151 Bde 50th Division 6th/8th/9th Durham Light Infantry 1939-40

The Famous 50th Division  Tyne/Tees

The three Durham members of this brigade The 6th DLI,8th DLI and 9th DLI were recalled to their Drill halls on September 1st 1939.

The 6th DLI had both  `A` Company and HQ Company at Bishop Auckland,`B` Company was at Barnard Castle,`C` Company at Spennymoor whilst `D` Company was at Crook on the 2nd the men were embodied into the regular army

After a great deal of preparation  with personnel being sorted and equipment issued the 6th battalion  moved  down to Chipping-Norton for training,It was here that the men found themselves billeted in the brewery and surrounding Barns.The battalion found that ,being drawn from an area of heavy industry,that some of their pre war personnel with the relevant industry skills were recalled back to their peacetime proffesions.Their replacements came in the main from the DLI depot at Brancepeth  with over 100 officers and men posted in on the 31st October 1939.Another draft from The Kings Shropshire Light Infantry arrived on the 23rd November.Battalion transport was brought up to strength  by the 4th December.Those men not going home on leave were treated to what would be their last Christmas dinner before posting overseas.A meal of Turkey,Vegetables,pudding and a beer ration made it a most welcome first Wartime Christmas.

 Photograph above courtesy of Tony Oughton whose father Syd was present on this festive occasion

The onset of one of the worst winters in history did nothing to dampen the spirits of the brigade and these spirits were raised further on the 17th January 1940 when King George VI inspected the assembled ranks at Chipping Norton..the ceremony however did not pass off without incident  when the intense cold combined with an attack of nerves this caused one unfortunate Durham Light Infantryman to pull the trigger on his loaded rifle,the bullet narrowly missing the assistant Provost Marshall before embedding itself in the chimney of the mess which was situated at Bury Barns.

France and Belgium and life with the British Expeditionary Force 1940

It was not until the 22nd January 1940 that the motor transport and advance party made its way in a snow blizzard to Southampton and embarked on the TSS Fenella sailing on the evening of the 25th January 1940 they reached Cherbourg at 08;15hrs on the 26th January.

TSS Fenella

The rest of the battalion consisting of 679 officers and men embarked on the SS Ulster on the 28th Arriving in the early morning of the 29th January 1940.

The preperations for both the 8th DLI and 9th DLI followed similar patterns they too embarked on the 28th January 1940 with 9th DLI travelling on the SS Prague and arriving in Cherbourg at 08;30hrs again on the 29th January

All three Durham battalions were sent to the area around Le Hutte in what was hoped would be temporary billets but due to icy conditions it would be the 19th February before they were able to push northwards with the 6th DLI reaching Tourouvre at 1400hrs on the 19th before moving off to Molliens Vidame nr Amiens on the 29th February 1940 both `A` and HQ Companies would be billeted here,whilst `B` Company were in the Small village of Drevil with `C` & `D` Companies billeted close by.

The 9th DLI moved on the 19th to Mortagne au Perche with `A` Company billeted in the L`Hotel des Voyageurs on the Alencon Road `B`,`C,`D` and part of HQ Companies were billeted in huts at the Hippodrome.Signal and motor transport platoons found a home at the Chocolate factory!

The 8th DLI went initial to the area of St Remy before they moved to Longny where they had for one week the most comfortable billets .The 8th DLI carriers had gone by rail to the Amiens area and the rest of the battalion followed on foot reaching Oissy which is about fifteen miles west of Amiens HQ and `A` Companies found themselves in an old Chateau which had not been lived in since WW1 a fact which was bourne out by the discovery of two rusted WW1 rifles!

Much of the time spent by the three Durham Battalions was spent in preparing positions receiving fresh drafts of men and preparing with what few modern weapons were at hand for the rough times which lay ahead but time was taken to visit some of the first world war battlefields which some of the older officers remembered all too vividly.

On the 10th/11th May 1940 the code words`Birch Six` was received..The German assault on the low countries had begun.The agreed plan was that on receiving the code word the British Divisions would push into Belgiam and form a defensive line along the Dyle river it was 9 DLI`s job to keep the roads open.The 6th DLI,8th DLI and 9th DLI moved forward to the area around Grammont.A small party from the 6th DLI were dispatched to Coutrai where they were to bring back securities including Gold bars.Leading the party was Lieut H E Walton who was in charge of  four men and one NCO..The rest of 6DLI were ordered to prepare and occupy bridgeheads over the Dendre Canal.`D` Company were between Santbergen and Idegem,`B` Company took up positions between Idegem and Grammont with `A` and `C` Companies at Smeerchebbevloersegem 6DLI battalion HQ were in and around the area of Moenebreck.

The speed of the German advance had taken everyone by surprise the DLI battalions were officially unaware of the seriousness of the situation but  judging by the swarms of French and Belgian troops retreating in total disarray through their positions  something was indeed drastically wrong.The 8th and 9th DLI sent out patrols whilst 6th DLI took up positions on the 17th May on the River Dendre to protect the bridges.On the 18th May 6DLI were on the move again through Nederbrakel,Audenaude.Leupegem,Melden,Berchem and crossing the River Escaut at Kerkhove arriving at their New Billets in the Moen area.9th DLI were at St Genois.Whilst 8th DLI had witnessed the remnants of 2nd DLI passing through their positions and a former 8DLI officer(Captain Burdon-Taylor) now with the 2ndDLI gave them a graphic account of the situation.The 8th DLI then moved to Helchin near Courtrai having left a demolition party under Major Raine to blow the Grammont bridges from here they moved to Toufflers near Roubaix then on to Provin near Condecourt where thankfully they found billets.

The German advance was gathering momentum on the 18th May Cambrai fell,19th May it was Amiens and Doullens,Abbeville fell on the 20th May and elements of the German Army reached the coast the same day.The British Expitionary Force and the other Allied armies in the North now found themselves cut off from the forces in the South.The scene was now set for the one and only major allied counter attack of the 1940 Campaign..The Arras Counter-attack.


The Arras Counter-attack 1940

During the afternoon of 21st May,1940 an attack by the 50th Division and the 1st Tank Brigade was seen progressing South from Arras. This was to be the only large scale attack mounted by the BEF during the campaign. The attack was originally expected to be manned by two infantry divisions, comprising about 15,000 men. It was ultimately executed by just two infantry battalions, the 6th & 8th Battalions Durham Light Infantry supporting the 4th and 7th Royal Tank Regiment, with 9th DLI in a supporting role directly behind the 8th Battalion totalling around 2,000 men, and reinforced by 74 tanks. The infantry battalions were to advance in  two columns in the line of Arras-Doullens .Using this as a start line the plan was to attack the German Forces south and south east of Arras and move forward to the River Sensee.

The 8th DLI on the right would move through Maroeuil,Warlus and Vailly to Boisleux-au-Mont.On the left 6DLI would take the route of Ecurie,Achicourt and Beaurains to Henin.The orders to the Battalions were not given until 09;45hrs .The battalions were to cross the main Arras Doullens road at 1400hrs this gave very little time to co-ordinate the attack with the armoured support something of which neither the infantry nor the tanks had any experience of.As it was neither the 6th or the 8th DLI arrived on time for the simple reason the Germans were already in positions North of the start line.The 4th RTR who proceeded 6th DLI went into action almost immediately shooting up German Transport with 6th DLI moving up in support to clear the area around Dainville.At 1530hrs the 6thDLI reached its official start line one and a half hours later than scheduled .The 8th DLI never made the rendervous  with their armoured support with 7th RTR moving off too soon and the 8th DLI never saw them again although they did follow behind in the wake of the destruction left by their advancing armour and captured several hundred demoralised prisoners .By 1715hrs the 8th DLI occupied both Duisans and Warlus.

On the evening of 21st May `B` Company 6th DLI had cleared Agny and were in positions East of the village `C` Company was on the south side of Beaurains`D` Company to the South West in position at the sunken road whilst `A` Company was held in reserve At 1800hrs `C` and `D` Companies had cleared Beaurains and over two hundred prisoners had been taken..The anti tank guns on the 8th DLI left flank caused serious losses to the German 25th Panzer Regiment.

The German Armour had serious trouble making any impression on their British counterparts and it was only when Rommels 7th Panzer Division deployed their 105mm and 88mm guns in an anti tank role that British losses began to mount.The Durhams were repeatedly bombed by Stukas and other Luftwaffe bomber aircraft.As darkness fell the German 5th Panzer army made an appearance on the battlefield as it engaged what was left of the British tank force.German tanks machine gunned the infantry  `D` Company 6th DLI were ordered to fall back on Achincourt superior German numbers were now playing an important role and  Durham losses were mounting. The 4th Northumberland Fusiliers attempted to to provide a protective screen for the retreating infantry but they too suffered heavy casualties at the hands of the German armour.

As the 6th DLI fell back it was realised that the battalion were now in no condition to mount a stand and were ordered back to Vimy.Confusion led to some of the 6th DLI being sent in the wrong direction  Lieut Col Miller was directed towards Hulloch and La Basse in his search for his Brigade headquarters followed by A, B and HQ Companies and B echelon of men left out of battle they eventually found the HQ after a days march.. still situated at Vimy where it had  been throughout the battle. A further 180 men lost their way and believing they were the only survivors headed for Boulogne and after picking up some Welsh Guardsmen on the way were taken off by a destroyer and landed in England. Lt Col Miller totally exhausted was also sent back to England

Major Jeffreys took command of the 6th DLI in Lt Col Millers absence on the 22nd May 1940 he had less than two hundred men under his command 6th DLI suffered an estimated two hundred dead,  wounded or missing 8th DLI fared no better.. As the columns prepared to dig in around Vimy ridge they was another change of plan and the 50th Division were withdrawn through a narrow corridor between the German Armour.

Military Medal Action 4457030 Pte George Iceton 6th DLI

 4457030  Pte George Iceton Motor Transport Section 6th DLI

 On 21st May 1940,4457030 Pte George Iceton  of the 6th Durham LightInfantry  drove the Battalions second in Command`s truck to Beaurains through heavy shelling.He was sent to find the MO and ambulance and succesfully guided them forwards to deal with casualties.He then collected wounded men until he himself was wounded.Throughot he showed great coolness and iniative under heavy fire            SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 11th JULY, 1940

Photograph above shows Sgt Robinson,(Left) George Iceton (Centre) Unknown (Right) Photograph taken 1941-42

George Edward Iceton
George Iceton was born in May 1920 at Whorlton, near Barnard Castle in County
Durham his father had served in the Royal Engineers in the First World War and had
been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. After George left school, he began work
as an apprentice fitter in Darlington aged 15 years old.
In August 1939, George Iceton joined ‘B’ Company 6th Battalion DLI at Barnard Castle
and was posted to the Motor Transport Section. In January 1940, 6 DLI, went to France as part of 151 brigade the 50th Division. Where he was for a time, the driver, of the 2 i/c .During the counter attack at Arras on 21 May 1940, 4457030 Private Iceton was awarded the
Military Medal for his bravery as highlighted above
On his return from Dunkirk, both George and 6 DLI were deployed to the south coast of England on defence duties but, after the threat of German invasion subsided George and  the battalion sailed for the Middle East in May 1941.
 Over the next two years, George Iceton fought in Egypt, Cyprus, Iraq and North Africa, seeing action at Gazala , El Alamein and Mareth. In July 1943, after 6 DLI had taken part in the invasion of Sicily, George Iceton was wounded near Primosole Bridge.
After time in hospital in North Africa, George Iceton was sent back to England for
further treatment. In May 1944, he was medically downgraded and transferred from the DLI to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. He did not serve overseas again. George  was demobbed in July 1946 but he later managed to re-join the TA and in particular 6th Battalion DLI where he rose to Sergeant in the Machine Gun Platoon. He finally retired from the Territorial Army in 1964.George returned to Civilian life and lives in Hartlepool.

Military Medal Action 4034240 Pte Ralph Leslie Puddle 6th DLI

4034240  Pte Ralph Leslie  Puddle 6th DLI

On 21st May 1940 4034240 Pte Leslie Puddle of The 6th Durham Light Infantry and a companion were seperated from their comrades They took shelter in a house to escape attack by an enemy tank Pte Puddle`s companion was wounded so he carried him across the open ground under fire to a truck and drove it to safety although he had never driven before


Boche Tanks!!

The Germans were closing in on both flanks what remained of the 6th,8th,9th DLI with the exception of Captain Harry Sells (9th DLI) `B` Echelon ,who were isolated from the rest of the Brigade by both refugees and the retreating French Armies, withdrew succesfully that night followed by the French early on the 23rd May 1940.

Lt Temp Captain Harry Sells 9th DLI

Captain Harry Sell (Later Colonel Sell) took his small group back to Vimy Ridge where a final check  at 0500hrs found  no Germans ,but they did stumble across two soldiers of the 9thDLI still sound asleep by the roadside! The Captains group continued on until they reached Givenchy which was burning fiercely. A German Armoured column was spotted in the town and the DLI beat a hasty retreat on their way they found several 30cwt lorries seemingly abandoned by the roadside but blasting his horn as a warning Captain Sells was amazed to see several bleary eyed cooks of the 8th DLI peering at him over the lorries tailgates a further shout of `Boche Tanks!` sent the cooks into action and both sets of lorries hurtled down the Givenchy- Lens road

On the 23rd May 6th DLI took up positions near to the  Petit Vimy-Lens road. `D` Company on the right ,`A`,`B` and `C` Companies on the left orders were received from Major General Martel that these positions were to be held to the last bullet and if neccesary the last man brave words for someone who was`nt there! News reached the battalion that they were to be relieved at 2200hrs an order which was later recinded half an hour later but at around 2030hrs the 2nd Cameronians started to arrive to replace the Durhams having received a second `Verbal` order The Durhams withdrew...gladly! Brigade HQ was in the area of Ancoisne,The 6th Battalion were near Don 9th battalion at Provin whilst the 8thDLI were near to the village of Carvin.

Military Medal Action 4447929 Sgt Thomas Pallas 6th DLI

4447929 Sgt Thomas Pallas  `B` Company 6th DLI

On 21st May 1940 near Arras Sgt Pallas showed conspicuous courage and powers of leadership gaining the objectivegiven to his platoon although his men were very tired and shaken.In the course of this operation he assisted in the capture of a building containing 25 Germans


Sgt Thomas Pallas  in 1940 after his evacuation from France 

Warrant Officer Class II (C.S.M.) Thomas Pallas was killed in action during the Sicily Campaign in Actions around the Primosole Bridge on the 17th July 1943 (the last day of the action).He was the son of Thomas and Bertha Pallas; husband of Elizabeth Pallas, of Forster Avenue , Murton, Co. Durham he was 35 years old today he lies at peace in Good Company in Catania War Cemetery Section  III. Row D Grave . 9

Military Medal Action 4264667 L/Cpl John Boustead 6th DLI

4264667  L/Cpl John Boustead 17 Platoon `D` Company 6th DLI

On 21st May 1940 4264667 L/Cpl John Boustead`s  section occupied a defensive position under heavy shell fire.His platoon commander and Sergeant were casualties but L/Cpl Boustead assisted in evacuating the wounded and then remained at his post until relieved.


Military Cross Action Padre Rev Tom Duggan OBE MC 8th DLI

 Military Cross Padre Thomas Duggan RaCHD attached 8th Durham Light Infantry Chaplain 4th Class

On May 31st elements of 8DLI, 9thDLI 6th DLI and stragglers from 11th DLI manned the  joint regimental aid post. German shelling was heavy and accurate and casualties mounted steadily throughout the shelling Padre Thomas Duggan and Cpl H .Fletcher made repeated journeys carrying the wounded into the cellars of the nearby chateau the Padres humour, coolness and courage did wonders for the morale of the Durham`s as he carried on regardless despite the ferocity of the German bombardment.


Father. Tom Duggan from the parish of Ballyheeda,  Ballinhassig  Co. Cork. He volunteered as a chaplain and arrived in Flanders in 1917.His postings were to the 1st Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers and then the Munster`s and finally the Connaught Rangers. He became a P.O.W on the 22nd of March 1918 during the German spring offensive and was interned as a prisoner in Mainz until the Armistice. He also volunteered and served during WW2 and was present at the retreat to Dunkirk and was awarded the M.C and O.B.E for outstanding bravery.

Announced London Gazette 20 December 1940

The Path of the  8th Durham light Infantry 1940

Once in Carvin 8 DLI initially took up a position within an old factory before they were ordered to the Wood at Epinoy which was to the left of the Carvin-Libercourt road.The plan was for the battalion to rest up in preperation for its role in the Weygand plan in which strong French Forces supported by elements of the BEF were to strike Southwards.This role never materialised for the 8th DLI because once the Belgian armies had collapsed Lord Gort diverted the 5th and 50th Divisions northwards to the Ypres area.Whilst awaiting final orders the battalion awoke on the morning of the 26th May 1940 to the sounds of battle,although not engaged directly some French Algerian Units had clashed with the advancing Germans.A request was made to the battalion for help the 8th DLI Carrier section under 2/Lt Ian English and Sgt Skorochod were dispatched back to Carvin to support the French Forces there.An hour later the awaited orders arrived for the battalion to withdraw to the village of Camphin and there await transport to the Ypres sector.Minus their carriers the 8th DLI formed up into marching columns but once out in the open they were the target of German saturation bombing which inflicted heavy casualties upon the battalion.Pressing on the battalion arrived at Camphin the transport they had been promised was not there instead they were met by General Curtis who informed the battalion that Carvin had fallen and that the 8th DLI were to return put in a counter attack and re-capture it..easy!.The question on everyones lips at the time was if Carvin had fallen then what had happened to the battalions carriers?

The carriers had reported as ordered to the French commander who had deployed them to the southern exits of the town,it was true that the Germans had crossed the canal and were now on the Carvin-Lens Road but they had advanced no further since their initial crossing instead they shelled the town whilst keeping their distance,a planned counter attack supported by 8DLI carriers achieved little and the carrier section were later joined in their positions by a French Algerian Company whose French Lieutenant let it be known to all who would listen that come what may these positions would be held.As the rain poured down and the German shelling grew heavier it was a bemused carrier section that watched as this brave French Lieutenant led his men in a most indignified retreat leaving the Durhams alone once again.

Meanwhile the rest of the battalion were starting their counter attack on Carvin which unbeknown to the battalion had never fallen and was still under French control under the watchful eye of the 8thDLI  Carriers.The battalions advance was not an easy one and the shelling and mortaring cost valuable Durham lives.The original orders to move to Ypres were reissued  and at 0230hrs on the 27th May the battalion made its way through Gondecourt-Armentieres-Baileul until at 0800hrs they arrived at Steenvoorde after only a brief stay in which German fighter bombers continually targetted the town the battalion moved out onto the Cassel road to await further orders

Brigadier Jackie Churchill ordered the battalion forward to the Ypres Canal area here the 8th found themselves in reserve with the 9th DLI on their right and the 6th DLI on their left.After a brief loan period with 150Bde  all three Durham battallions found themselves withdrawn to the area in and around the village of Woeston,by 1000hrs  8th DLI companies were positioned as follows `D` Company on the right,`B` Company Centre,`C` Company on the left with `A` Company in reserve,the carriers went on a recce and from their positions they had a grandstand view of the German armour attacking the positions that only six hours ago had been manned by the Durhams themselves.

As the carriers made the return journey to Woeston they found and engaged German forces at Elverdinghe which was only a mile or so ahead of the 8th DLI`s forward positions.At 1800hrs the German artillery found the range of the company positions it was at this time that the news of the Belgian capitulation began to filter round,the collapse of the left flank,probable encirclement and the destruction of the entire BEF were the concerns of the General Staff and the politicians to the Durham soldiers their main concern was one of survival and at this stage survival was very unlikely.

Just before 2000hrs the 8th DLI were ordered to withdraw but before they could do so a strong German attack completely cut off `C` Company and although the three platoons battled all night only two men escaped to tell the tale with the rest killed or captured.As the battalions carriers clattered out of Woeston the German armour clattered in.One 8th DLI man known to have been killed on this day  was RALPH HUTCHINSON WATTAM, who is buried in Nine Elms near Poperinge

Killed on this day (28th May 1940)  was 4455456 Pte Ralph Hutchinson Wattam, of Hetton-le-Hole, Co. Durham Son of Richard and Dora Wattam, also of Hetton-le-Hole, Co. Durham he is buried in Nine Elms near Poperinge section 16 . B. 8.and is listed on the Hetton  village war memorial in the garden of the local WMC (name spelt Wattan)

By the night of the 29th/30th May 1940 most of what remained of the BEF had withdrawn to the Dunkirk perimeter .The 8th DLI after leaving Woeston crossed The Bergues-Furnes Canal arriving at the Chateau at Moeres here the order was given to Sgt Glendenning to destroy the battalion transport with the exception of four carriers,he accomplished this in a number of ways,leaving the engine running hard and putting a shot through the sump,mixing sand with the oil and gunning the engine he even tried a hand grenade in the engine compartment which set the vehicle ablaze ...something he was rebuked for....as it was felt morale would suffer if the men had to march past lines of burning vehicles!!

The 30th May 1940 was a quiet day for the 8th DLI German planes were overhead dropping leaflets showing a map of the area with the British forces completely surrounded by superior German forces of course the Durhams scoffed..but perhaps for the only time during the war the Germans were telling the truth!

On the 31st May one hundred men from the decimated 11th DLI volunteered to join the 8th DLI most being used to reform `A` and `D` Companies.On the afternoon the 6th and 9th DLI were pushed further back and occupied positions around the 8th battalion.Captain Rutherford of the 9th DLI set up a joint regimental aid post as the German Shelling became intense.Corporal H Fletcher and Padre Duggan did magnificent work.

 Padre T F Duggan 1st Clerical MC of the War

Duggan received an MC Cpl Fletcher a mention in dispatches.Father Duggan died in Peru on the 17/12/1961

At 0230hrs on the 1st June 1940 the battalion were ordered to break off all contact with the German forces on the Ringsloot Canal.Covered by their remaining carriers they were ordered to proced in two columns to the sand dunes six miles east of Dunkirk.It is strange to note that the Germans who had so recently tried to wipe out the Durham battalions allowed the marching columns to withdraw unmolested.

Once in the Dunes the battalion rested,exhausted but still there would be no time for sleep the morning was interupted by frequent shelling but this was light in comparrison with what was going on in Dunkirk itself as the Durhams watched they could see the waiting columns of men and transports being straffed and bombed by the German Luftwaffe,small craft of every size could be seen heavily laden with their human cargo negotiating a path around the many sunken British ships lying in and around the harbour.At midday a huge cheer went up as British Fighters appeared over the beaches and sent some of the attacking aircraft spirraling into the sea.

Brigadier Churchill gathered the 8th DLI surviving officers and told them quietly and calmly that it had been decided that The Durham Brigade would not be evacuated instead they were to form into two columns supplemented by 100 grenadier guardsmen they were to smash their way through Dunkirk and attack the German forces causing as much damage and inflicting as many casualties as possible in a bid to delay the German advance and buy much needed time for the rest of the BEF to get away,any who were left  would then make their own way back to the beaches .The beaches were searched for weapons and ammunition for which to carry out this suicide mission.

As the men waited silently waiting to move off on what most realised would be there last ever mission letters and notes were scribbled down and given to the men lucky enough to be leaving in the hope that these final letters would reach their loved ones in England.

At 1430hrs the order was cancelled the situation was much improved around Dunkirk and new orders were received..The battalion were to be evacuated and they were to move back down the beaches for embarkation!.L/Cpl Wilson of the 8th DLI was the President of the Regimental Institute and administrator of the fund for the benefit of the battalion as he marched along it was noticed he wore an alarm clock around his neck and carried a sandback full of small change in French currency which had been in the NAFFI till at the start of the campaign and he had refused to give up despite his ordeal...he eventually returned back to England where it was exchanged for £40 sterling! and deposited in the Regimental coffers!

Eventually 8th DLI took its place on the MOLE at the time there were minesweepers alongside the town of Dunkirk burned in the distance and shell fire could be heard,but for the 8th Battalion as a whole there would be no swimming out to the small ships  no wading under constant shell fire indeed as the Destroyers pulled away it must have seemed strange for men ,who only hours ago had accepted that if was unlikely that they would ever return to England, to be now steaming into the English Channel in what was..comparative peace! 



Distinguished Conduct Action 4456094 Sgt John Carruthers, 8th DLI

4456094 Sgt John Carruthers, 8th DLI
Citation reads;- On the 21st May 1940 4456094 Sergeant John Carruthers showed great courage and coolness under heavy fire when employed with the Bren Carrier Platoon on a standing patrol, to watch for enemy tanks. He engaged enemy Light Machine Gun positions, thus drawing their fire away from British tanks, which were retiring nearby. He continued at his gun under heavy fire until all his ammunition was expended. This occurred on 21st May 1940. London Gazette 11th July 1940

Military Medal Action 3191131 L/Cpl Alexander Cairns   8th DLI

 London Gazette, 20 December, 1940, 3191131 Lance-Corporal (Actg. Corporal) Alexander Cairns, the Durham Light Infantry, in recognition of gallant conduct in action with the enemy. The following citation is taken from the official recommendation for the M.M. (originally recommended for the D.C.M.): 'At Walrus, 3191131 L/Cpl.Alexander Cairns, who is a driver, was assisting to get his anti-tank gun off its truck when the latter was destroyed by enemy fire. In spite of this the gun was put into action but the guns . Nos. 1 and 3 were shot from the air. L/Cpl. Cairns immediately went to the gun and took over the duties of the No. 1 and continued to fire although wounded himself in the hand. He then withdrew his guns when ordered to do so and helped to cover the movement of the 8th Durham L.I rifle companies to other positions . Although cut off he succeeded in making his way back to his unit and went straight back into action. He showed exceptional coolness and courage in action

 Alexander Cairns, Durham Light Infantry, won the Military Medal during the attack by Frankforce during the British Expeditionary Forces campaign in France during 1940, He was promoted to Sergeant and went on to gain a Distinguished Conduct Medal  for his actions during the battle of Gazala, in North Africa, in 1942.

Alexander Cairns was born in Glasgow, in1918.A lorry driver in civilian life.He enlisted intially into the King's Own Scottish Borderers on the 3rd September 1939 before joining the 8th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry in December 1939 and remained with them throughout the war, discharged to the reserve on the 12th January 1946 he became a  Warrant Officer in the Royal Army Service Corps (TA) from 3 October 1947 finally leaving the army in 1951.As well as his gallantry Medals he was also awarded  the 1939-45 Star; Africa Star, clasp, 8th Army; Italy Star; France and Germany Star; Defence and War Medals.

D.C.M., London Gazette, 24 September 1942: ‘Sgt. Alexander Cairns, M.M., 8th Bn. The Durham Light Infantry, in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in the Middle East.’ The following citation is taken from the official recommendation for an Immediate D.C.M. (originally recommended for a bar to the M.M..): 'In the Gazala area, on the morning of 6 June, 1942, enemy positions were located to the south of the 8th Durham Light Infantry Outpost. It was decided to attack these positions with four carriers and a section of infantry. Sergeant Cairns led the Carrier attack with such dash and determination that the enemy positions were overun and 10 officers, 200 men and a number of anti-tank guns, heavy and light machine-guns captured.

The Path of the  6th Durham light Infantry 1940

 On the 24th May 1940 6th Durham Light Infantry moved to the area of Ancoise-Don-Provin unaware  at this time was the decision to withdraw the BEF through Dunkirk had already been made.

Captain Ronald Cummins of `D` Company was tasked with providing a recce of the area in order for the battalion to move through Lens and onto Don no easy task as many of the outlying villages had been bombed and vital bridges destroyed.At this time 6th DLI had a battalion strength of just ten officers and 192 other ranks.`A` and `B` Companies set off at 0120hrs through Billy Montigny and Harnesand then split up `B` Company had to take short cuts through various goods yards and over railway crossings in particular those between Avion and Touquiers in an attempt to cross the canal which they finally achieved at Harnes finally reaching Don after travelling for some five hours.`A` Company under Captain Leslie Proud and 2/Lieutenant Tim Chamberlain also had problems they found all the bridges at La Bassee,Bercleau , Beauvin and Pont a Vendin  destroyed and were forced to cross the canal by boat storing their kit at Beauvin(for collection later) and marching to Ancoisne where they were transported by truck to the battalion HQ at Don.Once there the battalion got what rest they could between almost constant German air-raids.

On the 25th May 1940 rations for each man were cut by half,men of the battalion were sent into Lille to forage for food,the French civilians and shop keepers were only too willing to offer them food but once they found the battalion could not pay the offer was withdrawn so not only were they weary but hungry to.

At 1430hrs  the battalion was told of The Weygand Plan,General Weygand had planned an eight division assault southwards scheduled for the 26th May  in a revised plan it was cut to five divisions with the French providing three and the British two,the 5th and 50th.However at 1700hrs the plan was cancelled and orders were recieved to be ready to move at two hours notice it was planned that 151Bde were to move to plug the widening gap between the British and Belgian armies between Comines and Ypres.

Three whole German divisions were reported to be attempting to break through a gap between Comines and Ypres in response the 50TH Division of which the 6th DLI were part were ordered to move into this gap At this time the 25th/26th May 1940, 8th & 9th DLI were heavily engaged so it was left to 6th Durham Light Infantry  to push ahead leaving on borrowed RASC transport the battalion moved off at approx 10:00hrs,moving through Wavrin,,Radinghem and Erqquinghem-sur-lys until at around 1300hrs they reached a farm situated between the canal and the main road to Sailly sur la Lys following a short rest orders were received shortly after midnight on the 27th May 1940 to be ready to move to positions on the Yser canal.

Despite being stood to at around 0200hrs the battalion did not start to move until around 1100hrs and progress was pitifully slow due to the sheer number of refugees using the same route. At Strazeele Lieut-Colonel Jefferys took a small party ahead to assess the situation. As the battalion rested by the side of the road a number of dispatch riders and some French armour came past them from the direction of Strazeele with the news that German panzers had been spotted in the town.

Captain Leslie Proud got the battalion moving again working their way around the town they passed through Bailleul and Dickebusch onto Vlamertinghe Chateau before reaching positions on the Yser canal where they began to relieve the French 1st Dragoon Guards. The other two Durham battalions now free of their engagement took up their positions alongside the 6th DLI .The 9th DLI took up positions on the left of the sixth supported by the machine guns of The 2nd RNF whilst the 8th DLI moved into reserve at this time. The relief was completed at around 0130hrs on the 28th May .

As heavy torrential rain began to fall the Germans increased their Heavy bombardment  of the DLI positions and casualties began to increase alarmingly. News of the Belgian capitulation filtered through to the men along with a rumour that the BEF were withdrawing through Dunkirk, these were things which concerned the officers and the brass at this time the ordinary Durham Light infantryman was far to busy fighting for his life! At 1530hrs the Germans advanced to within two hundred yards of the canal, at 1700hrs came the order to withdraw once again but this time came an additional order all mortars were to be destroyed before they moved back.

 At approximately 1755hrs the 2nd RNF reported a gap had appeared between themselves and No2 Company of the 6th DLI on the left of Boesinghe following the withdrawal of the French forces from that location without waiting for their relief to move up! German engineers were now making attempts to bridge the canal but were forced back by the DLI.Attempts by 8DLI to reinforce the 6th Battalion companies were unsuccessful due to heavy concentrations of German Shell fire in the area. `A` Company of the 8th DLI finally broke through to 6th DLI`s positions shortly after midnight but casualties in all the DLI companies had been high, On the 29th May 1940  at 0400hrs the withdrawal from these canal positions began with the Germans pushing forward the 6th DLI were pulled back to positions around Woesten .


Home from Dunkirk 4444165 Pte William Raitt 6th D.L.I


4444165 Pte William Raitt photograph believed taken during the later Western Desert Campaign..supplied courtesy of his son  Fred Raitt

 Pte William Raitt was a member of `C` Company The 6th Battalion TheDurham Light Infantry who was a member of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940 who escaped from France during the Dunkirk evacuation.below is a letter written by Pte Raitt on the 18th June 1940 whilst stationed at Flaxley Camp,Rudgeley  Staffs the letter  (8 pages) is shown below along with a typscript of its contents by kind permission of Pte Willian Raitt`s son Fred Raitt

 No.4444168 Pte. W. Raitt.
"C" Company,
6th Batt. D.L.I
2 Flaxley Camp, Ruglely. Staffs.
18th June 1940.
 Dear Tommy and Ada
        Sorry for not writing  before now since I got back to England as I lost all my personal kit and my Book with the addresses of the gang was among them.
                Well I managed to get back with a bit of a struggle of course there is a few Spennymoor boys missing but nothing definite is known as yet only Sgt Peb Waterworth was killed for definite.
            The last 5 days in action I was with Jake Wrakes mob 2nd N.Fs He is a Platoon S.M
and is well liked by his Ptn. I took no harm with them, they had chicken and Pork for 5 days.I also had cartloads of cigs off them, of course I would not like to describe to you how they killed
the pigs.
        Well since Friday I have been acting as Ord Cpl and Ord Sgt and have had it pretty cushy. I had to take the Boys for a march yesterday, we marched for about 10 mins found a nice big Shady tree and got down to it for 1 1/4 hours. just how it should be. This is the Third place I
have been in, Aldershot, Knutsford in Cheshire and here.
            On the train when I was going for my 48 hrs leave I met Henry Taylor, he lives next to
Doug and Francis, so he told them about me. Doug, Francis and Gladys paid us a visit the following day If I manage to get another leave I will let you know then maybe we can arrange
to see you both.
                I had a letter from Mother, she told me you both had been North for your Holidays
I hope you enjoyed them. Well the weather here is glorious at present although it should be as we are sleeping in Tents.
                    I hope you are both keeping in the Best of Health, myself I am in the Pink.The young chap in the Coy Office typed the above address for me.On landing in England we got a grand reception at every station we stopped at, there was eats, cigs, drinks in galore and postcards to send to your friends and Relations telling them of your arrival.
                I had a card wrote out ready to send to you both but could I 'Blue Pencil Hell' think of your address. I sailed from Dunkirk to Folkestone a fortnight gone Sunday. When we withdrew
from our Positions we landed at Dunkirk on Sat Evening, stood up to the  chest in water for 3 1/2 hrs, they were taking us, or them rather, in rowing boats to the big Ships,when I was just 16th for getting the boat he said no more boats tonight! I didn't half Blue
Pencil him under my breath,10 mins later Jerry sent his Air Force, after he started with Artillery, I think they flung everything at us bar the boots they stood in. Afterwards I went into a big house  for the night luckily I found a top coat on the beach, so I took every stitch off and slept in it.[Top Coat I mean] He started bombing early next morning with his Air Force, and brought every single house to the bottom before dinner time.Biggest majority of the troops were dug in on the sands, of course there was the lighter side of things when his Air Force came over you
 could not see a soul, after he went away one could not get stirred, just like Blackpool Illuminations!
            On the sands there was Army Trucks, cars motor bikes carriers also civvy cars, first one then another would heve races and those that could drive learning those that could not, then all of a sudden Gerry planes would appear you should of seen us scuttle ourselves back into our holes just like rabbits, he would  drop his load and then take off then all of a sudden there was signs of life again on the beach. That continued all day on Sunday till well turned 6 o clock by then everybody knew his own tracks back to his own Dug out. We got away with very little trouble on Sunday night 9pm although they reckon he started his capers again about 10pm.
                This is all for now hoping to hear from you soon.Remember me to Mrs Hale and will you please pop a stamp in when you answer this hoping you are both not offended for me asking
            From your Brother
PS Hoping to hear from you both soon.
                                                                                                                                                                        In the first paragraph or so of the letter William Raitt refers to  Sgt Peb Waterworth from Spennymoor ,this is Sgt Herbert Waterworth who was the son of John and Jane Waterworth, of Spennymoor, Co. Durham He was the husband of Annie Waterworth, also of Spennymoor
His regimental number was 4449186 He was reported as killed in action on the 30th May 1940 he lies today in Adinkerke Military Cemetery in
Grave 17 Section G .
 Adinkerke is located 6 km west of Veurne, 3 km inland from the costal town of Koksijde and 20 km east of Dunkirk.On the 30th May the 6th DLI were making their way to the Dunkirk perimeter leading German Units were at Bulscamp whilst 6DLI company HQ was at the Moeres Chateau which the Germans ranged in on and plastered with heavy artillery.At this time the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards were attached to the DLI brigade 2nd RNF placed their machine guns in support of the Durhams at this time.The fighting at this time was described as intense.Three members of the 6th DLI were killed on that day in addition to Sgt Waterworth there was Pte George Allison 4452936 he was 19 years old and has no known grave but is commemorated on the Dunkirk Memorial.Pte Robert Ramm 4458206 he was 22 years old and is buried in De Panne Communal Cemetery Section 1 Row B Grave 18
Sgt Herbert Waterworth is commemorated in his home town of Spennymoor with his name inscribed on  the Spennymoor Cenotaph 1939-1945
4449186 Sgt Herbert Waterworth 6th Durham Light Infantry KIA 30th May 1940 Commemorated on his home towns war memorial in Spennymoor.

Path of The 9th Durham Light Infantry 1940

Throughout the 23rd May the Durham Brigade were heavily bombed with 9DLI suffering heavy casualties.Orders to hold at all costs were received then later recinded. Eventually new orders were received to withdraw behind the La Bassee canal a distance of over twenty miles a distance which had to be covered on foot as all of the battalions transport had been ordered to the rear following `The Hold at all Costs `order.The exhausted men of 9DLI had to pass through the heavily shelled village of `Billy Montignys` where the villagers handed the Durham soldiers bottles of wine as they passed bye, an act which was made with nothing but good intentions but in their exhausted state was as the saying goes literally `Killing them with kindness`.

Early on the 24th May 1940 The 6th DLI found themselves at Don,The 8th DLI in woodsnear Carvin whilst The 9th DLI were at Provin.

The 25th May 1940,orders were received that the battalion were to be part of a French attempt to advance and split the German Forces with this news also came the order to cut the mens rations by half .Morale already low most have suffered another alarming dip with this news,however events elsewhere were changing rapidly and as quickly as the plan had been formulated,so to was it abandoned.

Heavy shelling on the 26th May 1940 resulted in heavy casualties especially amongst the men of `C` Company,whose positions received a direct hit casualties included 4441216 Company Quartermaster Sergeant Robert Stonehouse Son of Harry and Margaret Stonehouse; husband of Ethel Violet Stonehouse.He is commemorated on Column 121 of The Dunkirk Memorial

 4337382 Company Sergeant Major William Norman Thompson.formerly of The East Yorkshire Regiment  Son of Leonard and Jane Thompson; husband of Elsie Thompson, of Felling, Gateshead, Co. Durham Provin Cemetery

Only two Durham Light Infantrymen lie in Provin the other also of the 9thDLI was killed on the same day

4442902 Bandsman Matthew Levee The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry He is at peace today in Proven Communal Cemetery Age 31

       4442902 Bandsman Matthew Levee                4337382 CSM William Norman Thompson

the above photographs courtesy of Pierre Vandervelden

The 9th DLI lost a total of 30 men killed on the 26th May 1940 in addition to the two sergeants and the Bandsman listed above they were;-

4458378 Pte Robert Arnold The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry Son of Robert and Emma Arnold, of Lancashire. Stepson of Hilda Arnold.He is at peace today in Lille Southern Cemetery Section 7 Row B Grave 2 Age 20

4447289 Pte Maurice Burrell The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry Son of Thomas and Margaret Jane Burrell; husband of Hannah Burrell, of Winlaton, Co. Durham born 1913 He is at peace today in Lille Southern Cemetery Section 6 Row A Grave 7 (recorded as died between 26thMay and 8th August 1940)

4455318 Pte Thomas Campbell The 9th Battalion The Durham Light InfantrySon of Thomas and Pations Campbell; husband of Violet Elizabeth Campbell, of Lobley Hill, Gateshead, Co. Durham.He has no known grave and is commemorated upon the Dunkirk Memorial.

4453277 Pte John George Chatto The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry He is at peace today in Lille Southern Cemetery Section 7 Row A Grave 5

4450077 Pte James Henry Crame The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry Son of Frederick N. and Edith Crame; husband of Mary Crame, of Felling-on-Tyne, Co. Durham..He is at peace today in Dunkirk Town Cemetery Section 2 Row 6 Grave 34 Age 33

Grave of 4450077 Pte James Henry Crame in Dunkirk Town Cemetery Photograph courtesy of Drew

4458381 Pte Stanley James Devonport The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry. Son of Thomas Charles and Annie Devonport, of Liverpool He is at peace today in Lille Southern Cemetery Section 6 Row A Grave 6

4268247 Sgt William George Dixon formerly of The Northumberland Fusiliers now The 9th Battalion The Durham Light InfantrySon of Frederick and Margaret Dixon, of Ryton, Co. Durham; husband of Hilda Margaret Dixon, of Ryton..He is at peace today in Lille Southern Cemetery Section 6 Row A Grave 1 Aged 31

4451039 Sgt Norman Edwards The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry. Son of Thomas and Elizabeth Julia Edwards; husband of Ellen Edwards, of Hendon, Sunderland, Co. Durham He has no known grave and is commemorated on Column 121 of the Dunkirk Memorial Aged 24

4456452 Pte Charles Sharpe Frater The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry. Son of John Henry and Lydia Frater, of Chester-Le-Street, Co. Durham He is at peace today in Lille Southern Cemetery Section 6 Row A Grave 2 Age 22

 4451613 Sgt George Alfred Harrison The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry Son of Mr and Mrs Harrison, of Hedgefield, Ryton on Tyne, Co. Durham. Nephew of Aunt Martha & George Alfred Harrison lived at Hedgefield House Lodge, Hedgefield, Ryton on Tyne, Co. Durham Uncle George. Cousin of Bill, Mary, George, and John.He has no known grave and is commemorated on Column 121 of The Dunkirk Memorial Age 22.


 Newspaper report (Chronicle) on the Death of Sgt Harrison

           4457812 Pte Harold Haughton  The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry.Son of Mr. and Mrs. H. Haughton, of Pimlico, London He has no known grave and is commemorated on Column 121 of The Dunkirk Memorial Age 21.

4457696 Pte Frank Heath The 9th battalion The Durham Light Infantry.No known grave he is commemorated on column 122 of The Dunkirk Memorial. Age 21

4452441 Pte Michael King The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry.He is at peace today in Lille Southern Cemetery Section 6 Row A Grave 4 Age 23

4454379 Pte Alfred Laidlaw The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry He is at peace today in Adinkerke military Cemetery Section FF Grave 18 Age 20 

     4454379 Pte Alfred Laidlaw  Adinkerke Military Cemetery

   4457693 Pte George William Seaforth MacKenzie The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry Son of George Henry Seaforth Mackenzie and Lily Mackenzie, of Marylebone, London He is at peace today in Lille Southern Cemetery Section 6 Row A Grave 12 Age 21

4457295 Pte Albert Edward Maley The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry. Son of Albert Edward and Hannah Clemmet Maley, of Pallion, Co. Durham He has no known grave and is commemorated upon the Dunkirk Memorial Column 122 .Age.21

4263180 Pte Charles William MacIntosh formerly of The Northumberland Fusiliers now The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry. Son of Duncan Alexander McIntosh and Mary Elizabeth McIntosh; husband of Angela May McIntosh, of Byker, Northumberland He has no known grave and is commemorated on The Dunkirk Memorial Column 122 Age 30

 4457309 Pte Peter McLoram The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry Son of J. McLoram and Ada McLoram, of Deneside, Seaham, Co. Durham.He is at peace today in Lille Southern Cemetery  Section 6 Row A Grave 3 Age 21

 4450183 Pte Joseph Willis Patterson.The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry Son of Thomas Banks Patterson, and of Elizabeth Ann Patterson, of York. He is at peace today in Lille Southern Cemetery  Section 6 Row A Grave 8 Age 36

4457317 Pte Edward Peacy The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry Son of Stephen and Elizabeth Jane Peacey, of New Brancepeth, Co. Durham.He is at peace today in Caestre Communal Cemetery  Section 5 Row A Grave 6 Age 21

4455572 Pte Norman Phillipson The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry Son of Robert and Hannah Phillipson, of Gateshead, Co. Durham He is at peace today in Lille Southern Cemetery  Section 7 Row A Grave 3 Age 19

4457331 Pte Norman Sawyer The 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry Son of John William and Florence Sawyer, of Annfield Plain, Co. Durham.He is at peace today in Lille Southern Cemetery  Section 7 Row A Grave 6 Age 21

4457331 Pte Norman Sawyer 9DLI in happier times.

4458146 Pte Frederick Smith The 9th Durham Light Infantry Son of Frederick and Esther Smith, of Murton Colliery, Co. Durham.He has no known grave and is commemorated on Column 123 of The Dunkirk Memorial. Age 21

4452446 Pte Robert Henry Smith The 9th Durham Light Infantry Son of Mr. and Mrs. R. Smith; husband of J. A. Smith, of Wardley, Co. Durham,.He has no known grave and is commemorated on Column 123 of The Dunkirk Memorial Age 28

4441216 Pte Robert Stonehouse The 9th Durham Light Infantry Son ofSon of Harry and Margaret Stonehouse; husband of Ethel Violet Stonehouse He has no known grave and is commemorated on Column 121 of The Dunkirk Memorial Age 38

445826 L/Cpl George Hedley Peel Sunter The 9th Durham Light Infantry Son of William and Florence Sunter, of Hetton Downs, Co. Durham.He lies at peace in Lille Southern Cemetery Section 6 Row A Grave 11 Age 21

4457736 Pte Albert Gordon Weavers The 9th Durham Light Infantry Son of Alfred Orlando Weavers, and of Edith Emily Weavers, of Acton, Middlesex. He has no known grave and is commemorated on Column 123 of The Dunkirk Memorial Age 21

The Germans repeated their efforts to cross the canal using barges on the 26th May   `A` and `B` Companies of the 9th Durham Light Infantry,in support of the French 2nd North African division,were holding the canal crossings at Bauvin.The rest of 9DLI whilst awaiting a move which would take them west of Armetieres were deployed as follows `D` Company South of Provin,`C` Company on their left with elements of HQ Company protecting their flank.The carrier platoon ,dismounted and operating on foot were sent to engage the German Barges.

The French reported that the Germans had crossed the canal between Bauvin and Meurchin `D` Company were immediately sent forward in an attempt to restore the situation and force the Germans back,but despite occupying a commanding position the forward platoons were caught by heavy German machine gun fire resulting in heavy casualties.4444561 Pte William Wilson Saul was awarded an immediate Military Medal when he sucessfully carried three wounded men to safety despite being under constant heavy fire himself.

A similar scene was being played out north of Bauvin where `C` Company were engaged by German forces.To the west of Bauvin both`A` and `B` Companies were receiving heavy German mortar fire and it was becoming obvious to all that the Germans had made excellent use of the barges and now had a foothold on the canal bank.Orders were received that 9DLI were to hold Provin whilst 8DLI attempted to re-capture Carvin all the while the casualties mounted  2Lt Cunningham received wounds from which he died on the 31st May 1940,other wounded men had to be transported on the back of three ton lorries due to the serious shortage of ambulances.Meanwhile Brigadier Churchill had still not received his expected orders to move and took the decision himself to withdraw his men to Steenvoorde(Belgium) 2Lt Walker of the regiment was sent forward to recce a suitable route but returned shortly after when French troops refused him permission to pass..In the early hours of the 27th May 1940 9DLI marched into Annoeullin where transport was secured to continue its journey to Steenvoorde.

The battalions stay was brief on the 27th May they moved off once again through Elverdinghe and Brielen where they took up new positions near the Yser Canal `A` Company on the left, `B` Company on the right with `D` Company taking up a central role. The line they held lay between Ypres and Boesinghe, places which their fathers would have remembered well from the last war.

News soon reached the Durham’s that the Germans were in Ypres more orders were issued and 9DLI withdrew from their newly prepared positions a further seven miles where they took up rearguard positions. At this time it was now revealed to the Durham’s that they were to be brought back to England along with what remained of the BEF. orders to destroy all remaining signal and mortar equipment was met by contempt by the men of the battalion, if as suspected the 9th DLI still had much hard fighting ahead of them then signal and mortar equipment would prove a valuable resource in the days to come. Orders being orders all available mortar rounds, the 3” (mortar platoon) and the 2” (Rifle Companies) were launched in one terrific bombardment of the German positions before the tubes were put out of commission .During the fallback on the 28th May the advancing Germans were delayed by excellent work by the 9thDLI`s carrier platoon under 2nd Lieutenant Richard Hutchinson Forbes for which he was awarded a Military Cross. His citation reads;-


For outstanding work with the carrier platoon at Provin, Ypres Canal and at the intermediate position between the Ypres canal and the Bergues-Furnes canal positions. During the latter action he delayed the enemy advance and despite being severely wounded, extricated his command successfully.

2/Lt Forbes was evacuated to a regimental aid post then on to a casualty clearing station. The clearing station was overrun by the Germans and Forbes was taken prisoner, he spent over two and a half years in captivity before being repatriated to England via Sweden where as a Captain he took up a new position with the Durham OTC.

On the 29th May 1940 the battalion were ordered back yet again to the area of the Woeston-Poperinghe road where it remained until 20; 00hrs when it was again on the move, pulled back behind the Bergeus-Furnes canal the 9th DLI found them near Bulscamp. The journey was not been an easy one for the battalion over twenty miles in the dark with one map and Germans all around but they made it safely.

Once they arrived they found the Germans occupying a commanding position on the opposite bank, caught out in the open under heavy mortar and machine gun fire the Durham’s casualties began to amount alarmingly. How they could have done with those mortars which they had been ordered to destroy.

On the 30th May with the 9thDLI covering Dunkirk the order was received to destroy all of the motor transport under heavy mortar bombardment the battalion HQ was set up alongside the other Durham battalions in the Chateau Moeres not the best location being overlooked by the advancing Germans and under constant accurate bombardment casualties began to rise with some rifle companies being reinforced with the now redundant mortar and signal companies along with the drivers whose transport had now  been destroyed.

Early on May31st the Germans managed to cross the canal to the left of the battalion but were beaten back by a determined counter attack by a reserve company. Still the Germans pressed forward until at 1500hrs on the 31st May news was received that they had broken through on the right advanced through a field of standing corn and came up on `A`Company from the rear with heavy casualties inflicted on the DLI soldiers. At this time there were no reserves beyond the battalion lines indeed if the Germans had broken through it would have meant the end of any chance the battalion had of leaving via Dunkirk or any other place for that matter. Lieut Colonel Percy pushed up men of the 3rd Grenadier guards and other various stragglers who were now attached to the Durham Brigade these were deployed slightly further back from the battalions positions, at the Ringsloot Canal where they successfully stopped the German advance and also enabled what was left of `A` Company fall back from the Bulscamp Bridge positions they currently occupied. At this time another `Hold at all costs` order was received which thankfully was rescinded shortly after.

Killed in the defence of Bulscamp Bridge on the 31st May were ;-

4456598 Pte Robert Carson,The 9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry,Son of Robert and Elizabeth Carson, of Felling, Gateshead, Co. Durham.He lies at peace in Wulveringhem Churchyard Grave 14.He was aged 19.

4459083 Pte Stanley Leatherbridge,The 9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry,He lies at peace in Wulveringhem Churchyard Grave 1.He was aged 21

4443978 Pte Thomas  Lunam The 9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, Son of Thomas and Margeret Lunam, of Felling, Co. Durham; husband of Alice Lunham, of Felling.He lies at peace in Bulskamp Churchyard Grave 1.He was aged 37.

4443332,Pte George William Miller,The 9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry He lies at peace in Adinkerke Military Cemetery Section FF Grave 8.He was aged 36.

4443332,Pte George William Miller Adinkerke Military Cemetery Section FF Grave 8

 3131528 Pte Eric Nicholls, formerly of The Royal Scots Fusiliers now The 9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry,Son of Joseph and Mary Catherine Nicholls, of Darfield, Yorkshire,He lies at peace in Wulveringem  Grave 15.He was aged 21

4447726 Pte Frederick  Sharpe The 9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry He lies at peace in Dunkirk Town Cemetery Section 2 Row 18 Grave 1.He was aged 27

The headstone of Pte Frederick Sharp photographed in 2009 .photograph courtesy of Drew

4682369 Pte R E Walker.formerly of The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry now The 9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry Son of John Joseph and Margeret Walker; husband of Mary Isabella Walker, of Dunston, Gateshead, Co. Durham.He lies at peace in Bulskamp Churchyard Grave 13.He was aged 42

The battalion made their way down to the beaches  between 0300hrs and  0400hrs and dug in immediately as there was very heavy shelling .At 1330hrs news was broken to the men that they may not be going home at all they were to create a diversion away from the beaches to enable the rest of the BEF to get away but after collecting what weapons they could the order like so many before it was rescinded and the battalion were ordered onto the beach and make their way to the mole. The beach was littered with mines and torpedoes washed onto the beach Lieut Col Percy remembered at least three destroyers and a paddle steamer which were beached and looked like they had been blown in half at some stage ,oil fires were burning casting black plumes of smoke into a sky which seemed full of enemy dive bombers As the men awaited their turn they were dive bombed by these enemy planes resulting in many casualties for Ptes F L Bowater,W J Miller R Minto,,J E Templeton there would be no going home Ptes D Stewart and  W Wade died of wounds but both were buried in the UK. Later that day after four successive rearguard actions 9DLI returned home

4454590 Pte Frank Leslie Bowater The 9th Durham Light Infantry Son of Isaac Bowater, and of Florence Bowater, of Barley Mow, Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham.01/06/1940 He has no known grave and is commemorated on Panel 122 of the Dunkirk Memorial.He was aged 20

4454333 Pte William James Miller The 9th Durham Light Infantry Son of Joseph and Mary Miller, of Pelaw, Gateshead, Co Durham.01/06/1940 He lies in good company within Brugge General Cemetery .Section 63. Row 2. Grave 16 He was aged 19

4456266 Pte Raymond Minto The 9th Durham Light Infantry .Son of Thomas and Jane Ann Minto, of Wardley, Gateshead, Co. Durham 01/06/1940 He lies in good company within Dunkirk Town Cemetery .Section 2. Row19. Grave 29 He was aged 19

4456266 Pte Raymond Minto photograph Courtesy of Drew

4454331 Pte Joseph Edwards Templeton The 9th Durham Light Infantry. Son of Joseph Francis and Edith Templeton, of Felling, Gateshead, Co. Durham.He lies at peace and in good company in Wulveringem Churchyard Grave 2 He was aged 20yrs

4455891 Pte Donald Stewart The 9th Durham Light Infantry died of his wounds at home he lies  in Gateshead East Cemetery Div. N. Grave 2687

4457715 Pte William Wade The 9th Durham Light Infantry also died of his wounds on the 1st  June 1940 following his evacuation from Dunkirk and lies in Margate Cemetery Kent Sec. 50. Grave 15889

Another soldier of 9th Durham light Infantry was last seen alive on the 1st June and his friends and comrades hoped he had been taken prisoner unfortunately his remains were unearthed on the 23rd May 1941 he was reburied by the Germans.4455863 Pte George Robert Flack Son of George R. and Anne Flack, of Bensham, Co. Durham lies in grave 26 in Bulskamp Churchyard

Distinguished Conduct Medal Action 4439323 CSM J.P. Kemp, 9th DLI

 4439323 Warrant Officer Cl.II (CSM) James Patrick Kemp, 9th DLI

 For outstanding service during the counter attack on the Bulscamp position. He displayed initiative throughout and when the left half of the Company came under heavy rifle fire before reaching the objective he rallied the NCO's and men and led them forward and entered the village on the left where he successfully maintained his position in spite of heavy fire

On 31 May 1940, the 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, were by the Bergues Canal before Dunkirk. The Germans were pressing hard and the 9th Battalion were ordered to counter attack to relieve the pressure. At 12 p.m. an artillery barrage began and two companies of 9th Bn., “A” (two platoons) and “D” (remains only) were led forward by Captain George Wood and his Sergeant James Kemp. The attack was so sudden that the objective Bulscamp Bridge was taken by 12.30 p.m. and the 9th Bn. re-established on the canal. Captain Wood was awarded the M.C., and for his work Sgt. Kemp was awarded the D.C.M. The next day the Battalion withdrew to the beaches east of Dunkirk and, on 2nd June, the 9th Bn. embarked for England.

Private William Nevison, 16194 6th Btn The  Durham Light Infantry

16194 Pte William Nevison of the 6th Durham Light Infantry died on Wednesday 22nd May 1940, aged 43.Son of Sarah Ann Nevison of Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham. Husband of Margaret Elisabeth Nevison (nee Gelson) of Bishop Auckland.He lies at peace in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. Plot 13, Row C. Grave 9.The only casualty of the regiment buried there during 1940.Pte William Nevison was killed in action  in the town of Boulogne during the bitter fighting in the BEF retreat he was shot by a sniper and killed outside 63 Rue Henriville, Boulogne sur Mer, France, according to witnesses Jean Fantangie,(13 Place due Marche, Cahors, France) Monsieur Letailleur, Madame Eugene Daziron and Monsieur Taillandier Pte Nevison was killed on the 24th May 1940 (not the 22nd May as stated on the CWGC website), and his burial took place on 25th May near the railway line behind Rue Henriville, on the Boulevard due Tramway.Pte Nevison was later reburied at The East Cemetery at St. Martin les Boulogne, France

The Dunkirk Memorial

Dunkirk Memorial to the Missing. 

During the Second World War, Dunkirk was the scene of the historic evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France in May 1940. The DUNKIRK MEMORIAL stands a the entrance to the Commonwealth War Graves section of Dunkirk Town Cemetery. It commemorates more than 4,500 casualties of the British Expeditionary Force who died in the campaign of 1939-40 or who died in captivity when captured during this campaign and who have no known grave. These include casualties from six Durham Light Infantry Battalions 2nd,6th,8th,9th,10th and 11th and not forgetting the old 12th DLI who had become part of the Black Watch just prior to the Campaign.The memorial was designed by Philip Hepworth. The engraved glass panel, depicting the evacuation, was designed by John Hutton. 


Dunkirk Memorial Window.



Military Cross Action 109563 2/Lt David William Wyatt Blackman 6DLI

109563 2/Lt David William Wyatt Blackman 6th Durham Light Infantry

BEF France 1940

On May 21st May 1940 2/Lt Blackman although severely hit in the thigh and arm commanded his platoon with great coolness at Beauvaines  (Beauvais) South West of Arras and maintained his position under heavy shellfire. He continued to encourage his men until he was carried to the rear and set a fine example under the threat of enemy Tank attacks