10th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, War Diary July 1941

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For a more complete picture of activity this War Diary should be read in conjunction with the 70th Infantry Brigade War Diary for the same month.

1st July 1941

The Battalion took part in a Field Firing Exercise during which Bren Carriers were used to simulate tanks. Bad weather caused transport problems for the exercise.

Cpl LOWES of D Coy – Section Commander of the troops providing the manpower for the Skagastrond post - was awarded the British Empire Medal for devotion to duty.

Despite extensive searches it has not proved possible to track down a copy of the actual citation for the award, which appeared in the King’s Birthday Honours List in the London Gazette. This is, unfortunately, not unusual, in that many such citations did not survive.

The following note has, however, been prepared to recognise Corporal Lowes’ achievements:-

Lance-Corporal Henry LOWES of 10th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, a native of BISHOP AUCKLAND, was the Section Commander of a group of infantrymen from this unit who manned a Coast Watching Post at the village of Skagastrond in northern Iceland over the winter of 1940/41.

The limited roads and severe winter conditions meant that he and his men were effectively cut off for several months and, in particular, that the task they had been set, and the discipline of the Section, were entirely Lance-Corporal LOWES’ responsibility, as he had no direct access to more senior non-commissioned officers, or to his Platoon or Company Commanders.

As a result of his success in maintaining the effectiveness and efficiency of his small command, and indeed their level of morale in these unique and adverse conditions, Lance-Corporal (Acting Corporal) Henry LOWES was awarded the British Empire Medal. The formal notification of the award appeared in The London Gazette on 27th June 1941 and the presentation of the medal took place at an investiture at Buckingham Palace some months later.

In one of the documents, filed within the Brigade War Diaries, is an account of a visit paid by a Senior Officer to Skagastrond, during which he was shown around by Lance Corporal LOWES. The clear impression given to the officer was that LOWES was the unofficial Mayor of the village, hailed and greeted on that basis by all he met.

It seems that the formal citation for the award of the medal did not survive, despite detailed searches being made, but the references to LOWES’ management of his command in the documents clearly lay at the heart of his recognition.

One wonders what Henry Lowes would think of modern Skagastrond – bright, colourful and apparently prosperous – though still housing the Nissen Huts with which the Section were very probably familiar!

3rd July 1941

The Scheme in which the Battalion was participating was cancelled due to bad weather.

6th July 1941

The 10th Battalion moved to new camps in accordance with the change in the defence of the North-Western Sector of Iceland.

7th July 1941

A huge naval convoy arrived – 4 battleships, 12 destroyers and 6 troopships carrying US Marines, who were arriving to assume the responsibility, in due course, for the defence of Iceland.

8th July 1941

The Battalion made links with several US Officers – some of whom had known 1st Battalion of The Durham Light Infantry in SHANGHAI and TIENTSIN.

The US troops were apparently envious of British battle dress uniform as, at the time, they only had their Service Dress uniforms to work in. The Americans were also very appreciative of the work done by the troops of the Brigade to “dig in” the camps they were due to occupy. Indeed, some 70th Brigade units moved out of huts into tents in order to allow the Americans to occupy the Nissen Huts.

9th July 1941

The American Marines drive fast and are trying to drive on the right hand side of the road – in contravention of the Icelandic system. There was concern over possible road accidents as a result, though this has not been investigated in detail.

10th July 1941

The 10th Battalion took part in a major Exercise in which a Battle was fought with 1st Tyneside Scottish.

11th July 1941

The exercise involving both Battalions was regarded as successful.

13th July 1941

The Battalion started work on the Reykjavik aerodrome as a result of the pressure to have the job completed as soon as possible.

15th July 1941

The whole Battalion was working on the aerodrome in shifts and were still accommodated in tents.

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