April 1915 – 100 years ago…
On Saturday, the military historian, Harry Moses gave an illuminating lecture entitled, ‘Bede Spirit – 8DLI’ in the Durham Light Infantry Museum.
Harry Moses immediately prior to giving his lecture 18/04/15
Harry Moses has been researching and writing about the WW1 experiences of the men who belonged to the DLI since the 1980s. In particular he has tried to piece together what happened in April 1915 when the students from Bede College who had joined up as Territorial soldiers, were suddenly rushed from their duties guarding the coastal defences to fight on the front line in Belgium.
On August 3rd 1914, WLS, Tutty & Bob H, together with their fellow students, were at Conway Army Training Camp when they heard that war was imminent. Hurriedly the Territorial recruits packed up the camp and returned to Durham.
They clattered home in a train, arriving at Durham station at 1.00 a.m. and marching down to the Market Place where tables had been set out with a meal for them (their officers were refreshed in the Rose & Crown Inn in Silver Street). They spent a last night in their college before being formally mobilised the following day, and sent to the east coast near Whitburn to guard against invasion. (Source: The Northern Echo “When the Bede boys took on the Kaiser”)
- 4 August – Gathered in the Market Place; no orders were received during the day so men were allowed home with orders to report as early as possible the following morning; mobilisation orders were received at 7pm
- Battalion strength was 29 officers and 996 other ranks
What did the battalion do at the start of the war?
- 5 August – 8DLI moved to the Sunderland area for coastal defence duty
- 19 August – Moved to training Camp at RavensworthCastle
D/DLI 2/8/60(71) Soldiers of the 8th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, constructing a trench, 1914 (Picture credit: Durham at War/ Durham County Record Office)
- Moved to billets at Gateshead prior to the end of 1914; undertook further training and remained there until April 1915
(Source: Durham at War)
The ‘Bede boys’ were in A Company of the 8th DLI & were under the command of Captain Frank Harvey. Although amongst themselves, they called him ‘Captain Cardboard’, they held him in great affection and respect. After 8 months of coastal duty and training, the 8th Battalion were suddenly rushed to Newcastle so as to be ready to be sent off to France. WLS, Tutty & Bob H were about to take active part in fighting a global war in which more than million combatants & 7 million civilians died.
War Diaries from April 1915 -100 years ago:
The War Diaries from the National Archives give an account of the days of April 1915 which immediately followed.
17th April 1915
At 3.35pm on 17th April 1915, all horses and vehicles plus 3 officers and circa 80 – 90 other ranks entrained at the FORTH CATTLE DOCK NEWCASTLE for Southampton en route for Le Havre.
This was the advance party.
Major JH Smeddle was the senior officer in this group.
18th April 1915
19th April 1915 – 8th DLI leave England for France:
The Battalion proceeded from billets at GATESHEAD and entrained in two parties at the CENTRAL STATION NEWCASTLE as follows:
C & D Cos. Under Captain Bradford entrained at 10am
A&B Cos. Under Lt. Colonel Turnbull entrained at 11am for Folkestone where they entrained on one of the Cross Channel mail boats.
Folkestone was left at 11.30pm on a clear fine night.
BOULOGNE was reached at 1am on the 20th April:
Other ranks 921
Marched from landing place to a rest camp at OSTROHVE
The Bn. left the rest camp for the PONT-DES-BRIQUES station to entrain for the front. Distance marched about 3 miles
The train arrived from LE HAVRE with Major Smeddle and the transport. The Bn. left on one train for St OMER. Here orders were received to proceed by train to CASSEL which was reached about 7pm. After detraining the Bn. marched to billets about STE. MARIE CAPPEL. There was some delay in finding the billets in the dark as they were much scattered.
(Source: War Diary – National Archives’ reference WO 95/2841/1)
Arrival – exactly 100 years ago today:
& so in early in April the 8th DLI received orders to join the British Expeditionary Force. The days that followed were full of final preparations and farewells. On April 17th the transport and machine-gun detachment departed via Southampton en route for Le Havre, and two days later, the 8th Battalion crossed by the shorter route, Folkestone-Boulogne. On April 19th, patriotic crowds crowded into Newcastle Central Station to line the platforms. They watched as nearly 1,000 Tommies poured into railway carriages whose sides were graffitied in chalk with the legends – ‘Berlin Express‘, ‘Up the Bede‘ & ‘Bede v. the Kaiser‘ -and they waved the youngs lads off on their journey to the front line.
At Folkestone the Bede boys joined a troopship & having reached Boulogne, were loaded into ‘horse trucks’ which ‘rattled through the French countryside & arrived at Cassel, about 12 miles west of Ypres…’
(Sources: Harry Moses & The Northern Echo)
Thus, WLS, Tutty & Bob H arrived just behind the front line trenches exactly 100 years ago today.