Baister D.

DAVID BAISTER (1887-1918)

 36723, Private David Baister, 1/5th battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 27 May 1918 and is commemorated on the Soissons Memorial, France.[1]  He was 31 years old and is commemorated on the Evenwood and Etherley War Memorials, the Rolls of Honour in St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood, St. Cuthbert’s Church, Etherley and Evenwood Workingmen’s Club.

Family Details:

 David was born 1887[2] at Toft Hill to Robert and Isabella Baister.  There were at least 8 children:[3]

  • John bc. 1867 at Moulton, Yorkshire
  • Robert bc.1868 at Moulton, Yorkshire
  • Thomas bc.1875 at Toft Hill, Durham
  • William bc.1879 at Toft Hill
  • Isabelle bc.1882 at Toft Hill
  • Jane bc.1883 at Moulton, Yorkshire
  • Richard bc.1884 at Toft Hill
  • David bc.1887 at Toft Hill

The 1891 census confirms that David’s father Robert was born at Eston, Yorkshire and his wife was Isabella was born at Ingleton, Durham.  Robert and his sons John, Robert and Thomas were all coal miners.[4]  By 1901, Isabella was a widower.  David’s brothers John, Thomas, William and Richard all worked as coal miners.  14 year old David was not working and presumably at school.[5]

By 1911, David’s mother Isabelle was 63 years old and his brothers John (aged 44), Thomas (aged 38) and Richard (aged 27) were all single and lived at home.  All were coal miners (hewers).  David aged 24 was a mason and also lived at home.  Isabelle Tallentire, a 19 year old single woman lived there as a domestic servant.[6]

22 April 1916:  David Baister married Florence Margaret Banks at Evenwood.[7] A son John David was born in February 1917.[8]  By 1918 the family lived at 13 Copeland Row, Evenwood.

David Baister was killed in action 27 May 1918 leaving a wife Florrie and an infant son, known as “Jack.”  Within the period of about 2 years Florrie was a bride, a mother and a widow.  Florrie died in May 1920 [9] leaving her mother Mrs. Banks to look after Jack.

Service Details:

28 February 1916: aged 28 years 11 months David Baister enlisted at Bishop Auckland into his local Territorial Force, the 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. At that time he was a single man working as a mason.[10]  He was immediately transferred to the Army Reserve then underwent a medical examination 22 May 1916 which found him fit for army service.  He stood 5ft. 6” tall and weighed 126 lbs.[11]  23 May 1916 he joined the Royal Engineers being given the regimental number 169481.  27 June 1916 he was transferred to the 3rd Bn., Durham Light Infantry.  1 April 1917, he was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and allocated the regimental number 58556.  3 February 1918, Private D. Baister was posted to 1/5 Bn., the Durham Light Infantry and given the regimental number 36723. [12]

Private D. Baister landed in France 1 April 1917.  The service records do not indicate the MGC company he joined.

Private D. Baister served a total of 2 years 90 days as recorded below:[13]

  • Home: 28/02/16 – 28/02/16………………………………………….….1
  • Reserve Army: 29/02/16 – 22/05/16……………………………….84
  • Home: 23/05/16 – 31/03/17……………………………………………313
  • France: 01/04/1917 – 27/05/1918…………………………1yr…..57days

10 May 1917 Private D. Baister was found guilty of the offence of “When on active service dirty rifle when mounting guard” and was sentenced to 2 extra guard duties. [14]  He was admitted to hospital for a 3 week period during May/June 1917 suffering from “Pyrexia”[15] (fever).

The following account will deal with the 1/5 Bn., DLI during 1918.

The 5/DLI was a Territorial Force based in Stockton-on-Tees and formed part of the York and Durham Brigade of the Northumbrian Division.  In May 1915, the formation became 150th Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division.  In February 1918, it was transferred to the 151st (DLI) Brigade, 50th Division which comprised: [16]

  • 1/5 Bn., DLI
  • 1/6 Bn., DLI
  • 1/8 Bn., DLI
  • 151st Brigade Machine Gun Company
  • 151th Trench Mortar Battery.

The 151st Brigade was heavily involved in action against the German Offensive in the spring of 1918:

  • 21 – 23 March: The Battle of St. Quentin
  • 25 March: The Actions at the Somme Crossing
  • 26-27 March: The Battle of Rosieres

The following 2 battles are known as the Battle of the Lys.

  • 9-11 April: The Battle of Estaires
  • 12-15 April: The Battle of Hazelbrouck

Following a most trying time on the Somme and the Lys battlefields, the Division was withdrawn and sent to IX Corps then on the Aisne, believed to be a much quieter area.  Unfortunately this was not the case and the Division was hit hard by another German attack.

  • 27 May – 6 June: The Battle of the Aisne [17]

After suffering particularly heavy casualties while on the Aisne, the Division was substantially re-organised.

 The German Offensive, Spring 1918: an overview

 3 March, Soviet Russia made peace with Germany and her allies by virtue of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  As a result, Germany could now transfer troops from the Eastern Front to the Western Front.  More importantly, these Divisions included the original elite of the German Army – the Guards, Jagers, Prussians, Swabians and the best of the Bavarians. In all, 192 Divisions could be deployed in the West.  The Allies could field 178 Divisions. [18]  A single division numbered about 19,000 men. [19] Ludendorff could call upon about 3,650,000 men as opposed to the Allies 3,380,000.  Thus, the Germans now held superiority in numbers.

The German High Command needed victory to be gained before the American Forces arrived in Europe in huge numbers.  America entered the war 6 April 1917 and in the July, Pershing General of the Armies of the United States asked for an army of 3 million men.  The first of her troops arrived in France 26 June 1917.[20] The training and build-up of troops obviously took time but eventually by June 1918, the Americans were receiving about 250,000 men a month in France.  This amounted to 25 divisions in or behind the battle zone and another 55 in the United States ready to join the action.[21]

Elsewhere in the Alliance, the French were able to draw on a new annual class of conscripts after a year of inactivity but the British were worn down by continuous fighting during the summer of 1917 with major offensives at Arras, Messines, Passchendale and Cambrai.[22]  The strength of the British infantry had fallen from 754,000 in July 1917 to 543,000 in June 1918 producing a manpower crisis.[23]

21 March 1918:  the German Offensive was launched.  There were 5 phases: [24]

  • 21 March – 5 April: Operation Michael, against the British, the Battle of Picardy (otherwise known as the First Battle of the Somme 1918)
  • 9 – 11 April: Operation Georgette, against the British, the Battle of Lys sector near Armentieres
  • 27 April: Operation Blucher-Yorck, against the French sector along Chemin des Dames, the Third Battle of Aisne
  • 9 June: Operation Gneisenau, against the French sector between Noyan and Montdider, the Battle of the Matz
  • 15 – 17 July: Operation Marne-Rheims, the final phase known as the Second Battle of the Marne.

The Germans enjoyed spectacular territorial gains particularly during the initial phases of the offensive.  23 March, the Kaiser declared a “victory holiday” for German schoolchildren.

The cost in manpower was enormous:

  • Between 21 March and 10 April the 3 main assaulting armies had lost 303,450 men – 1/5th of their original strength.
  • The April offensive against the British in Flanders was eventually computed to have cost 120,000 men out of a total of 800,000.[25]

The German High Command calculated that it required 200,000 replacements each month but only 300,000 recruits stood available taking into account the next annual class of 18-year olds.  There were 70,000 convalescents available from hospitals each month but even counting them, the strength of the German Army had fallen from 5.1 million to 4.2 million men in the 6 months of the offensive.  It could not be increased on the estimated scale required. [26]

To add to this dilemma, in June 1918, the first outbreak of “Spanish Flu” laid low nearly 500,000 German soldiers.  This epidemic was to reoccur in the autumn and wreak havoc throughout Europe and the wider world.[27]

Added to this the poor diet of the German troops, battle fatigue, discontentment with the military leadership, social unrest at home and a general realisation that their great effort was beginning to wane, the Allies counter attack in mid July began to seize the initiative.  Sweeping victories over demoralised German forces eventually led to the resignation of Ludendorff 27 October, the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II 9 November and the signing of the Armistice 11 November 1918. [28]

The Third Battle of the Aisne: 27 May – 6 June 1918

The German attack was launched by 4,000 guns across a 40km front against 4 Divisions of the IX Corps.  There was a heavy concentration of British troops in the front line trenches and casualties from this bombardment were severe.  In fact the IX Corps was virtually wiped out.  The bombardment was accompanied by a gas attack after which 17 German infantry divisions advanced through the gaps in the line.  Rapid progress was made and the Germans broke though the reserve troops (8 Allied Divisions – 4 British and 4 French) between Soissons and Rheims.  By the end of the first day, the Germans had passed the Aisne and reached the river Vesle gaining 15km of territory.  3 June, they had come within 90km of Paris and captured 50,000 Allied soldiers and 800 guns.  French casualties were heavy, with 98,000 losses.  The British suffered 29,000 casualties.  6 June, the German advance had run out of steam.[29]

5/DLI: in action [30]

 “The 5th DLI had played its part in the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, on the Somme in 1916 and at Arras and again Ypres in 1917.  It has fought well with the Fifth Army in the March retreat and had distinguished itself in the bitter fighting on the Lys.  It fought one more fight but it was its last as on May 27th, 1918, the whole Northumbrian Division – infantry, artillery, engineers – was overwhelmed by the enemy and destroyed.” [31]

5 May:  5/DLI marched to Glennes, a village 2 miles south of the Aisne canal.  The section of the line allotted to the British Divisions included Craonne at the eastern extremity of the Chemin des Dames range of hills across towards Rheims.  The 50th Division held the sector from Craonne to La Ville-aux-Bois.  On the left were French troops and on the right was the 8th Division.  Further to the right was the 21st Division.  The 25th Division was held in reserve.  The 50th Division was organised on a 3 brigade front, each brigade having 2 battalions in the line and 1 in reserve.  The 150th Brigade was on the left, the 151st in the centre and the 149th on the right.  The 50th Division al HQ was at Beaurieux.  It was peaceful for the first 3 weeks.

6 – 13 May:  5/DLI in the front line facing the village of Corbeny, just within the German held territory.

13 – 18 May:  in reserve at Chaudres

18 – 24 May: in the front line trenches then on the night of the 24/25, relieved by 6/DLI

25 May: went to the reserve trenches at Chaudres and Cuiry-les-Chaudres, 2 villages on the north bank of the River Aisne.

26 May: 7.20 pm orders were received to proceed in fighting order to Centre d’Evreux, the reserve position.  Intelligence indicated that a massive enemy attack would be launched at 1.00am.  “B” “C” & “D” Companies were put into a huge dug-out near Brigade HQ and “A” Company in another 100 yards away. Gas curtains of the dug-outs retreated with chemicals.  Ammunition wagons hastened to load the batteries with shells.  9.00pm. British artillery opened up to harass roads and villages behind the lines.  12.00 all likely assembly places were kept under heavy fire.

 27 May: 1.00 am

“The German artillery spoke with a mighty and awful voice.  Those of long experience who lived through it say that this bombardment was the fiercest yet known upon the Western Front; observers tell of German lines from Cordeny eastwards bursting into one vast sheet of flame.”[32]

The bombardment continued for three hours, gas shells & HE poured into the British and French lines.  The front line trenches and wire entanglements were swept away.  Dug-outs were broken in, gas filtered into and over the area, communication between areas was impossible, runners may have found their destinations but never returned.  The French and British batteries kept their guns in action until they were knocked out or overcome by gas.

4.00 am:  the German infantry advanced, the attack made rapid progress.

6.30 am:  the right wing of the 8th Division had been forced back to Gernicourt

8.00 am:  the enemy had captured Pontavert

Early afternoon:  further south, the 21st Division was hard pressed and there was fighting at Cormicy and Cauroy.  On the left, the French were forced back as the Germans broke through and captured Beaurieux in the morning and bridges at Maizy.

What of the 50th Division?

 They were on the left of the British front and casualties had been heavy, survivors were bewildered with the shelling, sick with gas and half blinded with their respirators.  The 150th Brigade was practically annihilated.

What of the 5/DLI?

 7.00 am:  the Germans were close to the 151st Brigade HQ, 5/DLI was in reserve in the dug-outs.  They were ordered to proceed to the reserve trenches but this instruction came too late and the enemy were already in these trenches.  With no time to get into proper battle formation, confusion was great and it was obvious that a disaster had occurred.  Officers tried to get the men clear of the surrounding woods and back to the Aisne bridges in order to hold up the enemy.  Casualties were heavy – 9 officers were killed and 5 wounded, others were captured, many ranks were leaderless and failed to reach the bridges.  Chaudardes was heavily shelled.  Men of all battalion collected at the higher ground at Concevreux and were re-organised into one weak brigade.    Their position was heavily shelled and by 5.00pm. the German infantry advanced to high ground above Muscourt.  The pressure continued – Ventelay and Bouvancourt both fell, the enemy entered Courlandon.  The remnants of the Division fell back to Montigny.

 28 May: 6.00am, Brigadier-General G.W. St. G. Grogan assumed command of the 8th, 25th and 50th Divisions, the strength being about 600 rifles.  They crossed the bridge at Jonchery and retired to higher ground eventually they tried to defend Hill 233 which was held until the next morning.  The remnants of the Division continued to halt and delay the enemy and were forced back to Poilly, Sarcy and then to Chamuzy.  The following description was provided for this rapidly dwindling fighting force:

“…2 colonels of the 50th Division without a single man of the units they once commanded; a knot of machine-gunners from the same Division whose guns refused to function for a lack of water; a woeful sprinkling of all units of the 8th and most of the 25th and 50th Divisions; in all about 200 – all hungry, sleepless, dirty; many bleeding from wounds of greater or less severity.  A number of French Colonial troops completed this toll of weary men…and hungry as they were the spirits of the little band were marvellous.” [33]

 29 May: Towards the evening, the remnants of the 50th Division were withdrawn.  They marched to Igny where they arrived at 2.00am 30 May.  After 12 hour rest they marched to Vet la Gavelle arriving 31 May.

“The casualties of the Battalion on May 27th were 24 officers and about 650 men.  Of the officers 10 were killed, 5 wounded and 9 taken prisoner.  Of the men 53 killed, 151 wounded and brought back across the Aisne to safety.  446 were taken prisoner but this number includes a large number of wounded who had to be left.  Of the 3 gallant battalions of the 151st Brigade only 103 men of those who were in the line on May 27th answered to their names when the roll was called at Vert la Gravelle on the 31st May.” [34]

 Then news came that the 50th Division was to be broken up and early in June the remnants entrained at Sezanne for the Abberville area.  They took billets at Caumont where orders were received that the battalions were to be reduced to the strength of Training Cadres (10 officers and 50 other ranks).  Training Cadres of the 5th, 6th and 8th DLI moved to Dieppe then about the middle of August moved onto Rouen where they built a new camp for instructing reinforcements.

The 5/DLI War Diary describes this cataclysmic state of affairs as follows:


27th 1am – Terrific enemy barrage consisting of every calibre of shells and trench mortars accompanied by gas and tear shells.

6.30am – C & D Coys were ordered to proceed to the Intermediate Line. – A & B Coys were ordered to reinforce this position.

The enemy attack had commenced at 4.0am but owing to the heavy barrage all communications were cut and no information had come back from the front line.

28th – On reaching the Intermediate Line it was found that the enemy were already round right and left flanks.  The Battn had suffered extremely heavy and only a portion of B Coy was to be found.  This detachment withdrew and held a position at a clearing N.W. of PONTEVERT and held up the enemy in their front for a considerable time.  Ammunition was very short.  The enemy were again found to be round both flanks of the detachment.  A withdrawal was made to a line S. of PONTEVERT which was in continuation of a line held by a portion of the 25th Divn.

The enemy by this time had crossed the AISNE higher up and it was therefore plain the position then held was likely to be turned.  It was decided to withdraw to CHAUDARDES but a reconnaissance ascertained that the enemy were between this place and CHAUDARDES which rendered this withdrawal impossible.  Nearly all this detachment were cut off a few escaping over the AISNE before the bridge was blown.  This was the last organized body of the battn.

Odd portions and men sent up from the Transport Line continued fighting with the 25th Divn until the 50th Divn was withdrawn on the 29th.

Casualties during this battle amounted to 33 officers and 650 ORs but owing to the wooded country, large extent of ??? and no survivors from the Btn no accurate details of these casualties are available.

30th – Remnant of Btn moved to IGNY; crossing the Marne at PORT a BINSON; where Divn concentrated

31st Moved to VERT la GRAVELLE.”

Private David Baister was reported as missing 27 May 1918.  The War Office 8 August 1919 decided that “Death presumed…on lapse of time as having occurred on or since 27.5.1918”[35] In other words, killed in action 27 May 1918.  He has no known grave.  He was awarded the British War and Victory medals. [36]

 Later research records that between 27 and 31 May 5/DLI lost 4 officers and 49 other ranks, 3 officers and 47 other ranks killed in action or died of wounds 27 May 1918. [37]

Local Report 

The Evenwood Church Magazine reported:

“Included in the list of wounded are Ptes. John Friend, J. Baister (son-in-law of Mrs. J. Banks) W. Bowman (hospital in Bradford) A. Metcalfe (son of Mr. and Mrs. Metcalfe, Co-op Stores) T. Braddick (amputation of left hand) W. Studholme (2nd time) Edwin Carrick M.M. (gas poisoning) and Jasper Lauder, Stracona’s Horse, who was in a hospital that the Germans have said to have bombed but is now in a Surrey hospital.” [38]


 Private David Baister is commemorated on the Soissons Memorial which commemorates almost 4,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom who died during the Battles of the Aisne and the Marne in 1918 and who have no known grave. [39]


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales 1837-1915 Birth Index Vol.10a p.230 Auckland 1887 Q2

[3] 1891 & 1901 census

[4] 1891 census

[5] 1901 census

[6] 1911 census

[7] Evenwood Church Magazine May 1916

[8] Evenwood Church Magazine April 1917

[9] Evenwood Church Magazine

[10] Army Form B.2512 Short Service

[11] Medical History

[12] Army Form B.200 and Medal Roll card index

[13] Military History Sheet

[14] Army Form B.120 Conduct

[15] Army Form B.103 Casualty Form-Active Service

[16] &


[18] Various including “The First World War” 1998 J. Keegan;; http://www.1914-1918/batt22

[19] CWGC


[21] see 18


[23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] see 18







[35] Statement of the Services

[36] Medal Roll card index

[37] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[38] Evenwood Church Magazine August 1918

[39] CWGC






BAISTER D. Inscription Soissons Memorial

Soissons Memorial

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