Memorials to members of 18 DLI, also known as the Durham Pals, have been unveiled on Durham’s riverbanks and on the Somme.
The memorials were put in place following a public appeal, launched on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, by the Somme Memorial Partnership, made up of Durham Cathedral, Durham County Council, Durham University, the DLI Trustees and The Northern Echo.
The appeal was to fund two memorials: one in Durham and the other on the Somme, marking the start and end points of the Pals’ fateful journey into battle.
The Durham memorial is placed on the riverbanks, from where 18 DLI began their journey to France and the Somme memorial is placed in a shaded spot at Thiepval, the official Franco-British memorial to the missing, on which are inscribed the names of so many of the Durham Pals who died in battle and whose bodies were never recovered.
The Pals Battalions were an idea started at the beginning of the war to encourage men from the same villages and area to join the Army.
These battalions were intended to guarantee that men would stay with their friends for the length of the war. Members of the Pals Battalions often grew up together, went to school together, joined up and went through basic training and into battle together.
While this encouraged a strong sense of loyalty and increased morale, it also meant that if the battalion was caught in heavy fighting, many of the men from one town or village could become casualties on a single day. Such was the case with 18 DLI.
The DLI Pals were a battalion made up from all professions: miners, bakers, farmers, who were often sons, fathers and brothers. Above all, they were childhood friends, comrades in arms, embarking upon what was for many, their first and final journey beyond the shores of Great Britain.
The Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916. At 7.30am, on a 14-mile front running north of the River Somme in France, 60,000 British soldiers climbed out of their trenches and began to move across No Man’s Land. Within one hour, over half of these men were dead or wounded – among them were the friends, neighbours and colleagues of 18 DLI, the Durham Pals, who in 24 hours lost 75 men and saw 250 wounded. It remains the greatest loss in a single day for Britain.
The memorials form part of the wider Durham Remembers programme. For more information please go to http://www.durham.gov.uk/durhamremembers