How the Brigade was raised

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To set the establishment of the Brigade into some reasonable context it must be remembered that there had been considerable reform and restructuring of the Territorial Forces in the period following the end of the First World War.

In what was a period of re-establishment during the inter-war years new recruiting had started in early 1920, and the Territorial Force was reconstituted on the 7th February 1920. On 1 October 1920 the Territorial Force was renamed the Territorial Army (TA).

The Territorial Army 1st Line Divisions (those that were created in 1907 or 1908 as part of the Haldane Reforms) were reconstituted in that year. However, the composition of the Divisions was altered, with a reduction in the number of infantry Battalions required. There was also a reduced need for cavalry, and of the fifty-five yeomanry regiments, only the fourteen senior regiments retained their horses. The remaining yeomanry were converted to artillery, or armoured car, units or disbanded. The amalgamation of forty pairs of infantry battalions was announced in October, 1921.

As part of the post-war "Geddes Axe" financial cuts, the TA was further reduced in size in 1922: artillery batteries lost two of their six guns, the established size of infantry battalions was cut and ancillary medical, veterinary, signals and Royal Army Service Corps units were either reduced in size or abolished. An innovation in 1922 was the creation of two Air Defence Brigades to provide anti-aircraft defence for London.

However, most relevant to this brief history is that on 29 March 1939 it was announced that the size of the TA was to be doubled – following from an announcement in general terms in Autumn 1938 - essentially by creating “duplicate” units – in the case of Infantry from Divisional level down to, and including, Battalions. The total strength of the TA was to be 440,000: the field force of the Territorial Army was to rise from 130,000 to 340,000, organised in 26 Divisions, while an additional 100,000 all ranks would form the anti-aircraft section.

My late father, Robert Bagnall Dixon, and one of his first cousins – the late John Robert Bagnall – both joined the TA – the 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (a 1st Line Battalion) - in Durham a few weeks later, on 2nd May 1939. At the ages of 18, with birth dates in August and February – John being the older by six months - they were allocated, in the Regimental Enlistment Book, the Regimental Numbers 4455504 and 4455503 respectively.

The Territorial Army’s 1st Line Division for the North East of England was the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division. When the TA’s 2nd Line was reformed they were a little different from their WWI predecessors. They had slightly different names and the regiments assigned were different.

The 70th Brigade War Diary tells us that a conference was held on 9th June 1939 to discuss the title and structure of the new 2nd Line TA Division for the North East. The intention had been to number the new formation the 63rd Division, but a strong debate then ensued as to whether it should be numbered as the 23rd.

Reference was made, not for the first time – as will be mentioned later - to historical links with the First World War and, in particular, to the situation when 23rd Division – which had included both the 12th and 13th Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry (New Army) - had fought on the left of the 50th Division on the Somme in 1916. The 50th and 23rd Divisions had met again at 3rd Ypres in 1917.

The prevailing view was that 23rd was the most appropriate number for the new formation and 23rd was eventually authorised after an appeal by ex-officers to Mr Hore-Belisha, Secretary of State for War. At Brigade level the duplicate to the existing 151st Brigade – which contained 6th, 8th and 9th Battalions, Durham Light Infantry, became 70th Brigade. At Battalion level, each existing fist-line Battalion would create a duplicate of itself – producing the 10th, 11th and 12th Battalions respectively.

The then Commander of 50th Division, Maj Gen le Q Martel instructed on 14th June 1939 that the procedure for the final separation of the original and duplicate units should be….”The date from which a duplicate unit is considered sufficiently organised to be independent of the “original” unit will be decided and reported to 50th Division”.

Separation, as perceived in June 1939, was to be on a geographical basis. The original idea was to create a 150th (North Durham) Brigade under Brigadier Kirkup with the 9th, 11th and 12th Battalions, Durham Light Infantry, headquartered at Chester-le-Street.

151st Brigade would be a South Durham Brigade, under Brigadier Churchill, with the 6th, 8th and 10th Battalions, Durham Light Infantry with their HQ at Durham City. Both Brigades would be part of 50th Division. The original 150th Brigade, and its duplicate, had been intended to make up 23rd Division – both 23rd and 50th Divisions were intended to be motorised.

However, the annual training camp for 151st Brigade, due to take place at Whitby, had been fixed for 10th – 24th September 1939 so that the Battalions could take part in some exercises in Yorkshire – separation into the new Brigades was to be deferred until after the conclusion of this camp with all their personnel attending – recruits for the whole of the two weeks, trained men taking part in the exercises on the second week. Mobilisation and embodiment on 1st September 1939 interfered with these plans with one Division required to go overseas as soon as possible.

The outcome was that all trained men except the duplicate CO, adjutant, Quartermasters and a cadre were kept in the original 151st Brigade Battalions (6th, 8th and 9th DLI) which formed 50 Division, along with the original 150th Brigade (4th East Yorks, 4th and 5th Green Howards).

The “duplicate” Battalions, 10th, 11th and 12th DLI, then formed 70th Brigade, while 69th Brigade contained 5th East Yorks and 6th and 7th Green Howards. I have not been able to trace the relevant documentation which contains the decisions on these Brigade numberings. For the time being, 69th and 70th Brigades, making up 23rd Division, were administered by 50th Division and this applied when embodiment took place on 1st September 1939.

When embodiment was ordered on the 1st of September, 70th Brigade HQ was established at Mains House (at the junction of West Lane and Front Street) Chester-le-Street, with Brigadier P Kirkup DSO, OBE, MC, TD as Brigade Commander, Capt Fillingham as Brigade Major, Lieut. Trail as Staff Captain and 2/Lieut. Catto as Intelligence Officer. Brigadier Kirkup had commanded 8th DLI during the First World War.

The HQ of the 41st (Durham) National Defence Corps was also set up at Mains House, with Lt Col Stafford commanding, and Maj. Boys-Stones as Adjutant.

Of the three DLI Battalions making up the Brigade, the 10th had its HQ at Bishop Auckland, the 11th HQ was in Durham, with Companies headquartered at Birtley, Chester-le-Street, Stanley and Houghton-le-Spring and finally the 12th had its HQ at Gateshead – with detachments at Blaydon and Chopwell.

War was declared on 3rd September 1939.

The process of embodiment, following the formal declaration of War, involved some immediate changes of Headquarters and locations – the 10th Bn HQ moved to Spennymoor with 3 of their Companies, while their fourth Company was situated at Crook, the 11th Bn remained as it had been on 1st September while the 12th (Tyneside Scottish) Battalion HQ moved within Gateshead to the Victoria Road Schools, Team, with a detachment remaining at Blaydon.

Immediate tasks were forthcoming for the Brigade – the 11th Bn provided a guard at Usworth RAF Station for ground defence and the 12th Bn furnished a guard of 3 Officers and 48 other ranks over ammunition at Sunderland Docks – presumably before its loading on to transport vessels. In addition, the 11th Bn changed its HQ from Durham to “The Hawthorns”, Picktree Lane, Chester-le-Street.

More Information

The Legal and Constitutional Background
The geographical background to the Brigade
Investigating the social background of the Brigade’s manpower
Creating the database of names
The use of War Diaries in the history
List of Abbreviations
List of Units
Home Service 1939 - 1940
British Expeditionary Force April - June 1940
Defending against Invasion June - October 1940
Iceland Garrison October 1940 - December 1941
Home Service and Winter Warfare Training 1942 - 1943
Pre-Invasion Training 1943 - 1944
Normandy 1944


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