The Fighting Pioneers

The Story of the 7th Battalion Durham Light Infantry

By Clive Dunn

Pen & Sword, 2015

The Fighting PioneersThis latest addition to the ever-growing list of battalion histories focuses on the 7th Durham Light Infantry. A territorial battalion, and primarily a pioneer battalion, they incurred losses not only through exposure to enemy fire when carrying out work, but also through taking part in the fighting.

The book naturally follows a chronological path, from the initial training to the battalion landing in France in April 1915. The battalion was thrown into action on 26th April, and personal accounts show the brutality of the action, with experiences of men being gassed and engaged in hand to hand fighting. By June the battalion received its first reinforcements of 160 men; the originals already seen as old hands.

During the Somme campaign the battalion moved to the area in August 1916. The men spent time working on tram lines and making roads. The account shows that this was no mean feat – clearing mud, collecting bricks to fill in shell holes and level the roads was a constant job. At Flers in September 1916 the battalion was digging trenches, gun emplacements, and communication lines, but the worsening weather during the latter part of the campaign did not help. The end of the campaign saw the battalion take part in the attack on the Butte de Warlencourt on 5th November 1916.

The mix of narrative and personal account works well to paint a vivid portrait of the experiences of the men. Many previously unpublished pictures are included (some from the front lines) as well as the usual collection of pictures of the men, postcards home, memorials and graves. One poignant pictures of over 40 men has been annotated showing who was killed or captured – about half their number.

Appendices include awards, battle honours, officers who served with the battalion, and other ranks who landed with the battalion in April 1915. The list of awards (including many citations) is testament to the fact that the battalion was never far from the action. A brief chapter is also devoted to the 2/7th battalion, which served at home for almost the whole duration of the war but was sent to Russia in October 1918.

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The Fighting Pioneers – The Story of the 7th Battalion DLI