REED John Robert 1918-1943

JOHN ROBERT REED 1918 – 1943

4451814 Lance Corporal John Robert Reed, 8th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 8 April 1943, aged 25.  He is buried at Sfax War Cemetery, Tunisia[1] and commemorated on Copley and Butterknowle War Memorials and the Roll of Honour in St. John the Evangelist Church, Lynesack.

Family Details

John Robert was born 1918 [2] registered at Lanchester, the son of John George and Hannah Reed (nee Marriott).[3]  There were at least 9 children:

  • Eliza Ann bc.1910 born at Lanchester [4]
  • Jessie bc.1912 [5]
  • John Robert bc. 1918 [6]
  • Edith born 13 February 1920 [7]
  • Leonard bc.1922 [8]
  • Irene born 18 March 1924 [9]
  • George bc.1926 [10]
  • Mary bc.1927 [11]
  • Elsie born 2 October 1929 [12]

In 1911, John and Hannah lived at Cowen Street, Blaydon Haugh, Blaydon with their 1 years old daughter, Eliza.  John worked as a coal miner (hewer).[13]  By 1939, John and Hannah together with 4 children, Edith, Irene, Elsie and 1 other (record officially closed, either George or Mary) lived at 34 Addison Road, Toronto, Bishop Auckland.  John was employed as a “Smallholder, poultry keeper & pig keeper”.[14]  Between the wars, in an attempt to support the unemployed, Durham County Council provided small holdings in south west Durham on land at Toronto, Escomb and Woodhouses.  In 1945, there were 463 tenants (300 on full time holdings and 163 on part-time holdings) in the County.[15]  John G. Reed and his family occupied such a small holding at Toronto, west of Bishop Auckland. 

It seems that the family connection with Copley occurred either during or after the war.

Military Details

The service record of Lance Corporal John R. Reed has not been researched.  He served with the 8th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry (8/DLI) which was a Territorial battalion.  Men from the Bishop Auckland area would have joined their local force, the 6th Battalion (6/DLI).  The men from around Durham City would join the 8th Battalion (8/DLI).[16]  Prior to 1939, it is believed that the Reed family lived in the Lanchester area [17] and as such, the 8/DLI would be a natural choice for a territorial soldier.

8/DLI came under the orders of the 151st Brigade, 50th Division between 3 September 1939 and 14 December 1944.[18]  8/DLI was part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) sent to France in 1939 and as such took part in the defence of France, the British counter attack at Arras then the retreat to Dunkirk.[19]  It is likely that L/Cpl. J. R. Reed saw action here before embarking for North Africa. 

4451814 Lance Corporal John R. Reed, 8/DLI was killed in action 8 April 1943 and this narrative will look at the circumstances surrounding the date of his death.  The battalion War Diary has not been researched. [20] 

The campaign in North Africa reached the Mareth Line in Tunisia.  A natural feature called the Wadi Zigzaou, a muddy stream flowing sluggishly through a valley 80 yards wide between banks averaging 50 feet in height, was a significant obstacle.  In itself, this was a formidable anti-tank obstacle but the Line was strengthened by a series of concrete and steel emplacements with strong points protected by anti-tank ditches and trenches, mines and wire.  The position was held by the Young Fascist Division, the best of the Italian troops, the 90th Light and 15th Panzers were ready to hand.  Montgomery ordered a frontal attack by the 50th Division.  The Durham battalions were to attack on a mile-wide front between the strong points of Ksiba Ouest and Ouerzi:

  • 9/DLI to take Ksiba Ouest
  • 8/DLI, to take Ouerzi

When they had fallen, tanks were to cross the wadi by causeways, followed by 6/DLI.

The attack was planned for the night of 20/21 March 1943.  8/DLI succeeded in overrunning Ouerzi, where the Italians fought stubbornly, Lieut-Col. M.L.P. Jackson DSO was killed but by morning both Durham battalions had reached their objectives.  Reinforcements, 6/DLI came up on the 21st and by 11am on the 22nd, a counter-attack led by the 15th Panzers was in progress.  8/DLI held onto its position, 9/DLI was driven out of part of Ouerzi Est and the brunt of the attack fell on 6/DLI.  At 4.30am on the 23rd, all battalions were ordered to retire.[21]  The 3 battalions were reduced in strength of about 300 all ranks to 65.  Between 20 and 23 March 1943, 8/DLI lost 3 Officers (Lieut-Col. M.L.P. Jackson DSO, Lieuts. T.A. Richardson and J.F. Gedge) and 42 Other Ranks including CSM J. Ranson MM killed in action or died of wounds.[22] It is highly likely that Lance Corporal J.R. Reed saw action here.

The end of March saw 8/DLI in a rest area near Mareth village.  Having lost the Commanding Officer, the Second-in-Command, the Intelligence Officer, 3 company commanders and most of the infantry platoon commanders, the battalion had to be completely reorganised.  Reinforcements comprising 5 Officers and 90 Other Ranks arrived.  Company and platoon training took place and salvage parties to recover weapons and equipment from battle areas were provided.  The bodies of the C.O. and Lt. Richardson were recovered, being found in an area festooned with mines and booby traps.  A battalion stretcher bearer was killed by such a device, most likely, 3970430 Private G.D. Clements who died of wounds 2 April 1943.[23]

6 April, 3 Divisions (50th, 51st and 4th Indian) attacked the Axis Forces holding the Wadi Akarit positions.  The DLI Brigade was in reserve and did not take part in this attack, 69 Brigade was involved and after fierce fighting, these Divisions broke the hold of the enemy which withdrew during the night of 6/7 April.  This paved the way for further gains and the port of Sfax was captured 10 April and Sousse fell on the 12th. 

8/DLI lost 2 men in April, the above mentioned Private Clements and Lance Corporal J.R. Reed, 8 April.  No explanation is offered.[24]  The battalion was not involved in front line offensive operations on this date.  It is suggested that perhaps he was another victim of a booby trap device when undertaking salvage work.


Lance Corporal John R. Reed is buried at grave reference 14.C.20, Sfax War Cemetery, Tunisia.  His burial at this cemetery took place 20 April 1944.  It was an exhumation and reburial as part of the graves concentration programme supervised by Captain Davies.[25]  Presumably, his original resting place was a battlefield grave.  His headstone bears the following epitaph:

In Our Thoughts

Not Only Today but Always

Mam, Dad,

Brothers and sisters


Lance Corporal John R. Reed is commemorated on Copley and Butterknowle War Memorials and the Roll of Honour in St. John the Evangelist Church, Lynesack.


Thanks to Helen Morton for assistance with locating this casualty and family connections.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.592 Lanchester 1918 Q1

[3] England & Wales Marriage Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a 1643 Gateshead 1908 Q2

[4] 1911 census

[5] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.2212 Gateshead1912 Q1

[6] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.592 Lanchester 1918 Q1

[7] 1939 England & Wales Register

[8] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p794 Lanchester 1922 Q1

[9] 1939 England & Wales Register

[10] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.545 Lanchester 1926 Q2

[11] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.466 Lanchester 1927 Q3

[12] 1939 England & Wales Register

[13] 1911 census

[14] 1939 England & Wales Register


[16] “Faithful: The Story of the Durham Light Infantry” 1962 S.P.G. Ward p.320

[17] Most of the births were registered at Lanchester, County Durham

[18] Ward p.464

[19] “8th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry 1939-1945” Major P.J. Lewis MC & Major I.R. English MC

[20] WO 169/10204 8/DLI 1943 Jan – Dec has not been digitised and cannot be downloaded

[21] Ward p.496-499.  For a detailed account read Lewis & English p.168-189

[22] Lewis & English p.306-315, analysis of the Roll of Honour

[23] Lewis & English p.190 & 306

[24] Lewis & English is silent

[25] CWGC Graves Concentration Report Form Report No.30 GCU/CJB/16