The 11th Durham Light Infantry in the Great War

The 11th (Service) Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was originally formed in September 1914 from volunteers, most of them from County Durham, and the majority from coal mining communities. During training in the Surrey area they were attached to the 20th (Light) Division. In January 1915 they were converted into a Pioneer battalion, to provide ‘organised and intelligent labour’ for the Division. From that time one they were to serve both as workmen and as infantry, a flexible role for which they were paid an extra daily allowance.
On 20 July 1915 they sailed for France and remained on the battlefields of France and Flanders for the whole of the war. They experienced front-line action at Laventie, Ypres (three times), the Somme (twice), Cambrai and the Lens-Avion sector. When the fighting ended in November 1918 they were gradually demobilised, completing their tour of duty at Grenas in 1919, and returning to England the way they had arrived, but reduced to a small cadre.
In the spring of 2011 my book, The 11th Durham Light Infantry: In their own names, is published by Amberley Publishing of Stroud. The research that forms the basis for the book is too extensive and detailed to be included in an affordable and readable volume. This website is designed to complement the book by providing additional information about the battalion, the men who served in it and their families. It will also serve as a virtual meeting point for anyone interested in the story of the battalion and the people associated with it, especially those who have reason to remember those who served.
The book itself is remarkably different from any other battalion history, breaking new ground in historical research methods by fearlessly tackling the complex issues of records linkage based in the techniques of family and local historians. This is about people in war, not about war in which people are reduced to numbers. It demonstrates the sheer ordinariness of the men who served and the families and friends who provided networks of support. It embraces and celebrates their humanity and helps to fully appreciate their courage as humans, rather than as servants of power.

Should you wish to contact the author of the site, please email:

Martin Bashforth


4 thoughts on “The 11th Durham Light Infantry in the Great War

  1. Cannot find Wilson.who was killed at Guillemont 11batt “C” company 2/Sept 1916
    John Wilson (Baity) an ex minor from the Adventure pit, who joined the Army in 1914, 11th Batt; DLI 3-10828, was killed at the Battle of the Somme on 2nd September 1916. His name appears on the war memorial in West Rainton and also on a brass plaque in the porch of St Michael’s RC church in Houghton-le-Spring along with other fallen lads.
    John (Baity) was a miner at the Adventure pit before the First World War. He was nicknamed Baity for the amount of sandwiches – bait – he took to work down the pit. John joined the 11th Battalion Durham Light Infantry after war was declared. In 1915 the battalion spent time in the front line in France, following which John was allowed home leave. When the time came to go back to France, he caught the correct train from Durham station but, unfortunately, the engine broke down somewhere and he had to be found a place on another train. This delay caused him to miss his ship back to France and his connections there. By the time he returned two days late, the battalion had gone back into the front line. He was brought before an officer, who told him he could be tried for desertion from the front, punishable by death or accept field punishment number one there and then without representation. He chose this punishment, which involved him doing hard labour and being tied to the wheel of a field gun for up to two hours a day – but for how many days I do not know.
    John was killed on 2nd September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. I recall being told that my Great Gran was devastated at the news of his death and she always wanted to know what had happened to him since his body was never found after a trench burial. When she went shopping in Sunderland she would ask ex DLI soldiers if they had met him and how he died. One day, by chance, someone said “yes, I was there; he was shot in the stomach, and died slowly without any medical help, and was crying for his mother when he died”. Although this caused her distress at least it gave some closure. John Wilson’s name is on the monument at Thiepval; on the war memorial in West Rainton and also on a brass plaque in the porch of St Michael’s RC church in Houghton-le-Spring along with other fallen lads.
    Grandads Brother John Harvey

    • Thanks for sharing these additional details, John. Pte John Wilson certainly is there, recorded under W on the appropriate Roll of Honour page, including details from his service records. What you have added to his story is graphic and very moving. It is this sort of personal, family memory that is so important in appreciating the consequences of the war.

      • Hello Martin
        Found it now,thanks,
        Most of it is correct,but he was certainly not C of E,Margaret Wilson his mother was catholic as we’re all 13 children,
        The reason I was told the some put down c of e was to avoid the lengthy catholic services.
        There is no mention of the field punishment there,but it is on his service record.
        The family were most upset about it,apperantly it was heavy rain when he was tied to the gun wheel,he got pneumonia,and had to go to a field hospital,after being discharged he went back to the front and was killed,I have just found and bought your book online
        I have also written a little bit about a mining village,for the Durham history society
        Published in an edited version,if you would like the full version,I can e mail it in word form
        It was great to find this site,
        All the very best

      • Thanks for your kind comments. The service records probably indicate that the field punishment occurred in February 1916, as he was briefly hospitalised then with what they called ‘influenza’ – probably a catch-all name for a lot of similar conditions. Keep up your own good work with Durham local history.

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