As soon as the war broke out on August 4, 1914, volunteers had come forward to join the Durham Pals – the 18th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. They were immediately caught up in the bombardment of Hartlepool on December 16.


After training at Ripon and Salisbury Plain, the Pals were sent to Egypt for desert training, arriving in Alexandria on December 19.


The Northern Echo:

March 5
After months in the desert, the Pals board HMT Ivernia, pictured above, at Port Said. They believe they are heading for either Mesopotamia or Salonika.

March 11
Arrive Marseilles. D Company, the advance party, are the rest of at 6.30pm. All get on board a cattle train, with 30 men plus kit crammed in each cattle truck, which at midnight begins to head north. It travels so slowly that two men who fell off are able to jog ahead to the next station and reboard the train.

March 14 

The Northern Echo:

Arrive Pont Remy, picture above, – a town on the River Somme – at 3am. Snow is falling. They walk for seven hours to Citerne where they are billeted in farm buildings.

March 29
After several days marching, the battalion arrives at Beaussart, near the frontline. Almost immediately it suffers its first casualty when shrapnel from a bomb dropped by a German plane kills Pte Arthur Armstrong, 26, of High Grey Street, Crook.

March 30
The Pals are in the frontline trenches, facing the Germans at Auchonvillers – nicknamed “ocean villas”.

March 31
Cpl Harold Leake, 22, of York, is killed by a sniper’s bullet – he is the first of the 18th to be killed in the trenches.

April 3
At 8pm, the Pals are withdrawn and stationed in Bus les Artois, where they are employed in training and carrying items to the frontline.

April 20
They return to the Auchonvillers frontline, only 200 yards from enemy trenches. Pte Levi Sutton of A Company, whose wife and two children live in Westmoreland Street, Darlington, is killed by a trench mortar.

April 24
They are withdrawn to Colincamps and then Bertrancourt, where they are able to pay their respects at the grave of Pte Armstrong, the battalion’s first casualty.

May 6
Back to Bus les Artois.

May 14
To the frontline, where they get their first sight of the German-held village of Serre.

The Northern Echo:

May 19
Withdrawn to Colincamps, but this village is, like the frontline, under constant attack – D Company’s field cooker takes a direct hit and is destroyed.

May 23
Lance-Corporal Frank Lockey, 34, a grocer’s son from Durham City who had been educated at Barnard Castle School, is killed by a sniper while repairing barbed wire on the frontline.

May 24
They are moved further back to Warnimont Wood, where they train for the Big Push, using model enemy trenches. It is now clear that D Company, comprising mainly Hartlepool men, is to lead the attack.

June 4
The Pals move up to Courcelles au Bois, just behind the frontline. Their duties involve venturing into no man’s land to check German defences.

June 20
Three officers and 197 NCOs of D Company leave to join the Bradford Pals in the 16th West Yorkshire Regiment, also near Courcelles, to receive special training for the assault.

June 30
8.45pm: D Company moves forward with the Bradford Pals to their frontline trenches, near Serre.

10.15pm: The 789 men who make up the rest of the battalion move forward, past Colincamps, which was on fire from enemy shells.

July 1
4.50am: The Durham pals reach Maitland trench, ready for the attack. D Company are dug in just in front.

7.30am: Zero hour: D Company goes over the top into the fire and heads for its objective of Pendant Copse, near Serre. The rest of the battalion follows two hours later…