Durham brothers


202710 LCPL. T. DURHAM. L.N.LAN.R.

22663 PTE. W. DURHAM. L.N.LAN.R.

24306 PTE. F. DURHAM.  L.N.LAN.R.


Three brothers from Lostock Hall, twins Thomas and William Durham and younger brother Fred, all served in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.  Although Tom and William were twins, they did not sign up or serve together.  Tom signed up in 1914 or 1915, served in several different regiments and came home safely.  William and Fred joined 10Bn and both were killed in 1917.


The brothers’ parents were Thomas Durham (b. 1872 in Bolton) and Ellen Sumner (b. 1871 in Farington).  Tom’s father (also Tom) was a cotton spinner and he brought his wife and young family to Cuerden Green by 1881, and they lived at 116 Lostock View.  By 1891, Tom (jnr.) and Ellen were both working as weavers.  They married on 26 December that year at St Saviour’s in Bamber Bridge.  They lived briefly in Farington, but in 1893 they moved to 14 Lostock View.  Tom and Ellen had 10 children: Lily (b. 1891), Mary Alice (b. 1892), Sarah Ellen (b. 1893), then the twins Thomas and William (b. 2 April 1896), Fred (b. 30 April 1898), Florence (b. 1900), Maria (b. 1904), Isabella (b. 1907) and finally Jane (b. 1912).  By 1911, all three boys were working in the mill, though Fred at age 12 had just started as a half-timer.

durham Tom  Army 017.jpg
durham William Army 016b.jpg
durham Fred  020.jpg

I am grateful to Gwen Bannister for permission to use these family photographs.

202710 LCPL. T. DURHAM. L.N.LAN.R.


Tom signed up in 1914 or early 1915 (he was 18 and just old enough) and initially joined 1/4 L.N.LAN.R. and was given service number 5739.  1/4Bn had gone to France in May 1915 but Tom was not posted abroad until 25 December 1915 and if he joined the Battalion then he would have found them at Authuille.  Little fighting was going on at the time and the army was in the process of reorganisation, as a result of which 1/4Bn was transferred from 51 (Highland) Division to 55 (West Lancashire) Division, its more ‘natural’ home and indeed the Division it would serve under for most of the remainder of the War.  Tom did not remain with 1/4Bn though, and although we know which units he served in, we do not know the dates on which he was transferred, so there is no way of knowing exactly where he might have been at any particular stage of the War, except for where he started and where he finished.  He was briefly in the 7th Garrison Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (ser. No. 66003), which was formed in January 1917 but disbanded the following month; then in 67 Company of the Labour Corps (ser. No. 39709), then in 2/5Bn L.N.LAN.R. then finally back to 1/4Bn.  When he came back to the Loyals he was given a new, six-digit, ser. No. 202710.  He ended the War with the rank of Lance Corporal. 


2/5Bn formed part of 57 Division (the second line West Lancashire Division), and in February 1918 2/5Bn was selected to be the Pioneer Battalion of that Division.  The Pioneer Battalion was an infantry battalion, trained to fight, but whose main function (like the Labour Corps) was to engage in labouring work and in 1918 the Battalion was engaged in road building and repair, closely following the allied advance especially towards the end of the year when 2/5Bn was among the first troops to enter the city of Cambrai and on 19 October 1918, in a completely different role, they provided a guard of honour for the French President Clémenceau on the occasion of his visit to the city of Lille, recently liberated from four years of German occupation.  They were at Tournai when news of the Armistice was received then in Arras where demobilisation began in the spring.  By early summer the whole Battalion had returned to England.  Tom was married in 1920 to Florence Edith Newsham and they had a son Thomas Ezra, born the following year.  Tom died in 1961.

22663 PTE. W. DURHAM.  L.N.LAN.R.

24306 PTE. F. DURHAM.  L.N.LAN.R.


William and Fred both served in 10Bn of the Loyals.  They appear not to have signed up together since if they had, their service numbers would have been closer and in any case Fred didn’t turn 18 until April 1916 so a possible scenario is that William went to France sometime in early to mid 1916 and Fred joined him towards the end of the year or early in 1917.  In fact, the Battalion was subjected to an army reorganisation in July 1916, and it was not heavily involved in the opening phase of the Battle of the Somme.  It is possible, however, that both brothers were together when the Battalion took part in the Battle of the Ancre (the final phase of the Battle of the Somme) from 13-18 November 1916.  A further draft of 9 officers and 244 other ranks arrived to reinforce the Battalion in December 1916, so Fred may have joined the Battalion then.


For the first few months of 1917, they were in training near Arras in preparation for the great offensive which opened on 9 April 1917.  The Battle of Arras was an attempt by the Allies to break through the German defences and although there were significant, even spectacular, advances on the first day, the Germans quickly recovered and stalemate ensued.  In fact, 37 Division, of which 10Bn was a part, was in reserve for the opening two days of the battle, but was called into the line on the 11th, precisely when it was getting at its most dangerous.  From the War Diary:


11 April.  5am  The Battalion having got into position for such an advance (to capture Monchy), immediately came into full view of the enemy and met with very heavy machine-gun and shell fire, and we received orders not to advance until out barrage had opened, but by this time we had carried by assault the enemy trench east of the Sunken Road, and were establishing ourselves in shell-holes 100 yards further east…  During the assault we suffered very heavy casualties and were enfiladed from Monchy-le-Preux….  The right flank … boldly determined to risk all and assault a small trench running south from the Cambrai road … A tank now came up to their aid.  On obtaining possession of the trench, Cpl Leonard, LCpl Dinwoodie and six men were all that were left, but these eight men boldly bombed along the trench killing more than a dozen Germans, taking three prisoners and then find themselves in complete possession.  To their surprise, seven German officers now appeared, apparently from nowhere, and were at once shot down. … At 1am on the 12th the Battalion was relieved and marched back, all greatly exhausted, to Tilloy Wood, and from there the next day to billets in cellars at Arras, the losses in this fighting totalling 13 officers and 286 other ranks, killed, wounded or missing.


The attack had been successful but at what cost?  Among the dead was William Durham.  He was 21 years old.


Rank:  Private

Service No:  22663

Date of Death:  12/04/1917

Regiment/Service:  The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment 10th Bn.

Grave Reference:  VII. G. 1.



Fred barely had time to bury his older brother, when the Battalion was called back into action on 23 April.  This time, given the nature of the terrain over which they were attempting to advance, the heavy enemy artillery barrage and constant machine-gun fire, and the fact that the Battalion had been reduced to just 140 NCOs and men and had lost most of its officers, the attack was a failure.  During these operations in April 1917, the Battalion had 21 officers and 478 other ranks killed, wounded or missing.


Following the heavy losses at Arras, the Division was now put into what were considered ‘quiet sectors’ to enable it to reorganize its units but they returned to the line on 23 September in the Menin area near Ypres.  Even here, despite not being directly involved in the major battles, after just 4 days in the line 94 men were killed or wounded. 


37 Division continued to be on the periphery of the Third Battle of Ypres, which had begun at the end of July and would continue to rage until November.  From the Regimental history:


On 8 October. Lt. J. H. Simpson was wounded, and on the following day in an attempt to capture a German post, fresh casualties were incurred, 2nd Lt. A. C. Baker being badly wounded with some of his party.  The shelling was always very heavy and very rough weather was experienced; and though 37 Division was not actually engaged in the front line in any of the battles of October and November of this year, it probably had as unenviable an experience of the Ypres Salient as any other division which served there.


Fred Durham was killed on 9 October in this attack on the German post.  He was just 19 years old.  What the history doesn’t tell us is that Fred’s body was never recovered so he has no grave.


Rank:  Private

Service No:  24306

Date of Death:  09/10/1917

Regiment/Service:  The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment 10th Bn.

Panel Reference:  Panel 102 to 104.