.
Grave Reference:Coll. grave IX. G. 22.
Cemetery:EL ALAMEIN WAR CEMETERY
Additional Information:Son of Thomas and Mary Ellen Ormston, of Low Fell, Gateshead, Co. Durham.

PRICE, ALBERT PERCIVAL
Rank:Private
Service No:4037375
Date of Death:29/06/1942
Age:30
Regiment/Service:Durham Light Infantry 9th Bn.
Grave Reference:Coll. grave IX. G. 22.
Cemetery:EL ALAMEIN WAR CEMETERY
Additional Information:Son of Albert and Gertrude May Price; husband of Margaret Jane Price, of Blaenavon, Monmouthshire

SMITH, JOHN ROBERT
Rank:Private
Service No:4454689
Date of Death:29/06/1942
Age:25
Regiment/Service:Durham Light Infantry 9th Bn.
Grave Reference:Coll. grave IX. G. 22.
Cemetery:EL ALAMEIN WAR CEMETERY
Additional Information:Son of Ralph Smith, and of Maria Smith, of Gateshead, Co. Durham

THOMPSON, WILLIAM BRIDGEWOOD
Rank:Private
Service No:4463837
Date of Death:29/06/1942
Age:27
Regiment/Service:Durham Light Infantry 9th Bn.
Grave Reference:Coll. grave IX. G. 22.
Cemetery:EL ALAMEIN WAR CEMETERY
Additional Information:Son of George and Ada Thompson, of South Shields, Co. Durham.

The Battle for Mareth and the Wadi Zigzaou

In March 1943, the Eighth Army frontally assaulted the strong fortifications of what was known as The Mareth Line in what was code named Operation `Pugilist`. The three battalions of the Durham Light Infantry which made up 151 Brigade of the 50th Infantry Division penetrated the Line near Zarat but were driven back by the Germans on 22 March 1943.Many Durham`s were cut off for awhile before they eventually fought their way out .


 Earlier reconnaissance had shown that the Mareth Line could be outflanked. A force could pass through the southern Matmata Hills, reach the Tebaga Gap from the west and pass on to the coastal plain behind the Mareth Line. Whilst the 50th Division provided a frontal attack a second attack which became known as the "New Zealand left hook" took place at  the same time as they advanced  around the Matmata Hills.
The attack was held up by Axis units at the Tebaga Gap from 21–24 March. Montgomery sent the 1st Armoured Corps to reinforce the Tebaga Gap combined this with another frontal attack ` Operation Supercharge 2` on 26th March 1943 this combined operations  made the Mareth line untenable for the Axis armies but the 1st Italian Army escaped encirclement and retreated to The Wadi  Akarit, 37 miles to the north. This is a basic summary of the operations at Mareth but it is all the detail I will add to this section as I wish to concentrate once again on the DLI contribution and the acts of individual Durham light Infantrymen whose actions provided the Battle Honour of `Mareth` to the Regimental Colours. As the operation ended on the March 31st 1943 the British casualties were estimated at over 4,000.

The fortifications of the Mareth Line  followed the line of Wadi Zigzaou, a natural tank obstacle with steep banks rising up to 70 feet  the north-west side had been fortified by the French in the 1930`s and subsequently reinforced again by the Axis forces following their defeat at El Alamein.

6th Durham Light infantry `Mareth`

 The role of the 6th Durham Light infantry in the battle of Mareth on the night of 20th March 1943 was one of grat importance they were to advance through both the 8th and 9th DLI to penetrate deep into the enemies defences"D" Company under the leadership of Captain G L Wood would lead crossing the Zigzaou directly oppoosite Ouerzi,attacking any enemy formations found there and capturing Ouerzi Ouest which would see a planned advance of some 12-1500 yards beyond the current positions."A" Company under Major Ovenden and "C" Company under Major Eardley-Wilmot would be tasked to cross at this same point on the Zigzaou but move beyond "C" Company and capture Ouerzi Est situated around another 1000 yards beyond Ouerzi.
On the night of the attack (20/03/1943)  the mudflat or SEBKRET near the Zigzaou was found to have a narrow track through it which the DLI soldiers quickly named  "Durham Road" it was along this narrow track that the 6th DLI advanced .Long lines of men snaked through the darkness , no more than a thin narrow column, white tapes warned them of the close proximity of the enemies minefields as they wound their way silently towards the forming up point at Chet Meskine.
At Chet Meskine the advance troops of 6th DLI found utter chaos the forming up point was overflowing with men an vehicles from lots of different units the collapse once again of the fascine crossing points which had prevented the 8th and 9th DLI vehicles from crossing now prevented the 6th DLI from even reaching the forming up point. The 6th DLI strung out across "Durham Road" could not advance neither could they go back. The order was quickly given that the men were to lie down flat where they were not an easy task for the tightly compacted column ,most of whom were still in the minefields! The British barrage in  support of the attack went ahead as planned and on time even though most of the men they were supporting had yet to reach even the forming up area. This was met with retalitary fire from the enemy which fell amongst the ranks of the 6th DLI lying in the open under a full moon in the minefields which the enemy were now using to co-ordinate their fire. The battalion casualties began to mount there was no where to go ,the mines began to explode with the shellfire and the tapes marking the safe paths were blown away. For over two hours the 6th DLI lay in the minefields and exposed slopes some men broke under the strain but from this came tales of great heroisim Sgt Joseph Wear recalled one unknown DLI soldier who got up and led the men around him out of the minefield whilst singing the "Blayden Races" when you heard the song you followed he recalled. It was not until 2300hrs that the column began to move slowly forward again the head of the column still 300 yards away from the forming up area. At 02;45hrs on the morning of the 21st March after being under intense shellfire for over five hours the battalion were so far behind schedule  it was now decided that it was too late for the battalion to put in an attack and they were withdrawn from the line with a revised plan formulated for the night of the 21st March 1943

Photograph, from a magazine, of soldiers of The Durham Light Infantry at a regimental aid post on the Wadi Zigaou during the Battle of Mareth, taken in Tunisia, March 1943 Identified soldiers are: - (1) Corporal Lishman (2) Captain D. Rumney, Royal Army Medical Corps (3) Sergeant Davis (4) The Reverend A. Garbutt (5) Corporal Worthington (6) Lance-Corporal Richards (7) Lance-Corporal Montgomery (8)Private Brown (9) Private Green

 The revised plan gave the 6th Durham Light infantry a new set of objectives these were Ouerzi Ouest and Zarat Sudest the batalion commanders met with the CO of the 9th DLI Lt Colonel A B Clarke who briefed them as best he could in relation to suitable crossing points and known snipers posts the 9th DLI also supplied a guide to "C" Company under Eardley-Wilmot who were detailed as lead company. "C" Company would be followed by "A" Company with "D" Company bringing up the rear once on their objectives it was planned to fire off a very pistol.
This time there was no repeat of the delays suffered during the previous night "C" Company pressed on through the Wadi but suffered several casualties due to mines and the constant cries of "Stretcher bearers" rang out through the night air. Pressing on communication was hampered with the wireless sets destroyed in the intense shelling  and the telephone lines were constantly broken. The signallers suffered horrendous casualties Sgt Wear witnessed two signallers who stopped to transfer a radio set between them and a shell landed between them and the two men simply disappeared in front of his eyes. Headquarters Company set up battalion HQ in the former Italian dugouts which had been cleared previously by the 9th DLI communication was now in the hands of `Battalion runners` many of whom simply `dissappeared` in the shelling.


`A` Company fired their Very pistol to signal their objectives had been seized this was confirmed by Lieutenant Sandwith who had been wounded and evacuated to the Regimental Aid Post. `D` Company it was assumed had reached Zarat Sudest but their condition and status could not be determined "C" Company who had led the battalion were deemed as `Lost` their wearabouts were unknown.
Unbeknown to the battalion `C` Company had lost a number of men after they inadvertidly attached themselves to `A` Company at the very start of the attack no 17 platoon under Lieutenant R E DeBlabey (Pictured below right) were decimated with the Lieutenant himself falling mortally wounded, No 13 platoon under Eardly-Wilmot were halfway between Ouerzi Ouest and Zarat Sudest when he gave an order to Lieutenant A R W Maddox for him and the men to lie flat and he would scout ahead. Maddox found that lying in the open whilst the enemy shelled them was most disagreeable and led his men into the nearby Italian trench system where he his platoon Serjeant and three men used grenades on a machine gun nest killing two members of a the crew and destroying the gun.
Ahead of 13 platoon men from `B` Company under Captain Chapman had overun another German machine gun nest and reached  Zarat Sudest it had been just ahead of this position that Lieutenant Sandwith and another man from `A` Company had been wounded prior to their evacuation to the Regimental Aid Post . It was here that Eardly-Wilmot had arrived after leaving his platoon on his scouting mission.Unfortunately Eardly-Wilmot was shot through the neck by a sniper and during an attempt to evacuate him he was hit again and killed. Lieutenant Maddox and his men went forward when Eardly-Wilmot failed to return and met up with Captain Chapman and another officer believed to be Lieutenant Atherton .
Other stragglers were rounded up and together with some lightly wounded soldiers formed a makeshift force under Captain G T Lindren who led them on an assault on Ouerzi Ouest on their arrival they found the positions empty having been evacuated by the enemy earlier in the action.
`D` Company who had been delayed were progressing by compass bearing when a shell fell amongst their No1 Platoon who were operating to the left of Company HQ the platoon commander,CSM and all of the signallers becoming casualties.Their place in the line was taken by the reserve platoon who were rushed forwards. Advancing steadily the Company found their objective just North of Zarat Sudest was surrounded by barbed wire but Captain Wood ordered his men on and into the trench system where they found the Italian defenders had fled the night before and their German replacements had not yet become accustomed to the unfamiliar maze of trenches.
Captain Wood and his force of about 60 men a mixture of `A` and `D` Companies set about organising a defensive perimiter they were joined by Major Ovenden of `A` Company (who assumed command of the mixede force) together with Lieutenant Dorman (17 platoon) and Lieutenant Burdett and a force of mixed other ranks. An enemy machine gun post was located a hundred yards away and was now a constant threat to the Durham`s new position. Lieutenant Dorman attempted to storm the post but was shot through the head and seriously wounded ,an action for which he was awarded an MC. Lieutenant Issacs of `A` Company made another attempt rushing the post with grenades he was shot and killed in the attempt. The gun was eventually destroyed by accurate 2" mortar fire and its fleeing crew killed by fire from the forces Bren Guns.
The captured trench system at Zarat Sudest were a complicated maze of deep trenches and gun pits built to cover the front of the Mareth Line but for the men of the DLI attacking from east to west it offered nothing in the way of advantagous positioning or cover and accurate shellfire and even more accurate sniper fire took a steady toll of the attacking Durham`s
`A` and `D` Companies had no means of communication and despite repeated attempts by runners including Serjeant French who was repeatedly forced back no confirmation was delivered but given the confused situation it was unlikely anyone could state for sure if the actual positions they occupied were the intended objectives!
Throughout the assault there were a significant amount of wounded and very little in the way of medical supplies,no bandages,no morphine and no hope of evacuation. Pte O`Keefe set up a makeshift aid post in the bottom of the trench system,sandbags for pillows and a collection of the enemies greatcoats (in addition to those given freely by their comrades) were used for makeshift blankets to provide a little warmth from the cold night air.
Despite the swirling dust that clogged their weapons , in particular the Bren Guns many of which many were reduced to single shot only, the objectives had in the main been secured. On the 22nd March 1943 the 9th DLI although decimated held their objectives likewise 8th DLI held Ouerzi whilst the 6th DLI had penetrated through their lines and secured Ouest and Sudest but the cost had been high and the decision not to send over the Brigades 6 pounders was a mistake which would ensure that any strong counterattack with tanks could not be halted.The brigehead had been extended 1200yards deep and 800 yards wide acts of valour were plentiful Serjeant Hasley earned a MM to compliment his DCM won at El Alamein  Private James Hudson of `C` Company had won a military Medal also.
The Regimental Aid Post ran by Captain Rumney within the Wadi Zigzaou was kept very busy staffed Rumney and Padre Captain A Garbutt and 3 NCOs they performed sterling work with very little chance of resupply digging out the sides of the Wadi in a bid to provide what cover they could for the wounded in their charge..Serjeant Bert Davies was in charge of the stretcher bearers and busied himself by visiting each of his men and rallying them despite being under accurate shell and sniper fire he was awarded a Military Medal for his efforts.No ambulances arrived until March 22nd in the meantime two lorries carrying fascines for the crossing points were commandeered to transport some of the wounded out of the battle area.
Captain Kirby of `S` Company was continuously frustrated by the Brigadiers insistance that the Tanks be given priority over his carriers at the flimsy crossing points.Kirby was anxiously aware that there needed to be a concerted  effort to supply the forward companies who were now short of ammunition and food. He busied himself with the task of ferrying what medical supples and food he could find to the RAP at the Wadi. On the 22nd March Kirby was given the okay to get his carriers across  but this was met with limited success as mortar carriers got bogged down on the deep mud of the crossing areas.


The expected German counterattack came at around 1230hrs and concentrated at Ouerzi Ouest where the remnants of `C` Company were positioned under the command of Lieutenant Atherton of 14 Platoon ably assisted by Sergeant Major Watts. The valiant Valentines despite an heroic effort to halt the German Panzers lay blackened and smouldering on the battlefield their brave crews dead or made prisoner. The German Infantry had forced a path between Ouerzi Ouest and Zarat Sudest and would soon completely encircle the men of `C` Company. Ammunition was low and Ptes Harry Wilkinson and 5443068 George Guy Spendlove were sent back to search for ammunition they returned as far back as the Wadi where Rumney had the RAP and whilst Pte Spendlove searched for ammunition Wilkinson went forwarded with another man and a stretcher to search for any wounded lying in the open. The trip was cut short after Wilkinsons partner himself became a casualty and Wilkinson was forced to return carrying his wounded companion with him.Pte Spendlove had found some ammunition and the pair started back not knowing that `C` Company positions had now been completely overun. The shelling was intense and both men were forced to lie flat on the ground Wilkinson slipped off his webbing and pack and crawled into a hollow a voice out of the darkness said "Christ I thought you two buggers had been shot ! Leave the ammunition theres no need of it now and get the hell out of here!" It was a Sergeant from `C` Company and a few men who had escaped the encirclement. Wilkinson paused to pick up his webbing and pack but when he turned the Sergeant and small group were gone in their place advancing bayonets fixed were a group of German Infantry ,Wilkinson didnt require telling a second time and took off through the darkness after the Sergeant and the small group,the tapes marking the minefield were now long gone but Wilkinson was aware of a group of men ahead to his left who were picking their way gingerly through the minefield suddenly there was a huge explosion mines or shells he didnt know but whatever the ordanance it had the desired effect of blowing the group to pieces with body parts littering the area .Wilkinsons luck held he made it through the minefield so did Pte Spendlove`s on this occasion (Sadly Pte Spendlove was killed later in Normandy 14th June 1944).
With `C` Company gone this left the Battalion Headquarters isolated and in danger of being overrun  Lieutenant Colonel Watson (Pictured below right) took the decision to move his HQ to the Anti tank ditch where on arrival  He found Lieutenant Colonel Clarke of the 9th DLI whose Company had also been overan at Ouerzi Est together they set up a joint HQ within the ditch.
`D` Company had made good progress in moving their wounded out of the front line and had prepared their positions ready for the expected counterattack however they had received word from the signals officer Lieutenant Wedgewood  that should things become untenable then they had the option of falling back to the Anti Tank ditch.A meeting with Lieutenant Wheatley of the 8th DLI revealed his Company on the flank of `D` Company had already withdrawn leaving `D` Company open to attack .The decision was made to withdraw to the Anti Tank ditch where they found not only Lieutenant Wheatleys men but the remnants of the companies from all three of the DLI battalions!
A and D Company survivors who had banded together with men from Ian Daws Mortar Platoon were saddened to learn that there CO Major Ovenden had been shot and killed by a sniper as he attempted to carry the last box of ammunition back to his groups position on the left flank. As the soldiers of the DLI took stock of their situation news came through that they were going to attack again to regain the positions they had just left! Thankfully the Brigadier refused to sanction the plan realising there was nothing further to be gained by sacrificing what remained of the Durham brigade. The enemy had been seriously weakened and had commited their reserves in order to mount the counterattack there would be no supprises in store for the Newzealanders who were at this time swinging around the rear of the Axis positions. The Durhams were ordered out of the line.Unfortunately this order was not received by two companies ,one from the 8th DLI and the combined company of 6th DLI`s `A` and `D` Company under Captain Wood. With no ammunition they were forced to fix bayonets and fight their way out of the Anti Tank ditch through the uncleared minefields and under heavy shelling resulting in even more horrendous casualties amongst the Durhams ranks. Never the less the survivors cleared the ditch and returned to their own lines . The battalion lost 16 Officers and 180 other ranks killed,wounded and missing.


Durham Light Infantry wounded following the Mareth battle the soldier on the right is also featured on the Section `Do you remember me?` he is soldier `Durham 38`. The photograph above is a well known one the one below showing `4` wounded ..not so well known.

 

On the 26th /27th March the battalion lost Lieutenant J E Bell who stepped on a mine as his patrol watched for any indication that the Germans were pulling out. Lieutenant Fenner who had joined `C` Company just after the battle remarked on how his Company ,which were in 1940 a truely `Durham` battalion , now found themselves a mixture of men from all over the British Isles (and beyond!) his Platoon (13) consisted of Two Guernsey men,Two londoners,Charlie Elson and Pte Whitwell,Two from Liverpool Dickenson and Scott ,Corporal Connel was from Birmingham.Pte Walters was a Welshman whilst Moffatt,Richie,Todd,Bowers and Cummings were from Durham. Such were the horrendous casualties inflicted on just this one DLI battalion.

 

Military Medal Action 2987473 Pte James Dougan 6th Durham L.Inf

2987473 Pte James Dougan 6th Durham Light Infantry

During the action around the area of OUERZI in the MARETH defences on the 22nd and 23rd March Private Dougan showed outstanding bravery while driving his carrier in support of the defenders of the Anti Tank ditch in that area. In the action ammunition began to run short and time and time again he drove his carrier through the gap in the Wadi  Zigzaou  amid terrific small arms and artillery fire, to bring up Mortar and S.A Ammunition . The enemy had this gap well ranged and was continually shelling and machine gunning this area. The way across the Wadi was difficult and many times his carrier was stuck in the very soft ground . In those circumstances he was very cool and each time got his carrier going again. Pte Dougan drove his carrier back through the Wadi and brought up an Anti Tank Gun into action against the enemy. When our troops were forced to withdraw he saved an Anti Tank Gun from falling into enemy hands by towing it out behind his carrier. His courage crossing and re-crossing the Wadi was of the  very highest order.

James Dougan originally enlisted in The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders prior to joining the Durham`s and was from Ayr.

Military Medal Action  6026302 Pte Walter William Capon 6th DLI

6026302 Pte Walter William Capon 6th Durham Light Infantry

During the actions against the enemy  from the 20th March to the 22nd ,this man was outstanding in all that he did. His mortar carrier was attached to the left hand Company of the battalion which at the time was holding the line of the anti tank ditch of the Mareth defences, to support their fire and neutralise snipers. This sector had no cover and after a short while Pte Capon was hit by a 20MM shell burst. He was wounded in the head and back but continued to carry out his duties as a gun number until he fainted due to loss of blood. His outstanding courage was an example of the highest order.

Cpl Walter William Capon was from Braintree in Essex where he lived with his wife Lily at Witham Road, Braintree. Subsequently promoted to Sergeant he served with the battalion in North West Europe following the D-Day Landings. Walter originally enlisted into the Essex Regiment prior to joining the Durham`s

8th Durham Light Infantry `Mareth`

 The orders for the assault on Mareth were relayed on March 19th 1943.the 9th DLI had the task of capturing Ksiba Ouest on the right of 151 brigades attack whilst 8th DLI took Ouerzi and a strong point known as Little Ouerzi .Once the objectives were secure 50 Royal Tank Regiment were to cross the Wadi through two causeways which were to be constructed by the engineers the tanks were to be followed by the 6th DLI who would be expected to extend the bridgehead. Facing the Durham`s were The Young Fascist Division of the Italian Army who held the line behind these and strengthening the Italian Division were the 15th Panzer Division and men of The German 90th Light Division not to mention crack German paratroopers. If nothing else it was hoped the Durham`s attack would force the Germans into the fight allowing Montgomery`s outflanking movement access to the rear of the line.
The 8th Durham Light Infantry began their preparation  with battalion officers going forward to see the Mareth Line Defences for themselves (from a distance of course) The Wadi Zigzaou appeared to run the length of the defence line and was over thirty yards wide .The sheer sides of the Wadi made it almost impossible to pass but it had been reinforced with forts and strongpoints protected by barbed wire not too dissimilar to those found in the first world war. It was eerily quiet and bore no hint of the carnage that was shortly to follow.
Scorpion Flail tanks were to lead a way through the minefields but to cross the Wadi in the dark they would need a guide a single man on foot with a lantern. Who ever was chosen it was a death sentence, walking in-front of these clanking monsters would draw the fire of every enemy soldier and he would be illuminated by his own lantern! The man given this thankless task was Lieutenant W Douglas who had been up until that point the second in command of the 8th DLI Carriers.
On March 20th 1940 the 8th Durham Light Infantry reached their forming up point at around 2130hrs unfortunately a Royal Engineers truck nearby revved its engine loudly and the noise travelled across the still desert air it was answered almost immediately by a terrific barrage which destroyed the vehicle which burned fiercely illuminating the Infantryman who were assembled there. There were many wounded but mercifully none killed.
The 69th Brigade were into the attack first followed some thirty five minutes later by the 8th DLI who crouched behind the Scorpions which were led by the unfortunate Lieutenant Douglas and his lantern.
The 8th advanced over the ridge and down the steep slopes under intense fire from the enemy`s machine guns which were firing on well established fixed lines. The lumbering Scorpions were soon bogged down recent rain had turned the ground into a quagmire. In the temporary halt the men retrieved their scaling ladders from the Scorpions. Only 50 yards or so into the advance and C Company  lost two of its platoon Sergeants when Sergeant Martin and Sergeant Brown (13 and 14 Platoons) were seriously wounded along with three other soldiers from shellfire. after retrieving their ladders the men ,with considerable reluctance, moved forward again the reason for the reluctance was the shells which were now falling around them were British shells which were falling short of their intended targets. Progress was slow as the men were now wading through the muddy waters in the Wadi .
Lieutenant Shepherd was wounded on the banks of the Wadi  leaving him in a most exposed position but the rest of `A` Company could do little else than to wish him luck and head onwards towards the Anti Tank ditch where they found C Company . The plan now called for the two companies to split up `C` Company would head for `Little Ouerzi` with `A` Company heading for `Ouerzi` itself.
`A` Company advanced across a minefield the noise of battle drowned the sounds of the mine detectors and as a result several men were killed and wounded by exploding mines amongst the casualties was Captain Beattie his place in `a` Company being taken by Lieutenant Wheatley (right). The scaling ladders were placed across the ditch and the Company led by Wheatley scrambled across them. The advance onto the objective was slow and meticulous accurate machine gun and heavy artillery fire was taking its toll on the men. Nevertheless progress was made  and CSM G E Wood in the absence of the Companies officers many of whom were now casualties  organised the men into fighting groups once on top of the objective.
Sgt W Crawford a platoon Sergeant who had already won a Military medal for his bravery at El Alamein led an attack on the pill boxes after his officer had been killed on a mine. Despite the withering fire he led his men into the enemy trench system which connected three Pillboxes. One of Crawfords section leaders  4032841 Private David Dennis Michael together with No. 4041619 Private Walter Higginson (both former members of The King's Shropshire Light Infantry) joined him (Crawford) and together they succeeded in over running all three of the pillboxes in this section killing some of the defenders and routing the rest. unfortunately this was not the  overall scenario for some of the young facist`s had managed to hide themselves in the innermost part of the fort and secured themselves behind thick steel doors and concrete walls and for awhile `A` company had to be content with `sharing` the fort.
`C` Company in comparison to their comrades in `a` Company had met light resistance although they had lost a number of men in a minefield together with the Royal Engineers section who were detailed to clear them. Once across the ditch `C` Company fixed bayonets and fanned out into a charge fleeting glimpses of enemy soldiers were seen in the distance but none remained close enough to engage although the continuous shelling remained a problem with L/Cpl Brennan from 13 Platoon becoming a wounded casualty. Once on the objective the `success` signal was given but once again they were the victims of a British barrage which fell short. Lieutenant Johnson was taken back to the regimental aid post suffering from shell shock and a loss of memory . At the Regimental Aid Post it was discovered that Lieutenant Douglas the man with the lantern had miraculously survived but was wounded in his legs. Lieutenant  Douglas had reported that the Battalion CO 33709 Lieutenant Colonel Maver  Lyall Palmer Jackson (Right) and the battalion Intelligence Officer 189227 Lieutenant Thomas Alan Richardson (Thomas  Alan Richardson, known at home as Sonny, was a primary school teacher in Braunton, Devon from 1937. He was called up to the Devonshire Regiment in January 1940 and was in training with them in south Devon and Essex until embarkation leave in August 1942. He went to Aden via Cape Town in Convoy No.22 and was seconded to the 8th Battalion DLI, joining them after El Alamein in November 1942. In January 1943 he was made 8th Battalion Intelligence Officer Son of Arthur and Beatrice May Richardson, of Crediton, Devon) were seriously wounded with dozens of other wounded men on the exposed side of the Wadi which was currently being shelled by the enemy. Parties of stretcher bearers  were dispatched immediately but the wounded men could not be located it was later established they had both been killed in action.

Photographed below (left to right) Captain I Turnbull Killed in Action at El Alamein, Captain V T Bailey Killed in Action at Mareth and Major Lidwell who took over command of the Battalion following their losses at Mareth.


As the forward Companies pressed on `B` Company waited in reserve to go forward and join the attack (alongside `A` Company) but even in reserve they were still subject to heavy and deadly accurate machine gun fire. Such a burst of fire cut down and killed 259389 Lieutenant Vincent Thomas Bailey(Son of Fred and Louisa Mary Bailey, of Bridlington, Yorkshire.) who had only recently returned to the Company following a bout of Jaundice. Command of the Company now fell to Captain P J Lewis  who had just been told that it was almost certain that the battalion commander was  dead. Captain Lewis had no option but to lead his men forward as originally planned and meet up with `A` Company in the line but in order to cross Zigzaou they would have to cross the un-cleared minefield`s. It had been hoped that the Sappers attached to the forward companies would have created paths through but most of them had been killed and there was no engineers assigned to the reserve Company .In single file Lewis led his men on and initially their luck held Lieutenant Shepherd the `A` Company officer who had been left on the side of the Wadi after been wounded was found `alive` although he had been wounded again by shell fragments (He had dug himself into the ridge) Shepherd told Lewis what he could of `A` Companies progress but then came disaster 176813  Lieutenant Douglas William Pentney (Son of Charles and Fanny Pentney; husband of Ethel Nellie Pentney  207 Park Road Uxbridge) who had been leading one of the forward platoons stepped on a mine the resulting explosion killed him and the majority of the Company HQ personnel who were following on behind him. Lewis too was wounded by the blast. the enemy now fully alerted to `B` Companies position laid down a heavy concentrate of machine gun fire and 88714 Lieutenant John Foster Gedge who had just succeeded in crossing the Wadi was hit. As Gedge was lying in a most exposed position 4449955 Company Serjeant Major Matthew John Brannigan crawled forward to help the officer but was driven back by the heavy machine gun fire undeterred he crawled forward again and this time managed to pull the officer clear and carried him to a place of relative safety. Unfortunately it was too late for Lieutenant Gedge who had already succumbed to his wounds (Son of Edward Foster Gedge and Laura Gedge, of Durham. King's Scholar of Durham School. Lived at 23 The Avenue Durham His brother 14412000 Pte Edward Trevor Gedge also fell serving with the 11th DLI in June 1944).
`B` Company now found themselves with only 1 fit officer Lieutenant J Randall who helped by CSM Brannigan gathered the platoons together and moved them forward the wounded had to be left behind once again and as before the enemy took the opportunity to shell the area with no cover and no means of escape as the barrage lifted it was doubtful that any of the wounded could have survived. With what remained of the rifle companies now on their objectives Lieutenant Hampson brought his mortar carriers together and aided by Serjeant Mitchell they edged forward to the slopes of the Wadi Zigzaou one carrier was hit almost immediately by artillery fire but the others inched on until Hampson and Mitchells carrier struck a mine and was completely destroyed. Miraculously both men were relatively unscathed but it made Hampson realise that to continue would most certainly result in the destruction of the entire Carrier section. He made the decision to unload the carriers, send them back ,then attempt to make contact with the forward companies on foot but no sooner had the carriers left then they were literally pinned to the desert floor by withering accurate machine gun fire. In this situation it was impossible to go forwards so a further decision was made to withdraw back to the area of Company HQ a journey which took over two hours most of it completed crawling on their belly`s.
Next morning at first light Major K Kershaw assumed temporary command of the Battalion and he ordered the Machine guns of The Cheshire Regiment (`A` Company) forward in support of `A` Company` 8th DLI a feat which was successfully achieved by manhandling their heavy machine guns across both the Wadi and Anti Tank ditches. The anticipated Axis counterattack at dawn never materialised and the focus of the enemy`s attention had now switched to the Royal Engineers teams who were frantically laying brushwood fascines to enable a path or causeway across the uneven and wet terrain of the Wadi which would be used by 50RTR to move their armour across. The task was completed despite the difficult conditions and being hampered by the accurate fire directly upon them and 50RTR rolled forward .Disaster struck after only two tanks had crossed the third tank smashed through the fascines blocking the causeway and preventing not only the tanks behind getting across but the 8th and 9th DLI battalions Mobile support Carriers, Anti Tank Guns indeed any form of wheeled transport could no longer pass. The situation was now verging on Critical.
`A` and `B` Companies sitting on their objectives had lost over a third of their strength and with only Lieutenant Wheatley (`A` Company) and Lieutenant Randall (B Company) left from the original officers the decision was made to amalgamate the remnants into one new company confident that they would, together, be able to fight off any enemy counterattack. Unfortunately unbeknown to the new composite company the counterattack had already began with enemy troops infiltrating back into the trench system and reoccupying the three Pillboxes which had previously been cleared. Serjeant Crawford, Pte Michael and Pte Higginson who had been so instrumental in clearing these strongpoints in the initial attack stepped up once again to force the enemy out not once but time and time again. It was impossible due to their `few` numbers to permanently man these structures but neither could they afford to surrender them back to the enemy. For this and their previous displays of heroism all three men would be decorated for their bravery.
`C` Company on the right had seized the opportunity in a short lull to send some of their wounded back to the Regimental Aid Post under the care of Captain h welch who would also report on the state of the Company and enquire about the non arrival of the battalions transport. (The forward Companies having no knowledge of the fiasco developing at the crossing points). On his arrival at HQ Captain Welch found it too to be under an almost constant barrage a situation which had developed since first light and the battalions transport and carriers which were backed up at the crossing points were falling prey to the enemy`s shells. The RAP established by the medical officer Captain Noble was kept very busy indeed.
Major R P Lidwell returned to take command of the battalion and was briefed with the current situation. It was still the plan to push 6th DLI through 8th DLI  behind 50 RTR to increase the bridgehead (once the causeway was repaired) at the same time 9th DLI together with a Company from the East Yorks would fan out to broaden the bridgehead at its base.
Lieutenant Roberts of `C` Company reported movement ahead of him in about battalion strength these were engaged by Royal Artillery batteries but once again one of them were firing short and their shells were falling amongst the men of `C` Company. However the counterattack was smashed with over 250 prisoners taken many crossed into the British lines carrying British wounded they had picked up on the way. Captain English was reported to have thanked the Artillerymen for their support whilst tactfully neglecting to mention the rounds that had fallen short!
Phase two went ahead that night with 50 RTR managing to get their armour across followed by 6th DLI who came through the 8th DLI positions and advanced beyond and although the noise of battle ahead of them was clearly heard 8th DLI were unaware of what progress, if any, was being made. The time was used to take stock of the Company strengths `C` Company had 4 Officers and 64 other ranks remaining `A` and `B` Companies combined could muster 2 Officers and around 85 other ranks. It was expected that with the re-opening of the causeway that the forward companies would soon be reinforced with their support sections carriers and Anti Tank weapons however the recently repaired crossing was again made un-passable this time due to heavy rain which `drowned` the crossing area. The Companies again were without any support and this time there was no hope of getting the crossing open again.
News began to filter back in the early hours of the morning that the attack to increase the bridgehead had been only partially successful and as the morning drew on the usual high spirits of the men began to dampen with the growing certainty that the counterattack which was coming German with armour  would have to be faced without anti tank weapons.
As feared just after mid-day air reconnaissance  reported a concentration of over 75 Panzers with accompanying infantry presumably from the German 15th Panzer Division it was expected these would be backed up by the German 90th Division and crack paratroopers who were also known to be in the line. The rain which had drowned the crossing was now that heavy any hope of air support was also gone and the brigade would have to rely on the lightly armoured Valentine tanks of 50th RTR. At 1330hrs as the 8th DLI stood to the shells began to fall as the Germans prepared to `soften up` the DLI in the `A` and `B` composite company all of the Radio sets had been destroyed. 138730 Captain Peter Josher Arnold Lucas of the carrier section loaded his carrier with radio sets and batteries determined to get them through to the beleagued  Company he crossed the `impassable` Wadi negotiated the anti tank ditch and delivered his precious cargo, not content with this Lucas discovered the men were also very short on both rations and ammunition so he set off back, loaded up with stores and completed the hazardous journey again a feat for which he earned a Military Cross. At 1400hrs the Germans attacked the British positions and clawed back ground which had been won by the 6th and 9th DLI, less than 45 minutes later the Germans turned their attention to the 8th DLI positions Cpl Simpson called down Artillery support in a bid to deter the attackers.
The brave Valentines fought gallantly but all 32 were destroyed most of their crews were dead or captured and the Germans pressed onto Ouerzi with some Germans working around behind `A` and `B` Companies. The Germans used their tanks as cover with the panzer crews using their machine guns to cut down the Durham infantrymen infront of them, one German panzer was disabled with a grenade but it did little to slow their momentum.
In `C` Company positions Captain English was forced to call down a barrage onto his own positions as the German`s were that close it worked and the Germans were not only halted but forced to pull back.
In the composite companies area  the Germans who had penetrated behind Ouerzi were now in the trench system where bitter hand to hand fighting had broken out .Attack and counter attack occurred in quick succession with horrendous casualties on both sides but despite the Germans best efforts the positions at Ouerzi remained in British hands.


At Battalion a report was received from a runner from `C` Company that over 15 men from Lieutenant Roberts platoon were lying wounded on open ground but the intensity of the fighting prevented any sort of rescue attempt. At 1700hrs the German Panzers which had been driven back by Captain English`s artillery support were once again moving forward their Panzer Grenadiers following behind making it almost impossible for the DLI defenders  to shoot them down. The Company Serjeant Major`s Brannigan and Wood continuously rallied their men but the Panzers still kept coming  forward the first one on the DLI positions machine gunned the defenders then used its tracks to cave in a trench held by No14 Platoon forcing 5888957 Cpl (Acting L/Sgt) E C Holben and his surviving eight men to surrender.
CSM Ranson picked up a Bren Gun and together with another Bren gunner  forced the  Panzer Commanders back inside their machines and their fire was so devastating the Grenedier`s faulted in their advance. CSM Ranson was killed when a panzer shot shim through the forehead with its machine gun . The Panzers now employed a new tactic lowering their guns they blasted the Infantrymen in their slit trenches from point blank range. The battle was at a critical stage and it was felt that one last determined counter attack by the Germans would overwhelm the defenders but that attack did not materialise instead a German Officer called upon The Durham`s to surrender and their reply came in the form of bullets from their rifles and Brens. A German Panzer with German Infantry riding on the outside was greeted by Bren Fire by Pte Lewis who had picked up the fallen CSM Ranson`s weapon and was now putting it to good use. Ammunition was running low in the `C` Company positions but every bullet was put to good use.
Pte John Harnett who had been born in Upper Sans Street Sunderland remembered his friend 4457457 Cpl Harry (Henry) Pearson who had won a MM at Alamein and was mortally wounded at Mareth shot through the eye John did what he could but he died John Harnett (Died August 2015) recalled there were four or five Sunderland lads from the 8th all lying side by side. Henry Pearson the Son of John and Emma Pearson, of Sunderland, (4461239) Pte John Thomas Barraclough the son of Joseph and Elizabeth Ann Barraclough, of Sunderland,(44612770 Pte John Thomas Davis the son of Charles and Violet Davis, of Southwick, Sunderland, Co. Durham; grandson of Mrs. H. M. Bell, of Southwick and (4463781) Pte Jacob Robinson the son of Jacob and Mary Anne Robinson; husband of Florence Robinson, of Sunderland.
Unbeknown to `C` Company salvation was near `A` and `B` Company`s composite group had already received their orders they were to pull back to the relative safety of the Anti Tank ditch under the guidance of Serjeant Crawford and Pte Michael. `C` Company without a working radio received their orders via a battalion runner it was now pitch black and extraditing what was left of the Company was no easy task many of the wounded were brought out but some too badly injured to move were reluctantly left behind to join those of the battalion who had already fallen into enemy hands such as the unfortunate4454703 Serjeant E Morgan(13 platoon Serjeant C Company) and of course  L/Cpl Bainbridge who had been captured in 1940 but after a daring escape re-joined the DLI but was now known to have been recaptured during the lines defence. A head count on `C` Company revealed only 4 officers and 22 other ranks had made it out and it wasn`t over yet!
Lidwell briefed his men he planned to attack and regain the ground they had just been ordered to give up!  The Composite `A` and `B` Companies would support 9th DLI with the 6th DLI taking poor `C` Company under its wing, thankfully the madness was never put into practice Montgomery was happy that 15th Panzer had been drawn out into the battle and had suffered likewise the German paratroopers and light Division, he reinforced his outflanking force he did not need to sacrifice 50th Division further they could be withdrawn.
The order to withdraw went out but once again `C` Company did not receive it nor did elements of 6th DLI Captain English passed along the line expecting to speak with other British units what he found were German Panzer Grenadiers who after a short fire fight captured Captain English. When the order had came through the Company`s had been withdrawn and the Germans had moved forward to occupy their positions leaving around 50 men insitu and now completely surrounded. Captain Welch of `C` Company was unaware of what had befell Captain Ian English (left)but he knew something was amiss he gave orders to fix bayonets the only way out was through the Germans the DLI charged and their momentum carried them through the German ranks there were casualties many falling victim to Anti personnel mines. The steep banks of the Wadi Zigzaou had only two exits and both were covered by the enemies machine guns Escape for many involved lying amongst the dead until nightfall in the hope of slipping away and for those lucky enough to succeed the Division had pulled back beyond its original position and the survivors faced a trek under fire from both sides wary of any movement in what was now no mans land.
On march 24th 1943 they were out of the line casualties had been severe and their individual objectives not held but in a battle of attrition the operation on a whole had been a success.

 

 

Military Medal Action 3191141 Sgt William Crawford (MM) 8th DLI

3191141 Sgt William Crawford The 8th Durham Light Infantry

In the attack on the MARETH LINE on 20th March 1943 Sgt Crawford was a platoon Sergeant of a platoon detailed to attack and capture a Pillbox. On the approach to the objective ,in extremely heavy hostile artillery and MG fire ,his platoon commander was put out of action by a mine. Sgt Crawford reorganised the Platoon in which casualties had now occurred,led it forward in the face of still heavier hostile fire, captured his objective and fully exploited his position. Included in this trench system were three pillboxes which with their trench systems were cleared. During the next day it became obvious that the pillbox and trench system were being maintained through tunnels. He repeatedly cleared the pillboxes which were constant centres of sniping and medium machine gun fire. He organised and led attacks outside his platoon area on snipers and MG posts and succeeded in clearing three of these. On the second day orders for withdrawal having been received he covered the withdrawal of the company and also a company of the 6th DLI  facilitating their ultimate arrival at the anti tank ditch. His conduct and leadership throughout were directly responsible for maintaining the company left flank and causing a large number of enemy to become prisoners and casualties.

Sgt Crawford was originally recommended for a DCM which was changed to a second Military Medal the bar being issued to compliment his first award at El Alamein.

 

Military Cross Action

Military Cross Action Captain Peter Joshua Arnold Lucas (R.Warwicks) Attached 8th DLI

During the operations at MARETH on 20th March 1943 the German attack began with accurate shelling of the Durham`s position, which caused many casualties. When the gunfire was at its heaviest Captain Lucas, commanding the Bren Gun Carrier Platoon, answered an urgent call from A and B Companies for wireless sets and batteries. Undeterred by the murderous defensive fire sweeping the Wadi he went forward in his carrier through a gap in the minefield. He safely crossed the Wadi and anti-tank ditch, all the time under heavy fire, and finally reached the forward companies with his valuable cargo. He then returned to Battalion H.Q. the way he had come. On the night of 20/21 March  under equally difficult conditions, he again undertook the hazardous journey this time with rations and ammunition. He showed complete disregard for his own personal safety and set a fine example to all ranks. There is no doubt that his actions enabled the forward troops to hold onto their positions

Peter Joshua Arnold Lucas was born on 9 July 1914 at Eastwell Hall, near Melton Mowbray the son of a Leicestershire Farmer he was educated at Warwick School. He served in the Coldstream Guards from 1936 to 1938, before leaving to join the Warwickshire Constabulary. Released for military service, in 1939 he was selected for Sandhurst and commissioned into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a Second Lieutenant on 4 June 1940.In 1942 he was seconded to the 8th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry. Lucas was serving in D Company, 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, part of 151 Brigade, which established a bridgehead on the far side of the Wadi.Zigzaou during the Mareth offensive and during the battle won a MC when commanding a carrier.
In Sicily he was in action at Primisole Bridge Despite heavy casualties in hand to hand fighting the 8th DLI held the bridgehead until they were reinforced during the night by the 9th and 6th DLI. In the course of the battle Lucas’ position in the east of the bridgehead was struck by a German shell and he was seriously wounded in the back and hand by shrapnel and evacuated to Malta.

Lucas when he recovered re-joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment after the war. In 1947/48 he served in Palestine in anti-terrorist operations and was mentioned in despatches for gallant and distinguished services during the period 27 September 1947—26 March 1948. Afterwards he was seconded to the King's African Rifles (KAR) and fought against the Mau-Mau in Kenya and against communist terrorists in Malaya. His final appointments were as commandant of the Army School of Physical Training at Aldershot and then as administrative commandant of the Defence NBC School at Winterbourne Gunner, Wiltshire. He was married in 1942 to Amy Packer and had a daughter. In later life he worked at the School of Infantry, Warminster and was also a councillor on Amesbury Rural District Council. He died on the 30th June 1994

Military Medal Action 4032841 Pte David Dennis Michael 8th DLI

 Military Medal Action 4032841 Pte David Dennis Michael 8th Durham Light Infantry

In the Mareth Line on March 20th 1943 Pte Michael was a section leader in a platoon which was advancing to capture an enemy position that included three Pillboxes and a trench system . His Platoon Commander  had been injured on a mine and his Platoon Sergeant was in command extremely heavy artillery, MG and Mortar fire were encountered Pte Michael was responsible for clearing initially the Pillboxes. On the following  day  it became obvious that the enemy were maintaining MG and Sniper posts from the trenches . A number of times Pte Michael led attacks on the Pillboxes in which the enemy had organised small pockets of resistance. Two days later a withdrawal notice having been received Private Michaels section covered a flank enabling two companies to withdraw in comparative safety .In this his section was instrumental in drawing the enemy fire upon themselves to facilitate this withdrawal Pte Michael`s conduct throughout was of the highest order. His leadership and dash contributed very largely to his platoon maintaining its hold on a very difficult objective.

Pte David Dennis Michael was awarded a second MM (Bar) in 1944 following the Invasion of Europe announced in the London Gazette dated 31st August 1944 "On 11th June 44 at ST PIERRE Cpl Michael's company was ordered to restore the situation on the right flank of the Battalion  which had been pushed back as a result of an enemy counter attack. Cpl Michael's platoon commander was killed and his platoon Sgt missing. Cpl Michael immediately took over command and under extremely heavy M.G. and arty fire continued to lead his platoon forward, twice they were pinned to the ground by fire but each time Cpl Michael found a way round until their objective was reached. Here he immediately organised the defence of the position which was successfully held. Cpl Michael throughout the action displayed great personal courage and fine powers of leadership and it was due to his actions and personal example that the task was successfully accomplished.

9th Durham Light Infantry `Mareth`

The 9th Durham Light Infantry, like its companion the 8th Durham Light Infantry, were to be an attacking Battalion with the 6th DLI  acting as reserve battalion but earmarked to expand the bridgehead once the designated objectives had been secured. The forward reconnaissance for the 9th DLI was carried out by two patrols led by 176119 Lieutenant Edgar Raymond `Bill` Lacey and Lieutenant McLoughlin  these were carried out on the night of the 19th/20th March 1943. The information brought back included details on the minefields and more particularly relevant the fact that within the Wadi Zigzaou there was a large stretch of water, the result of recent heavy rain. The water accordingly was recorded by Lieutenant WS `Scotty` White (Lieutenant McLoughlin`s patrol) at over 20 yards wide.

The attack commenced at  23;15hrs after the 9th DLI too had been shelled at the forming up area. `C` Company under Captain C F R Goulden were to cross the Wadi and the Anti Tank ditch establishing a small bridgehead in which Major E W H Worrall`s `B` Company would push through and capture Ksiba  Ouest which was on the right of the 151 brigade attack. A route marking party under the command  of Captain Pollard was also designated to aid the battalion following close behind the Scorpion mine clearing tanks. The task set for Captain Pollard was an unenviable one but one he nevertheless maintained despite being wounded in the head early in the battle by an exploding `S` Mine. `A` Company under Captain A R f Haynes were the reserve company  and would be deployed where needed. HQ was to be located behind `A` Company and was to follow the reserve as they moved up. The minefield was clearly indicated by two lights which hung on the wire courtesy of Lieutenant Lacey who had completed the task half an hour before the attack began. When the wire was reached the Scorpions split and the majority of `C` Company veered off to the left. Sgt Randall who led 13 Platoon stuck with the right hand Scorpion  and very soon found themselves `attached ` to `B` Company in their follow up attack. Lieutenant Lacey was ahead of the main body of the Company and as visibility was down to twenty yards visual contact was soon lost with his (15) Platoon .

At around 0030hrs the shelling although light was still causing problems along with enemy machine guns which appeared to be firing on fixed lines. Lieutenant Muir who was heading 14 Platoon crossed the minefield despite a shrapnel wound to his leg . At this time 50 yards or so from the main body of `C` Company Lieutenant Lacey emerged from the Anti Tank ditch having cut footholes into the sides to enable them to climb out .Once clear Lt Lacey led four men in a forward dash but was halted by the enemy wire turning left they ran along its length searching for a break sadly they didn't find one and a machine gun sited just 50 yards away cut down the small party killing Lieutenant Lacey  ,3661324 L/Cpl Joseph Burns and two other men .

Distinguished Conduct Medal Action 4448907 Sgt  R. F . Diston, 9thDLI

4448907 Sergeant (A CSM WOII) Ralph Foster Diston, 9th DLI

4448907 CSM Ralph Foster Diston  was CSM of `A` Company 9th DLI he was ordered to seize the redoubt Oerzi Est (Wadi Zigzaou) in the Mareth Line on the night of March 21/22nd 1943 .Distinguished Conduct Medal Citation;- Throughout the attack CSM Diston showed a complete disregard of danger and magnificent leadership. He personally led many an assault on enemy fortified positions, clearly the numerous trenches and hideouts in the huge redoubts. His inspiring leadership rallied the dwindling numbers of his Company on numerous occasions before the final surrender of the redoubt, and the capture of 120 prisoners have been obtained.
At about 1300hrs 22nd March, German Infantry and Tanks approached the redoubt at 200 yards range on three sides. CSM Diston went around the defenders with great coolness, urging them to greater efforts. Finally their ammunition expended, they were orderd to withdraw.

 CSM Diston guided them through the only safe exit from the redoubt back to the anti-tank ditch, where he obtained more ammunition and re-organised them

Ralph Foster Diston was born on the 20th October 1912 the son of Elizabeth Hannah (Butterfield) Diston and Ralph Diston (11406 Diston served 42 Days WW1 discharged 6th Yorkshire Regt `A` Coy October 1914 died 1942) of 28 Oswald Terrace Grangetown Sunderland (both Ralph and his brother John Joseph Diston were born at Trimdon Grange John born November 19th 1910 a sister died in infancy).

Ralph Foster Diston married Frances Elizabeth Bransby in 1933 and the couple lived at 42 Ridley Terrace, Hendon Sunderland.He won a DCM for actions on the Mareth line which was announced in the Sunderland Echo in June 1943 a month later on the 18th July 1943 he was killed in action at Primisole Bridge in Sicily.