PLUMMER Ernest 1892 – 1920

ERNEST PLUMMER 1892 – 1920

433377, (formerly 7403) Private Ernest Plummer, 11th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry died at home, aged 27.  It is believed that he is buried in Bishop Auckland (Escomb) Cemetery and commemorated on the Witton Park war memorials.

Family Details

Ernest Plummer was born in 1892,[1] at Escomb, near Witton Park, the son of Henry and Kate Plummer.  There were at least 6 children:[2]

  • John bc.1879 at Escomb
  • Kate/Harriet bc.1881 at Woodside
  • Henry born 1883 at Woodside
  • Mary bc.1886 at Escomb
  • Elizabeth bc.1889 at Escomb
  • Ernest bc.1892 at Escomb

In 1891, the family lived at Escomb and Henry was employed as a, “Coke Labourer”.[3]  By 1901, they lived at Woodside Square and 42 years old Henry worked as a, Coke Drawer”, Ernest aged 9, would have been at school. [4] By, 1911 the family lived at California, Witton Park where Henry worked as a colliery labourer and 19 years old Ernest was employed as a, “Pony driver”.[5]  In 1913, Ernest Plummer married Mary E. Brady.[6]  Ernest Plummer died in 1920, aged 27.[7]

Ernest’s older brother serving as 102580 Sapper Henry Plummer, 174th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers, died of wounds 5 December 1916 aged 32.  He is buried at Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery Extension, France [8] and commemorated on Witton Park war memorials.

Military Details

The service record of Private Ernest Plummer has not been traced.  It appears that he was a member of the Territorial Force but not in his local battalion.  He enlisted into the 9th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry, being given the service number 7403.[9]  This battalion recruited men from the Gateshead area.  Initially, territorial soldiers were expected to serve for home defence only and not serve overseas.  In April 1915, many territorial soldiers went to France with their battalions when they were required to defend the line following German gains.  Private E. Plummer did not enter France until after 31 December 1915.[10]  At some stage, date unknown, he was transferred to 11th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry and was given the service number 433377.  The men of the Territorial Battalions were renumbered in 1917 and this probably was his new number.[11]  The date he entered France has not been traced. The 11th (Service) Battalion (Pioneers) was formed at Newcastle as part of K2 Kitchener’s New Army and came under the orders of 60th Brigade, 20th (Light) Division.  It was converted to a Pioneer Battalion 6 January 1915.  The Division landed in France 20 July 1915.[12]  By 1916, the 61st Brigade comprised the following units: [13]

  • 7th Bn., the Somerset Light Infantry
  • 7th Bn., the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
  • 7th Bn., the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) left February 1918
  • 12th Bn., the King’s (Liverpool Regiment) joined January 1915
  • 61st Machine Gun Company joined March 1916 left March 1918 to join the 20th MG Battalion
  • 61st Trench Mortar Battery formed July 1916
DLI Cap Badge

The Division remained on the Western Front throughout the war and saw action as follows: [14]


The Battle of the Somme:

  • 15 July – 3 September, the Battle of Delville Wood
  • 3 – 6 September, the Battle of Guillemont
  • 15 – 22 September, the Battle of Flers-Courcelette
  • 25 – 28 September, the Battle of Morval
  • 1 – 18 October, the Battle of Le Transloy

11/DLI lost 59 Other Ranks, killed in action or died of wounds during the period 15 July to 20 October 1916.[15] It is unlikely that Private E. Plummer was in France at this time.  British troops were generally volunteers who served with the New Army, men from the Territorial Battalions who signed an agreement to serve overseas, Regular Army Divisions strengthened by drafts from home and troops from the Empire and Dominions.  It is of course possible that he did serve with 11/DLI in 1916 – perhaps he was posted as a draft to replace lost numbers in the battalion.


The Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known simply as, “Passchendaele”:

  • 16 – 18 August, the Battle of Langemarck
  • 20 – 25 September, the Battle of Menin Road
  • 26 September – 3 October, the Battle of Polygon Wood

11/DLI lost 21 Other Ranks, killed in action or died of wounds during the period 16 August to 5 October 1917.  By this time, the strength of the British Army was depleted and conscripts from home were required at the front.  It is possible that Private E. Plummer may have served with 11/DLI here and later, at the Battle of Cambrai.

20 November to 30 December 1917: The Battle of Cambrai. 

The Cambrai operation was originally conceived as a very large raid that employed new artillery techniques and massed tank.  Initially very successful with large gains of ground being made, but German reserves brought the advance to a halt.  Ten days later, a counter attack regained much of the ground.[16]  11/DLI, as a Pioneer Battalion, was heavily engaged in the construction of camouflaged camps to assemble troops just before the attack.  They worked in the vicinity of Villers-Plouich developing shelters, communication trenches, filling in craters and preparing roads.[17] 

20 November: 20th Division went into the attack meanwhile 11/DLI, A and D companies, followed to prepare roads and tracks for the cavalry and tanks.  C and D companies dug new communications trenches over no man’s land from the British front line to the enemy front line.  The next day, all Pioneer companies were transferred onto road duties.  [18]

27 November:  The Pioneers were instructed to prepare a strong defensive line.

30 November: The Germans launched a fierce counter attack and elements of 11/DLI were caught while working and immediately converted into regular infantry in an attempt to halt the attack. 

From 6 October to the end of the year 11/DLI lost 3 Officers and 25 Other Ranks.  The heaviest toll was 30 November during the above action when 1 Officer and 13 Other Ranks were killed or died of wounds and another 3 men dying of wounds shortly after.[19]

The next action was the much anticipated German offensive of Spring, 1918.

The German Offensive, Spring 1918: an overview [20]

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.  A single division numbered about 19,000 men.  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.  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.  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.  The strength of the British infantry had fallen from 754,000 in July 1917 to 543,000 in June 1918 producing a manpower crisis.

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

  • 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.  However, 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.

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.  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. 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 were other problems which the German hierarchy had to deal with.  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.

The 20th Division was caught up at various times as follows:

  • 21 – 23 March: The Battle of St. Quentin
  • 24 – 25 March: The actions at the Somme crossings
  • 26 – 27 March: The Battle of Rosieres

11/DLI: March and April 1918 [21]

It is known that by May 1918, Private E. Plummer was, “missing”[22] and later held as a prisoner of war.[23]  Exact dates are unknown.  The following account refers only to “A” company, 11/DLI and it is intended to provide an indication of the difficult situation in which 11/DLI and many other battalions, found themselves.  It provides the scenario around the capture of Private E. Plummer.

21 March: The German forces attacked the whole front – no DLI Service Battalions were in the line.  11/DLI came under the orders of the 20th Division and was in reserve located at Golancourt and Voyennes.  In the afternoon, the battalion left for Villers St. Christophe, north of the Somme canal.

22 March: heavy firing heard to the north east in the direction of Holnon Wood and St. Quentin.  11/DLI was required to fill a gap between the 61st and 60th Brigades on the line Tugny-Lavesne.

“By 8pm, when A and B companies arrived, the King’s had had to evacuate Tugny and the support line thus became the front line.  A and B companies, from left to right filled the gap between D company and the Shropshires of the 60th Brigade in position further north.  Before 9.00pm Capt. Endean reported that D company and the King’s had retired leaving the right flank of A company exposed.  A thick fog had gathered and the enemy in Tugny could now be heard shouting in English and making a lot of noise…Soon after midnight B company were rushed from the right rear and there was confused fighting with the Durhams, Shropshires and Germans all mixed together in the fog.  On the right Capt. Endean and A company fought stoutly but in withdrawing one party came under machine gun fire at close range and were all killed or wounded.

About 70 men of the 11th with 30 Shropshires and some Machine Gun Corps were collected south-west of Aubigny and withdrew down the Ham road, leaving a rearguard under 2nd Lieut. English to support 2 Vickers guns which were still in action.  On the way to Ham, Colonel Hayes received orders to hasten to Offay and hold the bridgehead there.

Meanwhile Capt. Endean and 2nd Lieuts. Galey and Craig and about 40 men of A company had fought a way out in the fog through Dury to Ham. C-S-M T.J. Craggs of Bishop Auckland had done the same with a party of B company and some men of the Rifle Brigade.  For his gallantry in the retreat this warrant officer was afterwards awarded the DCM.”

23 March: early morning:

“Colonel Hayes reached Offay and organised the men who were left with him into one company under the command of Lieut. Bushell, 2nd Lieuts. Martin, Naylor and English were also available and so was C-S-M Craggs who had managed to rejoin.”

At dusk German snipers were active and after dark there was German machine gun and trench mortar fire. It is known that a local man from Etherley, serving as 15348 Private Jonathan Bainbridge, 11/DLI was killed in action 23 March 1918.  He has no known grave.[24]  

24 March:  4.00am, Captain Endean, 2nd Lieut. Galley and over 30 men of A company re-joined.  At 6.00am, there was a German artillery and mortar attack.  Despite a request, there was no reply from the British artillery.  Daylight – thick fog, Germans advanced from Canizy village, were fired upon by the British then retreated.  B Company regained their trench.

“A German aeroplane flew over their position and Capt. Endean reported that the enemy were coming down the Ham-Nesle road.  Other retiring troops of many units now helped to form a defensive flank on the right and a counter attack kept the enemy in check.”

25 March: 5.00pm: Germans attacked again and the Durhams covered the withdrawal of the French.

26 March:  11/DLI was detailed to dig defences in the neighbourhood of le Quesnel then march off down the Amiens-Arvilles road to dig and repair trenches.

27 March: 11/DLI began to retire. 

28 March: The French were to take over early 28 March and had already begun to do so when a short fierce bombardment was followed by a German advance.  German infantry was seen massing in the woods.  A counter attack was organised but it was obvious that the enemy was too strong but the position was maintained until orders were received to retire to Fresnoy later in the day.  By the evening, 11/DLI was in reserve.

29 March: next morning the Germans attacked along the Amiens road and entered Mezieres.  At 3.15pm, 11/DLI was called upon to recapture the village though they only had 130 men left.

“Crossing open ground, a trench mortar barrage was encountered and enfilade machine gun fire smote them.  Only here and there could small groups of men get through the barrier of bursting shells and Capt. Pemberton had about 20 Durhams with him when he entered the village.  He pushed on until only 2 survived and then withdrew.  On the left 2nd Lieut. R.H. King had also reached Mezieres but all his party were killed and wounded and after working a Lewis gun with great effect he returned alone.  Both officers were awarded the Military Cross.”

11/DLI was now withdrawn to a position between Thennes and Hourges and passed the night in peace.

30 March: The Germans were now in Moreuil Wood and the battalion formed a defensive flank in this direction.

31 March next morning:  The enemy attacked again.  At 4pm came a determined advance but rifle and Lewis gun fire stopped the enemy who retreated leaving many dead and wounded behind.  Capt. Endean was wounded during this action.  There was some shelling after this but the evening and night passed without further incident.

1 April: no attack.  In the evening came relief.  Marching to the Amiens road, the battalion now the strength of a strong platoon journeyed by bus to Quevavillers some 12 miles south-west of the city. 

“Losses in the ranks during these 10 days totalled 455 and there were 19 casualties to officers.  Among the killed or missing were 2nd Lieuts. W.G Craig, R.R. Galley, H. Rutherford, W.T Alexander, W. Banks, V.G. Duckett, F. Arnott, D.E Ellwood, T.W Applegarth and C.A. Morris and Lieut. R. Bushell.  2nd Lieuts. P. Naylor, E.W. English, N.F. Gibson, J.H. Dodds, A.E. Wilkinson and H.J. Whitfield and Capts. W.G.L. Sear MC, W.J. Endean were all wounded”

10 April 1918:  Second Lieutenant T.W. Applegarth, whose parents lived at Evenwood, served with 11/DLI.  His family received a telegram stating that he was missing believed wounded.  At that time, the authorities had a note dated 6 April that he was wounded and suffering from “traumatic tetanus shot wound chest” at Wundstarr, Krampf, Bruslschuss.  A further note to his father, Thomas, reported that he had died 8 April 1918 as a prisoner of war at Feldlagartl, Beaufort.[25] 

2 May: 11/DLI left Frevillers, marching to Chateau de la Haie, west of Ablain-St. Nazaire to relieve the Canadians in their positions around Lens.  There was much work done with communications trenches, strong points and defensive works in l’Hirondelle Wood, northeast of Givenchy.  During the month of May, a great deal of gas was liberated by the British causing retaliation from the enemy.  A casualty of this action was to be Captain P.V. Kemp, the son of Witton Park’s vicar.

23 May: 11/DLI Pioneers were engaged in pushing 75 trucks containing 21 gas cylinders each, up to the front line.  They worked in parties of 20 and 2 tramway lines were used.  In the front line trench, the gas was discharged without removing the cylinders from the trucks which meant that they could be pushed back on the tramway.

26 and 27 May: German retaliation followed.  The town of Lievin was drenched with mustard gas, suspending all work.  11/DLI lost Captains P.V. Kemp and A. Philip, both survivors of the March Retreat, and 7 other junior officers together with 122 men, all gassed. 

31 May:  Captain P.V. Kemp died of wounds. [26] There were 14 other casualties during May, men killed in action or died of wounds.  [27]

Later research records that between 21 March and 9 April 1918, 11/DLI lost 2 Officers and 78 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds.[28] 

29 May 1918, a report recorded Private E. Plummer as, “Missing”.[29]  It seems likely that he was captured during the initial onslaught when the Germans inflicted most casualties.

28 January 1919, a report recorded that Private E. Plummer was, “Released prisoner of war from Germany, arrived in England”.[30]

Awards and Medals

Private E. Plummer was awarded the Victory and British War medals.[31]

Medal Roll Card Index


Ernest’s wife Mary then living at 11 Low Jobs Hill, Crook was refused a pension, the reason being that, “Disease contracted after discharge”.[32]


It is assumed that Ernest Plummer is buried at Bishop Auckland (Escomb) Cemetery or Crook Cemetery.  Further research is required to confirm this and the reason for his death.


Ernest Plummer was born in 1892 and lived at Woodside and California near Witton Park.  He worked as a coal miner and married Mary in 1913.  He served with the 11th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry and saw action in the spring of 1918 on the Somme when the German offensive was at full tilt.  By May 1918, he was a prisoner of war.  His release was reported in January 1919.  He died in 1920, aged 27.  His wife was refused a pension since his disease was allegedly contracted after his discharge from the Army. Further research is required to determine the nature of his death and the cemetery in which he is buried.


[1] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.206 Auckland 1892 Q4

[2] 1891 and 1901 census

[3] 1891 census

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] England & Wales Marriage Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.373 1913 Q1

[7] England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.338 1920 Q2

[8] Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

[9] Roll of Individuals entitled to the Victory and/or British War Medals dated 13 May 1920 and Medal Roll card index

[10] Medal Roll card index

[11] Roll of Individuals entitled to the Victory and/or British War Medals dated 13 May 1920




[15] ODGW & SDGW


[17] Bashforth p.143

[18] Bashforth p.144

[19] ODGW & SDGW

[20] Various sources including,, “The First World War” Keegan J. 1999, “First World War” Gilbert M. 1994

[21] “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18: The Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry” 1920 Capt. W. Miles p.270 & 271

[22] War Office Daily List No.5578 Report date 29/05/1918 (Forces War Record Archive Reference: NLS1918_WList_44)

[23] War Office Daily List No.5783 Report date 28/01/1919 (Forces War Record Archive Reference NLS1919_WList79)

[24] CWGC & NE War Memorials Project, see Note: He is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial, France and is commemorated on the Etherley War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Cuthbert’s Church, Etherley.

[25] CWGC inform that he is buried at Caix Military Cemetery, Somme France, presumably his body was reinterred after the war.

[26] CWGC

[27] Miles p.307 and Bashforth p.189-192

[28] ODGW & SDGW Note: ODGW records 2/LT. TW Applegarth 11/DLI as having died of wounds 20 March 1918

[29] War Office Daily List No.5578 Report date 29/05/1918 (Forces War Record Archive Reference: NLS1918_WList_44)

[30] War Office Daily List No.5783 Report date 28/01/1919 (Forces War Record Archive Reference NLS1919_WList79)

[31] Medal Roll card index

[32] Pension Claimant card index