Lamb W.

WILLIAM LAMB (1896-1918)

250467 Private William Lamb, 1/6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed action 26 March 1918 and is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial.[1]  He was about 21 years old and is commemorated on the Cockfield War Memorial.

Family Details

William was born 1896[2] at Cockfield and lived with his grandparents, Thomas and Ann at Wood Houses, Cockfield.  Others living in the house hold were their sons Joseph aged 25 and Fred aged 14 and their daughters Henrietta aged 29 and Elizabeth aged 17.  William was 4 years old as was another grandchild, Daisy Annie.[3]  Thomas, Joseph and Fred all worked as coal miners. [4]

Who were William’s parents?  The Birth Index infers that William and Daisy were not twins since they were registered at different times.  William’s birth certificate should be examined.  His grandparents, Thomas and Ann had at least 7 children – William (bc.1868), Henrietta (bc.1871), Thomas (bc.1874), Joseph (bc.1876), Mary (bc.1879), Elizabeth (bc.1884) and Fred (bc.1888).[5]  It seems likely that William would be William’s father due to the habit if naming the first born son after the father.  There are at least 2 marriages of a William Lamb in the Auckland Registration District (none in Teesdale) so without further information a definite conclusion to his parents cannot be made.

By 1911, the family lived at New Copley Colliery.  Grandfather Thomas was a widower.  His daughter Henrietta now aged 40 and sons, Thomas aged 37 and Fred aged 24 all lived with him.  Grandchildren, William and Daisy both aged 14, Gilbert aged 6 and Elizabeth aged 5 all born at Cockfield lived in the house.  All the men were employed as coal miners – Thomas senior as a horse-keeper, Thomas as a coal miner (hewer), Fred as a pumping engineman, all underground and William, above ground “attaching coal tubs to hauling rope”. [6]

Further research is required to find out the parents of the 4 grandchildren.

Service Details

The service details of William Lamb and the war diary of the 1/6th Durham Light Infantry have not been researched.  He enlisted at Bishop Auckland being given the regimental number 3973.[7]  He entered France 1 October 1915.  He was later given the number 250467. [8]

The 1/6th Battalion was formed in Bishop Auckland in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division and in May 1915 became the 151st Brigade of the 50th Division. The Division moved to France 16 April 1915 and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war. [9]   Other battalions were:

  • 1/7th Battalion, D.L.I
  • 1/8th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/9th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/5th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancs. joined June 1915

Following heavy casualties in June 1915 the battalion merged with the 1/8th to become the 6/8th then it returned to its original identity 11 August 1915 and was then joined by:

  • 1/5th (Cumberland) Battalion, the Border Regiment joined December 1915
  • 151st Machine Gun Company formed February 1916
  • 150th Trench Mortar Battery formed June 1916

Other units joined in 1918:

  • 1/5th Battalion, D.L.I. joined February 1918
  • 6th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers joined July 1918
  • 1st Battalion, the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, joined July 1918
  • 4th Battalion, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps joined July 1918

Following the German Spring Offensive it was reduced to cadre strength in July 1918 and transferred to Lines of Communication. [10]

The Division took part in the following engagements on the Western Front:

  • 24 April – 25 May 1915: The Second Battle of Ypres

Then, in 1916, the Battle of the Somme:

  • 15-22 September: The Battle of Flers-Courcelette (6th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)
  • 25-28 September: The Battle of Morval (7th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)
  • 1-8 October: The Battle of Le Transloy (8th  phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)

Then, in 1917, Battles of Arras and Passchendaele:       

  • 9-14 April: The First Battle of the Scarpe (1st phase of the Arras Offensive)
  • 23 & 24 April: The Second Battle of the Scarpe (2nd phase of the Arras Offensive)
  • 26 October-10 November: The Second Battle of Passchendaele (8th phase of the Third Battle of Ypres)

Then in 1918, up until the death of Private W. Lamb 26 March 1918, the 1/6 DLI took part in the following 3 battles are also known as the First Battles of the Somme, part of the German offensive in Picardy, France.

  • 21-23 March: The Battle of St. Quentin
  • 22 & 25 March: The Actions at the Somme Crossing
  • 26 & 27 March: The Battle of Rosieres [11]

 The German Offensive, spring 1918 – an overview

 3 March 1918: 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, Jaegers, Prussians, Swabians and the best of the Bavarians. In all, 192 Divisions could be deployed in the West.  The Allies could field 178 Divisions. [12]  A single division numbered about 19,000 men [13] so 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 had entered the war 6 April 1917 and in the July, the U.S. Commander-in -Chief Pershing asked for an army of 3 million men.  The first of her troops arrived in France 26 June 1917. [14]  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.[15]

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, Passchendaele and Cambrai.[16]   The strength of the British infantry had fallen from 754,000 in July 1917 to 543,000 in June 1918 producing a manpower crisis.[17]

The German Spring Offensive was launched on 21st March 1918 and took 5 phases:

  • 21 March – 5 April: Operation Michael, the Battle of Picardy (otherwise known as the First Battle of the Somme 1918) against the British
  • 9 – 11 April: Operation Georgette, the Battle of Lys against the British sector near Armentieres
  • 27 April: Operation Blucher-Yorck, the Third Battle of Aisne against the French sector along Chemin des Dames
  • 9 June: Operation Gneisenau, the Battle of the Matz against the French sector between Noyan and Montdider
  • 15 – 17 July: Operation Marne-Rheims, the final phase known as the Second Battle of the Marne. [18]

The Germans enjoyed spectacular territorial gains particularly during the initial phases of the offensive which, 23 March, led the Kaiser to declare a “victory holiday” for German schoolchildren.  But, 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 [19]

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. [20]

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. [21]

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.[22]

 The German Spring Offensive

First Phase 21 March to 5 April 1918

Often called “the Kaiserschlacht” the offensive was Germany’s last big effort to win the war before the arrival of huge numbers of American troops.

The German plan, Operation Michael was to punch through the British and French Armies at St. Quentin, cut through the Somme and then wheel north-west to cut the British lines of communication behind the Artois fronts to bottle up the BEF in the narrow neck of Flanders.  The British Army would be surrounded with no means of escape and would inevitable surrender.  The target of the first phase of the offensive was the British Army who the German High Command believed to be exhausted by the four major efforts of 1917, namely Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Cambrai.

By mid-February 1918, there were 177 German Divisions in France and Flanders out of their world-wide total of 241.  Of these, 110 were in the front line of which 50 faced the short British front.  A further 67 were in reserve with 31 facing the BEF.  The British had 62 under strength divisions defending a recently extended front line.

At the same time as the German forces were growing, the British Army was depleted having faced a manpower crisis during the second half of 1917.  Lloyd George produced official figures to confirm that there were some 324,000 additional men on the Western Front (i.e. British and Dominion forces) giving a total of 1,850,967 on the 1st January 1918 as opposed to 1,526,182 on the 1st January 1917 but the effective fighting strength had fallen by as much as 7% in the year.

The 50th Division together with the 1st Cavalry, the 8th, the 16th, the 24th, the 39th and the 66th Divisions formed the XIX Corps of the Fifth Army.  The immense German attack 21 March 1918 enjoyed a numerical superiority of 56 Divisions against 16 British. Enemy superiority was overwhelming. The main weight of the attack was between Arras and a few miles south of St. Quentin.  The XIX Corps occupied the line to the east of Peronne and to the north of Vermand facing 9 German Divisions on an 8 mile front.  German superiority was approx. 4.5 to 1.  The German success was spectacular:

  • In 2 days the Fifth Army was driven back over 12 miles
  • 23 March: Peronne fell
  •  24 March: Bapaume
  • 26 March: Albert, capital of the old Somme battlefield

The Third Army held firm near Arras but had to swing back its right hand forces to maintain contact with the retreating Fifth.

21 March: the casualty figures have been estimated as:

  • British – 38,500
  • German – 40,000

However, “only” 2/3rds of the German casualties were wounded so a substantial number would return to the fighting at a later date.  By contrast, 28,000 of the British would not return – 7,000 were dead and 21,000 had been taken prisoner.

27 March: the Germans were able to cross the Somme at Chipilly which compelled Gough’s Fifth Army to retreat to a line running from Bouzencourt to Rosieres.  The British held the line throughout the day but to the south the French were driven out of Lassigny and Montdidier.

22-27 March 1918: An account of the Withdrawal of the 6th Battalion, DLI [23]

 March 1918:  The 6/DLI was near Peronne in the Fifth Army Reserve where it:

“Might have to deliver counter-attacks in the event of a German success.”

 21 March:

The German attack began.  Entrained at Gouzeaucourt and detrained at Brie, marched in the direction of Tincourt, occupied partially dug trenches called “the Green Line.” These were behind the Brown Line trench system where the 66th Division had been overwhelmed in the morning.

22 March:

Morning: quiet

Afternoon; shelling became heavier, large massed bodies of the enemy could be seen.  Orders received that the line was to be held at all costs.

Dusk: first serious casualties occurred

9.00pm: orders to withdraw to a ridge near Cardigny

23 March:

07.00am: orders received that the Fifth Army was to withdraw to the west of the Somme.  The Battalion was to cover the retirement of the 5th D.L.I. – enemy snipers and machine guns giving considerable trouble.  Y Company formed the rear-guard to the Battalion.  The route went through the village of Le Mesnil – light shrapnel barrage and fighting as the village was in enemy hands.  Two officers were lost and about 20 men.  The night was quiet.

24 March:

Morning: orders received to withdraw to Foucaucourt

8.00pm in position in reserve, in a line north east of Estres.

25 March:

Morning: enemy advancing quickly

W and Z Companies filled gaps in the line.  Enemy did not take advantage of the situation

7.00pm withdrew to old trenches at Pressoire – quiet night with only a few casualties from shell fire.

 26 March:

9.00am enemy renewed the attack, battalion passed through the ruins of Lihons and the withdrawal continued almost to Rosieres – heavily shelled.

Private W. Lamb was killed in action 26 March 1918.

 27 March:

“At 9.30am owing to the withdrawal of a Labour Coy on the right, the Battalion fell back but 3 Coys (W, X & Z) counter attacked & restored the line.  Capt. H. Walton MC commanding Z Coy killed.  Details of Battn who had been left out of action were sent from WARFUSEE under Lt. TYERMAN to counter attack at HARBONNIERES.”

The next day a further withdrawal was ordered and the battalion moved back to the Caix line.

 31 March: the War Diary concludes:

“During the fighting from 21st – 31st March, the Battalion suffered the following casualties.  Killed: Officers 6 OR 35. 

Wounded: Officers 5 OR 189.

Missing: Officers 2 OR 87.

Wounded & Missing: Officers nil OR 3.

Since Private W. Lamb has no known grave, it is assumed that he was one of the 87 Other Ranks reported as “Missing” which in his case meant killed in action.

Between 21 and 31 March 1918, the 1/6 DLI lost 4 officers and 64 other ranks killed in action and died of wounds, 9 other ranks were killed in action 26 March.[24]  These figures differ slightly from the War Diary details provided by Capt. R.B. Ainsworth but given the prevailing situation, it is remarkable that any coherent analysis was undertaken at all.

At Caix the remnants of the Battalion was re-organised and occupied the Caix line before withdrawing to Moreuil then to Saleux then eventually onto Rue and Vron.  French troops were moving up the line to check the German advance.

In early April, the Battalion was sent to Beuvry near Bethune about 4 miles behind one of the quietest area of the British front.  Here a draft of about 400 men arrived and they were being prepared to relieve the 55th Division at La Bassee.  However this did not happen and they were sent to Estaires instead.  This was to be the location for the Second German Offensive.  The account concludes:

“It may be mentioned that the total casualties in the Battalion during the months of March, April and May had been 60 officers and 1,200 other ranks.”

Early in June 1918, the remnants of the 50th Division was broken up.

Private W. Lamb was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War and Victory medals.[25]


Private W. Lamb is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial.  Pozieres is located some 6km north east of Albert, Somme, France.  The Pozieres Memorial relates to a period of crisis in March and April 1918 when the Allied Fifth Army was driven back by overwhelming numbers across the former Somme battlefields and the months before the Advance to Victory which began 8 August 1918.  The memorial commemorates over 14,000 casualties of the UK and 300 South African Forces who have no known graves and who died on the Somme between 21 March and 7 August 1918.

The Regiments represented with the most casualties are:

  • The Rifle Brigade with over 600 names
  • The Durham Light Infantry with approx. 600 names
  • The Machine Gun Corps with over 500 names
  • The Manchester Regiment with approx. 500 names
  • The Royal Horse and Field Artillery with over 400 names. [26]


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.257 Teesdale 1896 Q3

[3] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol 10a p.260 Teesdale 1897 Q1

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1881 & 1891 census

[6] 1911 census

[7] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[8] Mal Roll card index





Many references have been quoted including some from “The First World War” 1998 John Keegan, “The Imperial War Museum Book of 1918 Year of Victory” 1998 Malcolm Brown, and “The Unknown Soldier” 2005 Neil Hanson.



[15] SEE 12


[17] SEE 12

[18] SEE 12 &

[19] SEE 12

[20] SEE 12

[21] SEE 12


[23] “The Story of the Sixth Battalion The Durham Light Infantry from April 1915 to November 1918” Captain R.B. Ainsworth MC 1919

[24] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[25] Medal Roll card index

[26] CWGC


LAMB W.  Medal Roll

Medal Roll





LAMB W.  Inscription Pozieres Memorial

Pozieres Memorial

One thought on “Lamb W.

  1. Pingback: COCKFIELD | The Fallen Servicemen of Southwest County Durham

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