Skip Navigation • Access Keys • Frequently Asked Questions •

Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington


When war was declared in 1914, many people thought that it would be over by Christmas.

Recruitment leaflet for 5 DLI, 30 July 1915, p.1 (D/DLI 2/5/16) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
Recruitment leaflet for 5 DLI, 30 July 1915, p.2 (D/DLI 2/5/16) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
Patriotism was high and men were eager to fight for justice and their King and Country.

As the war dragged on for another 4 years, volunteers became fewer, and conscription was introduced to maintain the number of soldiers.

See a full transcript of the recruitment leaflet.

To attract recruits, posters were put up, advertisements were placed in newspapers, and recruitment meetings held.

Newspaper article ‘Recruiting at Langley Moor’, 12 February 1915 (D/WP 1/76) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office
One such meeting was held at the Social Club and Institute in Langley Moor in February 1915. It was reported in the Durham County Advertiser on 12 February.

The new battalion which they hoped to form may have become the 20th or 21st Battalion The Durham Light Infantry, both of which were raised in July 1915.

See a full transcript of the recruitment report from the Durham Advertiser, 12 February, 1915

Pals Battalions were created at the beginning of the war to encourage men to join up. These battalions guaranteed that men would stay with their friends for the length of the war and the men were all from a single city or area. Members of Pals Battalions grew up together, went to school together, joined up, went through basic training and into battle together. It was thought that this encouraged a strong sense of loyalty and increased morale.

Unfortunately, it also meant that if the battalion was caught in heavy fighting, many of the young men from one town or village were killed in a single battle on a single day.

Photograph of recruits at Cocken Hall, 1914 – 1915 (D/DLI 2/18/30) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
After the Battle of the Somme, with its high casualty rate (for example the small town of Tow Law lost 26 men in the battle from a population of around 4,300), friends were no longer encouraged to join the same battalion.

The Pals Battalion of the DLI was the 18th Battalion. At the beginning of the war, most of these men were recruited from County Durham. As the war went on, however, the heavy losses meant that men were transferred into 18DLI from other battalions and regions. An example is Private Roberts, who grew up in Cambridgeshire.

It was not only the Pals Battalions which had strong local ties, however, as many other battalions had a regional focus (although the men could be transferred to other battalions). 5DLI, for example, recruited around the Darlington, Stockton and Hartlepool areas and its memorial to the dead is in Stockton parish church.

Recruitment poster for the DLI territorial units, 18 May 1915 (Acc. 2795(D)) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office
This recruitment poster was produced on 18 May 1915. The DLI Territorial Battalions (5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 DLI) left Newcastle for France between 10 and 19 April 1915, and suffered massive losses around Ypres in April and May.

More recruits were therefore 'required at once to complete Territorial Units....[to] fill the gaps'.

See a full transcript of the recruitment poster.

The initial wave of enthusiasm for the war had faded by the end of 1915 and the need for a larger army, along with heavy losses at Ypres, meant that more soldiers were needed than could be met by volunteers. Conscription was introduced in January 1916 as part of the Military Service Act.

This Act stated that all unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 41 who were able-bodied had to enlist, unless they were in a protected occupation (e.g. coal mining or factory work) or used the 'conscience clause' to become conscientious objectors.

Conscientious objectors were men who refused to join the war because they believed it was wrong to 'bear arms'. These included pacifists (people who think any war is wrong), those with certain religious beliefs (such as Quakers) and political objectors who did not agree with the war against Germany.

Some objectors would not fight but agreed to work in factories or carry stretchers and drive ambulances in the front line; others believed that war itself was wrong and refused to take any part.

Poem ‘To a Conscientious Objector’ by Henry M. Wallis, c.1917 (D/WA 5/3/5(9)) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office
To be a conscientious objector, men had to attend a tribunal (a type of court) and argue why they should not fight. This was a good deterrent: many men did not want to be seen as cowards.

Public opinion was firmly against conscientious objectors, as this poem written by a religious conscientious objector, Henry M. Wallis shows:

See a full transcript of the conscientious objector poem.

In May 1916 conscription was widened to include married men as well as bachelors and widowers. In April 1918 it was again increased to include men as old as 51.

Newspaper article ‘Bantam Battalion for Durham County’, ‘Durham County Advertiser’, 15 January 1915 (D/WP 1/76) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office
To join the armed forces, men had to be physically fit and at least 5 feet 4 inches [1m 63cm] tall. As the diet and living conditions of many working class people at this time were so poor, many potential volunteers had to be turned away because they were too short.

The Bantam Battalions were formed to solve this problem: they accepted men only between 5 feet [1m 52cm] and 5 feet 3 inches [1m 60cm].

The Durham Bantams, officially the 19th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry, was raised on 13 January 1915.

A newspaper article from the Durham County Advertiser for 15 January, 1915, reports the story. See a full transcript of the bantams report from the Durham Advertiser, 15 January, 1915.

Conditions at home for many recruits were so hard that army life was good in comparison. For the first time many had their own bed, three good meals a day and a uniform that fitted. Many even put on weight during their first year of service.