This weekend will see the unveiling of a memorial stone in the French hamlet of Bus-Les-Artois dedicated to the soldiers who served in the Durham Pals during World War I.
The Durham Pals were stationed in the hamlet in the lead-up to the Battle of the Somme. Their memorial will sit alongside memorials to the Bradford Pals and Leeds Pals.
The Durham Pals, known as the 18 DLI, were a battalion of the Durham Light Infantry regiment. Many were childhood friends who had grown up together in the towns and villages of County Durham.
Pals battalions were made up of ordinary men who volunteered to serve during recruitment drives. They were given the promise that they would serve alongside their friends, neighbours and colleagues rather than being allocated to battalions full of strangers.
The memorial stone will be unveiled on Saturday evening during Bus-Les-Artois’ annual commemorative service. The service will be attended by the chairman of Durham County Council Cllr John Lethbridge and by 23 members of the DLI association.
Cllr Lethbridge said, “It is extremely important to recognise the sacrifice of the Durham Pals and we are delighted that a permanent memorial has now been installed in an area the battalion had such strong links with.”
“This weekend also marks 102 years since the beginning of The Battle of the Somme and it is fitting that we take time to remember all those who lost their lives fighting for our country.”
On 1st July 1916, 60,000 British soldiers moved out of their trenches and into no man’s land. Within one hour, more than half of these men were dead or wounded – the greatest loss of soldiers in a single day in British history.
The Durham Pals went into the trenches on 30th June with 800 men. By 5th July, the battalion had suffered 500 casualties, with 70 dead.
The memorial stone was made in Durham then shipped over to France. The cost of the stone was met by funds left over from a Northern Echo appeal to install memorial benches on Durham Riverbanks and in Thiepval, France.
In related news, Durham County Council are aiming to install memorial stones in County Durham to honour each local soldier who received the Victoria Cross during the First World War.