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Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Second Battle of Ypres - 5th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry

Painting by JAG Birch, 5th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, "Directly dusk set in some of the above signals went up from both lines" (D/DLI 7/63/2(22))
D/DLI 7/63/2(22) Painting by JAG Birch, 5th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, "Directly dusk set in some of the above signals went up from both lines"
What was the 5th Battalion Durham Light Infantry?
  • The 5th Battalion (5DLI) was a unit of volunteer soldiers. It was part of the Territorial Force in the British Army and was one of five territorial battalions in the DLI
  • Part of the 150th (York and Durham) Brigade, with 4th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, and 4th and 5th Battalions, Yorkshire Regiment
  • Recruits came from South East Durham, including Darlington, Stockton on Tees and Hartlepool 
  • The officers were also local men – the commanding officer, Colonel G.O. Spence, lived at Preston Park in Stockton

What happened when war was declared?
  • At the end of July 1914 the battalion was at the annual brigade training camp at Deganwy, North Wales. Every year territorial soldiers attended a two week training camp.  The other four DLI territorial battalions belonged to a different infantry brigade and they were camped on the opposite side of the river at Conway.
  • 3 August – 5DLI was recalled to Stockton
  • 4 August – Battalion convened at Drill Hall, Stockton, and the mobilisation telegram was received at 5pm

What did the battalion do at the start of the war?
  • The battalion did not go overseas immediately. The volunteers had eight months of intensive training in the North East to prepare them for battle
  • For the first month of the war 5DLI was on coastal defence duty at Hartlepool and South Shields.  “While there, all officers and men were asked if they were willing to serve abroad, and, needless to say, the vast majority agreed to do so.” A.L. Raimes (1)
  • Early in September 1914 5DLI moved to the brigade camp at Ravensworth near Gateshead where it was under canvas in bell tents
  • In October the battalion moved into billets in Newcastle upon Tyne

When did the battalion leave the UK?
1915
  • 14 April – Transport and machine gun personnel left for Southampton then on to Le Havre
  • 15 April – Final inspection of the battalion
  • 16 April – Marched to Central Station “Great numbers of Newcastle people lined the route to wish us ‘God-speed’.” A.L. Raimes
  • 17 April – Arrived Folkestone 1am, immediately embarked for Boulogne, arriving just before dawn “It was a weird experience – crossing without lights and in silence, with destroyers guarding us on either side.” A.L. Raimes
Photograph of a military encampment near a stream, captioned: View near the huts, Belgium, 1915 (D/DLI 7/424/2(72))
D/DLI 7/424/2(72) Photograph of a military encampment near a stream, captioned: View near the huts, Belgium, taken by PHB Lyon, 1915

 When did 5DLI first engage with the enemy?
  • 23 April – A fleet of buses arrived to transport the brigade towards the front lines “The roads were full of transport, artillery, and troops going forward, while a constant stream of ambulances, loaded with wounded, hurried in the opposite direction…We overtook two battalions of our DLI Brigade and gave them a cheer as we passed them.” A.L. Raimes
  • 24 April – 5DLI had their first experience of shell fire
  • 25 April – Orders received the previous night for attack to begin at 3:30am, first objectives were Fortuin, St. Julien, and Kitchener’s Wood, the advance was pushed back to 5:30am

What were the worst days for 5DLI at the Second Battle of Ypres?
25/26 April
  • 25 April – 5DLI and 5th Yorks to support an attack by 10th Brigade on St. Julien
  • Went towards Fortuin which was unoccupied by Germans, took up defensive positions, the battalion was “…in position in time to witness the failure of that magnificent assault” SGP Ward (2), miscommunication meant some battalions and artillery were not in the right place
  • Ordered to fall back to Verlorenhoek, half the battalion was commandeered by another brigade to take up positions on the Gravenstafel Road, the rest were ordered to attack towards Fortuin and did so against machine gun and artillery fire, suffering heavy casualties
  • 26 April – shelling began as dawn broke, continued all day, along with machine gun fire, resulting in many casualties
  • Relieved those in the front line near Fortuin, including the 8DLI, during this process, the Germans began heavy machine gun fire, the battalion responded
D/DLI 7/424/2(67) A ruined street with house being demolished by demolition charge, captioned: A house being blown up near the Menin Bridge, Ypres, Belgium, taken by PHB Lyon, May 1915
 24 May
  • 23 May – Whit Sunday, ‘ominously quiet’ AL Raimes
  • 24 May – ‘Shortly before dawn, the Germans discharged a huge cloud of gas against our front from the Menin Road to beyond Wieltje, and followed it up with repeated infantry attacks.” AL Raimes
  • 5DLI was in position by 5am
  • A number of men who had been in Zouave Wood when the gas attack started were overcome
  • D Company suffered many casualties from machine gun fire
  • Two platoons of A Company had the Germans behind them
  • C Company managed to hold most of their trench in an attack on Sanctuary Wood
  • B Company and the other two platoons of A Company were not attacked but still suffered casualties from shell and rifle fire
  • Captain P. Wood of C Company received Distinguished Service Order: “He and some thirty or forty of his company were holding an advanced trench, part of which the enemy had already captured, and up which they were moving to attack.  Like the rest of us at that time, Captain Wood knew nothing about bombs, but, finding a store of primitive “jam-tin” bombs, he lit them one by one with a cigarette, and held up the attack until three-quarters of his men were killed or wounded.  He then skilfully withdrew them to the main trench.” AL Raimes
Casualties
23-28 April          KiA/DofW            Wounded           Prisoner
Officers                       1                            2                        -
Other ranks               43                          95                        -

24-25 May
Officers                       -                            5                        -
Other ranks                26                         68                       4 
  
KiA - Killed in action
DofW - Died of wounds

Signal Sergeant J. Wilkes of the 5th Battalion wrote a poem titled ‘The Second Battle of Ypres’ copies of which were sold to raise money for comforts for the battalion.  A transcript can be read here:

How do I find out more about what happened?
1) The Fifth Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry 1914-1918 – Major AL Raimes, 1931
2) Faithful, The Story of The Durham Light Infantry – SGP Ward, 1968
3) Memoirs of JAG Birch, Durham County Record Office reference D/DLI 7/63/2

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