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Mark Anniversaries that are special to the Brigade.
In late August and early September 2019 we note, respectfully, the birth of the 70th Infantry Brigade as the Territorial Army became "embodied" on 24th August 1939 and units began to be mobilised. The Brigade came into being on 1st September as the over-recruited 151 Brigade - in accordance with the plans which aimed at the doubling of the Territorial Army - split into two - creating a new Brigade working to a new Division - the 23rd - a famous title from the First World War - itself a duplicate of the 50th Division. The Brigade was formed from the three Battalions (6th, 8th and 9th) of The Durham Light Infantry, creating duplicates of themselves as the 10th, 11th and 12th DLI respectively - soon to be joined by the 187th Field Ambulance.
The Brigade, based at Mains House, Chester-Le-Street, also oversaw the administration of the 41st (Durham) National Defence Company - the first local reserve unit to take up arms in its role of defending and guarding vulnerable points from 28th August - and suffering the first local casualty - Private George Robert Milburn, accidentally killed by a train at the Croxdale viaduct on 29th August. As Private Milburn lost his life before the declaration of hostilities he is, sadly, not officially regarded as a War Casualty and, it is understood, his grave in Medomsley does not bear a CWGC headstone.
We marked in 2015 the 75th Anniversary of the German Invasion of Belgium, France and the Low Countries in May 1940. Only a small number of Brigade Veterans of those dark days survive - almost all of them men who endured five years of captivity in Poland and Germany after seeing their comrades overwhelmed by Panzer forces, closely supported by aircraft . The villagers of FOSSEUX in Northern France made their own arrangements, alongside their commemoration of VE Day, to honour Private William THOMSON of the 11th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, who died of his wounds, sustained while seeking cover from an approaching enemy column just outside the village, on 21st May 1940. Private THOMSON, who came from Deptford in Sunderland, is the only Second World War casualty known to be buried in the village Cemetery and attempts were made, sadly without result so far, to trace any of his surviving relatives so they could be invited to the ceremonies in the village, the population of which have helped to care for his grave.
Each 20th May we mark the Battles of FICHEUX and MERCATEL in 1940 in which so many men of the Brigade lost their lives, and a large number were wounded and captured when the marching troops were attacked by several Panzer columns, against which they had little or no defence. The German armoured advance was halted for some five hours as a result of this action - gaining valuable time for those retreating towards the Dunkirk perimeter, but at an enormous cost for the North-East in what was a disastrous sacrifice of ill-equipped and partly trained men.
It is very pleasing to note that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission featured the dedication of the "Popielow Graves" as its lead news item on 7th August 2014. The 70th Brigade researchers played a significant role in assisting with the identification, especially of Trooper Henry Alexander THOMSON M.M. as the second casualty of the shooting on 21st July 1944, and in supporting the family's research in respect of L/Cpl John Thomas Saunders, who can be found on the manpower list of 1st Tyneside Scottish. The dedication of the two headstones took place on the morning of 21st August 2014, organised by the Ministry of Defence and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, in the presence of both family and Regimental representatives. Local newspapers featured the event and the background stories.
At the end of June, and on 1st July 2016 we mark the 72nd Anniversary of the engagements in Normandy in 1944 in which so many men of the Brigade were wounded, and a large number lost their lives.
This period culminated in the key battle for the Defence of Rauray in which the 70th Infantry Brigade distinguished itself, earning a formal Battle Honour and inflicting heavy casualties on the German armoured forces in what proved to be the last major attempt to halt the Allied advance in that part of Normandy - a struggle documented in detail in Kevin Baverstock's book "Breaking the Panzers", and described in the Brigade and Battalion War Diaries of the period. These can be accessed from the "List of Units" link towards the top of the Main Page.
During the rest of July and August 1944 the Brigade was involved in a series of tough engagements which again resulted in heavy casualties - on both sides - and maintained the considerable pressure on the Axis Forces.
At the end of August 1944 the 70th Infantry Brigade, as the junior Brigade of the 49th (West Riding) Division, was one of the units of the 21st Army Group disbanded in order to provide reinforcements for others.
Considerable efforts were made to try and ensure that the men were kept in Company Groups and transferred with their own Officers, either to; the DLI Battalions of 151 Brigade (the "parent" of 70th Brigade), other Battalions of the Black Watch - in the case of the 1st Tyneside Scottish, or back to parent units - such as the South Wales Borderers, from where men had transferred in to the Brigade as casualty replacements. Details can be found in the Battalion War Diaries.
Report new information as it is received.
As a result of receiving an image from the son of a former member of the Battalion we now have a copy of a photograph of an 11th DLI Group of around 200 men - although the actual date it was taken is uncertain, it would have been between July 1943 and June 1944. If anyone can recognise the location in the picture which can be found here, or knows of any of the men featured, do please let me know by clicking here.
Similarly, on the same page of unidentified photographs, can be found an image which is believed to be of a group of drivers, probably from 1st Tyneside Scottish, taken in Iceland. Pte L H Rowell is at the front centre of the group and we are keen, as are his family, to identify the other soldiers present. If you recognise any of these men please do let us know via the e-mail link.
With great regret we learned, via Dr Tom Renouf M.M., of the death of Captain Brian Thomas Webster STEWART of Broich, Crieff, the last surviving Officer from 1st Tyneside Scottish. Captain Stewart's Memorial Page can be found here. We offered our very sincere condolences to his family and were most appreciative that Rory Stewart MP acknowledged our message so courteously. We are grateful that we had the opportunity to interview Captain Stewart at his home, and record his experiences. This added considerably to our knowledge of the Battalion in 1943-1944 and gave us the opportunity to meet another of nature's gentlemen.
Sadly, we also had to report the death of one of the Brigade's most stalwart Veterans, Mr Eric Jones, whose Website page can be found here Eric was enthusiastic about the research work and rang up every two or three months for an update on progress. He was one of the many Brigade members captured in May 1940 - serving five years in Thorn PoW Camp - and was willing to describe his experiences in telephone interviews, for which we were most grateful. His cheerful interest is greatly missed.
It was been a major boost to meet and talk to more former members of the Brigade and to include them in the, sadly short, list of surviving Veterans. One or two have already contributed formal interviews to the records held by the Imperial War Museum, and links to those are included on their Website pages. They have been supplied with copies of the relevant Battalion War Diary as an aide memoire. A meeting also took place at the DLI Museum with a Veteran of 1st Tyneside Scottish and his family, which was a real privilege and pleasure. I also interviewed a local 10th DLI Veteran and was given a detailed account of the training of Young Soldiers at the Infantry Training Centre, Brancepeth, and the School of Infantry at Barnard Castle - the latter being the subject of articles in the Northern Echo in 2012. The list of known surviving Brigade Group Veterans now totals around 17, and it is hoped more will be discovered as relatives become aware of the Website.
Much more information has now been traced, thanks to the excellent members of the Rootsweb Mariners forum, on the death at sea of Captain Arthur William Lamason LAWN. He served briefly in both 10th and 11th Battalions of the DLI, including service in Iceland, and died when the ship (SS Port Hunter) carrying him back to Wellington to rejoin the New Zealand Forces was torpedoed by a GNAT from the German Submarine U-582 west of Madeira, and sank very quickly when her munitions cargo exploded. All but three on board were lost. The New Zealand Military Archives came up trumps by sending me a complete copy of his Service Record, including his earlier career in the TA in the NZ Forces.
The same Web Forum was of material assistance in tracking down, and making copies available of relevant ships' documents, on the tragic death at sea of L/Cpl George JOHNSON, 10th DLI, while en route to Iceland. He is buried at the FOSSVOGUR CEMETERY in Reykjavik and a photograph of his headstone - which we took on our research trip to Iceland, is now on his Website Page. The unstinting assistance of the "Mariners' Forum" is gratefully acknowledged.
Keep users up to date on Website changes.
A major update to the lists of men who served in the Brigade, adding several hundred names, was completed some time ago and has already helped family history researchers to track down servicemen they were seeking. Work has been completed to ensure that the "old" information has been deleted, as many individual "pages" have been replaced with newer versions containing more comprehensive information. If Website users come across the remains of any "old" pages, please let the lead researcher know at email@example.com so that they can be deleted to avoid confusion and duplication. Thanks are due to Effective Internet Ltd for dealing with this anomaly left over from the update process.
The use of the Website is now being regularly monitored, using Google Analytics, and this gives a very useful indication of the scale of access by the public.
Record the work being done to improve and enhance the information held.
Thanks to the efforts of the researchers at The DLI Collection we have been given further information which has allowed us to identify more men of that most elusive group - those who were members of the Territorial Army before the outbreak of War. We will be adding the 145 identified men to the lists for the 10th and 11th Battalions of the DLI - going some way to closing our largest known information gap - though we know there are more to find!
Images of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones for the Brigade's casualties - many of which were photographed on the research trips to France and Iceland - are now being added to the individual Memorial Pages of the soldiers concerned. Acknowledgment has been given to the "Find a Grave" Website for access to images of those headstone which we had not been able to photograph ourselves.
Some progress is being made in starting to annotate the taped interviews held with Veterans by the Imperial War Museum and the resulting details are being added to the relevant War Diaries in an attempt to "flesh-out" the contents of the formal documents. There are quite a few of these to document and the process is slow but these are valuable eye-witness accounts which need to be taken on board.
More family photographs have been recently uploaded and annotated, and the trickle of family enquiries tends to bring in more such images, which we are happy to include on the Website.
Work has been completed on documenting the material on the Brigade's Officers held at the Durham County Record Office, and the help and support of the staff there is gratefully acknowledged. The contents of the McGregor Card Index of DLI Officers has now been reviewed in full and extracts made of information in respect of Officers who served with the Brigade. This includes "family" as well as military information. The collected information has been added to the project databases and amendments made to the individual Website pages for these men, with relevant links being provided where other Websites can add to our knowledge of these Officers. It was hoped to find similar material on the Black Watch Officers who served in 1st Tyneside Scottish, but the relevant reference material is proving elusive!
The exercise threw up a score or so of names where men had been commissioned from the ranks, and work was done, again in the County Archives, to trace their former service and add that detail to their records.
Genealogical searches have been used to add further renements to the McGregor information on DLI Officers and this has now been done for 10th DLI. Work will shortly commence on the other units - starting with 11th DLI and Brigade HQ.
I have now completed adding the information we traced during our two visits to the Royal Logistics Corps Museum at Deepcut Barracks about the Brigade transferees to the Royal Army Service Corps, Royal Pioneer Corps, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and the Army Catering Corps to both their individual Website pages and the Project databases. The unstinting help of the Curator, and his predecessor Andy Robertshaw, and Archivist Gareth Mears is very gratefully and sincerely acknowledged. The fact that their set of Royal Pioneer Corps Enlistment Books had been digitised made that task much easier. While we could not trace all the men we sought, we were aware that some records had been lost in the past.
During this exercise we discovered that one RPC soldier - Private Hugh GRANT, formerly of the DLI, had died in service on 6th January 1943 and is buried at Gateshead East Cemetery. Until we researched the RPC Books, we were unaware of this casualty. No mention of his death is made in the DLI records, as by then he had left the Regiment, and this is not, of itself, unusual. We try very hard to ensure that all post-70th Brigade casualties are properly recorded and honoured. Many of those men who transferred to other Battalions of the DLI, or to the Black Watch, or to other Regiments, when the Brigade was disbanded in late August 1944 lost their lives in the subsequent fighting in Normandy and the Netherlands. In addition some of the hundreds of men who were captured in May 1940 died, or were killed, in enemy custody.
Similar updates to the databases and the Website Pages have been made in respect of the data collected at the Royal Military Police, Royal Corps of Signals and Royal Engineers Museums and, again, the enthusiastic support of Curators and Archivists is most gratefully acknowledged.
A visit to The Keep Military Museum at Winchester to consult the recently discovered Enlistment Books for the Devonshire and Dorsetshire Regiments closed a significant gap in the records of several hundred men - especially those serving in 11th DLI at the time of disbandment. The assistance of their staff is also gratefully acknowledged.
A sizeable "outstanding" pile of Regimental and personal information is the the course of being processed. The data on 1st Tyneside Scottish Officers has been reviewed and enhanced, using a combination of research on Ancestry.co.uk and The London Gazette, as well as routine searches for the relevant name - this has produced information on several Officers who had notable post-War Careers.
Work has been completed to process the War Diary of the 187th Field Ambulance and the 507th Field Company and the 508th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers. I have now also documented the War Diary of 2nd Battalion, Princess Louise's Kensington Regiment - one of the Machine-Gun, and subsequently Support, Battalions, which provided key support to the Infantry Brigades in the 49th Division. Work to process and upload the War Diaries of the RASC Companies used to support the Brigade in 1942 and 1943 has been completed - the Diaries of the Brigade vehicle Workshops having also now been completed. The Diaries of two of the three Royal Indian Army Service Corps Mule Companies that worked with the Brigade in 1942 are now documented on the Website - I hope to trace the third in due course. These Companies were originally part of Force K6, which served with distinction with the BEF in early 1940 and had to leave their mules and horses in France - to the benefit of French farmers - when they evacuated via Dunkirk.
The War Diary of 125th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery has been processed up until June 1940, when 23rd Division was disbanded. This Regiment subsequently converted to become 125th Anti-Tank Regiment and was posted to the Far East - sadly being captured by the Japanese in February 1942. Many of the members of the Regiment died in Japanese hands and work has been done to create the personal pages for these men. Help from the Website of the Children of Far East PoWs, is most gratefully acknowledged. A similar approach was taken to the processing of the names of PoWs and casualties from 9th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers - another of the Machine-Gun Battalions and also captured at Singapore in 1942 - but the results were not as complete, unfortunately, as the source material was incomplete. However, much of that deficit was made good thanks to the volunteers of the Belford Local Museum, who held a copy of the key Part II Order in their WW2 Archive.
The Diary of the 55th Anti-Tank Regiment for the relevant period is also now on the Website as are the Diaries of 143rd Field Regiment (another example of a Diary completed in manuscript by a writer with less than ideal penmanship skills!), the 178th Field Regiment, 88th Anti-Tank Regiment, 89th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, 185 Field Regiment, and the 1st Mountain Regiment. The War Diaries of the remaining Royal Engineer Units followed, and that effectively complete that key major documentation task.
Following that, it is the intention to draft the descriptive elements covering the Brigade's service. Supportive information is always being sought to enhance the work and the help of authors and publishers has been most welcome.
Queries and information from users of the Website should continue to be sent to the Lead Researcher - preferably by e-mail - by clicking here.