A commemorative bench was unveiled on 19th September 2016 at Thiepval. A gift from County Durham and the local British press, this seat pays homage to the men of the 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, many of whom fell during the 1916 Battle of the Somme.
The 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, whose members included British composer George Butterworth MC, who died at Pozières on 5th August 1916, aged 31, suffered many losses during the Battle of the Somme.
This commemorative seat pays homage to them all. It was unveiled on 19th September 2016 at Thiepval, one hundred years to the day after the battalion suffered its highest losses during an attack on Thiepval ridge.
A Pals Battalion
The 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry was a pals battalion and included amongst its ranks of volunteers, childhood friends, colleagues and relatives from all walks of life.
Many of the troops of the British Army in 1916 were pals battalions. These troops had had little battle experience and only a few months of training before being thrown into one of the most deadly battles of the war.
This type of battalion enabled the men to stay with their friends for the duration of their war. Members of these battalions often grew up together, went to the same schools, joined up and went through basic training and into battle together.
While this encouraged loyalty within the unit and strengthened moral, it also meant that when caught up in fierce fighting, many men from the same villages could lose their life on a single day. This was the case for the 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry.
A Fund-raising Campaign
There are many memorials to various pals battalions in the Somme, but none to the Durham Pals. A fund raising campaign was thus launched by the Durham County Council, working closely with the Durham Light Infantry Trustees, Durham Cathedral, Durham University and The Northern Echo, to provide them with a lasting memorial.
The seat has been placed between the Thiepval Visitor Centre and the Thiepval Memorial, a memorial to the 72,000 men of the British and South African forces who have no known grave, and who died between 1915 and the 20th March 1918. The bench is easily identified by its design with British Tommies, crosses and poppies. It faces Pozières and Mouquet Farm, across the beautiful, peaceful landscapes that surround Thiepval.
The unveiling of the bench was a moment of intense emotion. The Chairman of County Durham spoke of the commitment of these young men: friends, colleagues and comrades in arms who were above all fathers, sons and brothers.
A panel has been placed next to the bench to explain the history and role of the battalion in the First World War and a second bench has been placed in Durham, at the very beginning of the men's long journey into war.
A film of the unveiling can be seen here : http://www.courrier-picard.fr/video/x4ttfhk