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Veterans launch appeal for DLI memorial for Durham
FIELD Marshal Montgomery said they were the best of the best and Winston Churchill personally bade them farewell on the eve of D-Day. They remain one of the British Army's proudest and best-loved regiments but the Durham Light Infantry has no memorial in its home county.
The regiment's legacy is deeply imbedded in the hearts of the North-East - its soldiers having served with distinction in conflicts spanning more than two centuries.
In the First World War, the fiercest ever fought by British soldiers, the DLI fielded more men than any other British regiment. By the end, more than 12,000 members of the regiment paid the ultimate price and 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded.
A generation later, Field Marshal Montgomery, who commanded the DLI in Alamein, Normandy and Holland, remarked: “There may be some regiments as good, but I know of none better.”
In January 1953, Field Marshal Montgomery received the freedom of the City of Durham. In his speech he paid tribute to the fighting spirit of the men from the North-East.
"The 5oth Division [which included three battalions of the DLI] was the veteran fighting division of the war," he told the audience. "They did more fighting than any other infantry division. I never knew the 50th Division fail to do anything I asked them to do and the men from the North of England were the hard-core of the Division."
Today, we are backing a campaign by veterans to have a DLI memorial immortalising their sacrifices placed in the heart of their home county.
The larger-than-life bronze will symbolise a moment in history when a platoon of 1 DLI buglers sounded the ceasefire in Korea in 1953 from a hilltop on the frontline.
It will be a replica of a statue placed in the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire last July.
An appeal for the original memorial was launched after two former DLI soldiers – signaller Keith Straughier and bugler Richard Softley – visited the arboretum and were dismayed to find the DLI was not represented there.
More than £90,000 was raised for the memorial, much of it coming from Northern Echo readers.
The statue by sculptor Alan Herriot, of Howgate, near Edinburgh, was based on a photograph of the then 18-year-old Colour Sergeant Brandon Mulvey of Chester-le-Street.
Veterans have now decided the bronze deserves pride of place in Durham City and have launched an appeal to fund an exact copy.
Appeal co-ordinator Colonel Arthur Charlton said: “We want to thank everyone again for their generosity and the support they gave us to get a memorial on the national stage.
“We are now working toward getting a replica for Durham City and hope that the people of the North-East will rally behind the project in the same way.
“Because the regiment is a local regiment and of high significance to County Durham, it would be nice and fitting to have it suitably commemorated in the city.”
Col Charlton said negotiations had begun to find a suitable site in Durham, with some of the locations proposed including the Market Place, Silver Street, the green at Old Elvet and near Durham Cathedral.
Costings for a replica have yet to be finalised, but the cost of a second casting will be “considerably less”, because all the design work has already been done.
Durham City MP Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods, who has thrown her weight behind the bid, said: “I really want to support the campaign.
“The DLI is really important to the history of Durham and it would be great to have this memorial in the city centre.
“I want to encourage people to contribute to it. I know times are very difficult, but if people could give something - whatever they could afford – that would be really helpful.”
James Ramsbotham, honorary colonel of The Rifles, the regiment that traces its roots to the DLI, said: “I think that it is very easy for people nowadays not to understand what the DLI means for generations of people in County Durham.
“But you only have to visit every single village war memorial and look at which regiment most of our forebears served with and died for. The DLI is there in every single part of County Durham.
“It has an incredible history and the nickname the Faithful is absolutely fitting for such a fine regiment.”
He added: “Whenever you speak to any Durham family, not only have they had great parents grand-uncles and others who served in the regiment, but they are also incredibly proud to talk about it. It is deeply imbedded in the hearts of everybody.”
Mr Ramsbotham said, many people will not manage to get to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
He added: “Therefore it is important that we have it absolutely in the heart of our local community, as well where people can get to it.
“I think when people see it they will be deeply touched if they have been able to contribute to it - and I hope that they will do so.”
* Donations for the appeal, made payable to the Regimental and Chattels Charity of the former DLI, should be sent to: DLI Memorial Appeal, The Rifles Office, Elvet Waterside, Durham, DH1 3BW.
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