Updated 7th Jan 2013
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In May 1758, in the middle of the Seven Years' War, two battalions of General Huske's 23rd Foot were encamped on the Isle of Wight, part of an Army being made ready to raid France. One of these battalions which had been formed two years earlier and from which the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) was to evolve, was constituted a new regiment and given the number 86th Foot. Lieutenant Colonel John Lambton, grandfather of the first Earl of Durham, was appointed Colonel of the 68th, thus forging the Regiment's first link with County Durham. In 1764 the 68th sailed to Antigua and Saint Vincent distinguishing itself in action against the Caribs and earning the title 'Faithful'. This title, although officially abandoned in 1780, has persisted to the present day. In 1770 in North America, a Company of Light Infantry was raised, and in 1782 the name Durham was added as many of the rank and file came from that county.
During the next twenty years the 68th served in Gibraltar, the West Indies and Ireland. In 1808 the 68th became a Light Infantry regiment, the third regiment to be so honoured after the 43rd and 52nd. It reached Portugal in 1811 joining Wellington's Army in the Peninsula and seeing action at Salamanca (1812), Vittoria (1813), the Pyrenees, Nivelle and Orthez (1814).
For 40 years the 68th then carried out garrison duties and served in Canada. The Militia in County Durham had been reorganised in 1759 by the Earl of Darlington and, during the Napoleonic Wars, was permanently mobilised. In 1853 a second battalion was formed, the older battalion becoming the Durham Fusiliers in 1869. In 1881 these two Militia battalions became the 4th and 5th Battalions of The Durham Light Infantry. The Volunteers evolved from a home defence Rifle Corps to become the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Territorial Battalions of The Durham Light Infantry in 1908, although the 6th Battalion retained the traditions of the old Rifle Corps, having no Colours and wearing black buttons.
In 1839 the East India Company raised the 2nd Bombay European Light Infantry which, in 1862 became the 106th Bombay Light Infantry, recruiting in Durham and with its depot in Sunderland from 1873. In 1874 the 106th arrived in England and, on 1st July 1881, became 2nd Battalion The Durham Light Infantry.
Meanwhile the 68th fought in the Crimean War (1853-56); their historic action at Inkerman (1854), when they threw off their greatcoats and fought in their scarlet tunics is well known.
Inkerman Day is celebrated every year on 5th November and the Senior NCOs wear a whistle and Inkerman chain on their sashes to mark their leadership in the battle. The 68th was in action again in New Zealand in 1864. During these campaigns, three Durhams were awarded the Victoria Cross - John Byrne, Thomas de Courcy Hamilton and John Murray.
In 1881 when the numbering of regiments was discontinued, it became the 1st Battalion The Durham Light Infantry. The 1st Battalion saw service in India, England, Ireland, South Africa (1899- 1902) and India again in the early 1900s.
The 2nd Battalion served in the Middle East and, by 1891 was back in India where it was to dominate the polo scene for many years. The 2nd Battalion took no part in the Boer War, but a company of mounted infantry was sent from India.
In the Great War the Durham Light Infantry was to field 37 battalions, and 12,606 members of the regiment were killed or died of wounds.
The 1st Battalion served throughout the war in India, largely on the North West frontier.
The 2nd Battalion served in France from 1914 and particularly distinguished itself at Hooge on 9th August 1915.
The 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Battalions sailed for France in April 1915 and fought with immense courage throughout the campaign.
Thirteen service battalions of the Regiment were raised, numbered 10th to 23rd, the 18th being the only one raised and equipped at no expense to the nation, served in France and Egypt.
The 12th, 13th and 20th served in France and Italy, and others at Archangel and in Macedonia.
Between the wars the 1st Battalion served in Germany, Silesia, England, Northern Ireland and China. The 2nd Battalion served in Turkey, India, China, the Sudan and England. The 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Battalions continued until 1936 when the 7th converted to the anti-aircraft role and the 5th became a searchlight regiment. In the Second World War the regiment fielded eighteen battalions. The 1st Battalion fought in the Western Desert, the Mediterranean and Italy. The 2nd Battalion, after commitment in the withdrawal through Dunkirk, joined the 14th Army in Burma, fighting with great gallantry at Kohima. Six battalions of the Regiment were in France in 1940 and shortly after D Day five battalions of the Regiment were in the line in Normandy together. Battalions fought at Knightsbridge, El Alamein, Mareth, Mersa Matruh, Sicily, Primosole Bridge, Rauray, Salerno and Camino.
At the end of the war the 1st Battalion, then in Italy, moved to Greece in 1946. The 2nd Battalion served first in India and then Malaya. The 1st and 2nd Battalions amalgamated on 1st September 1948 to become a new 1st Battalion which moved to Germany in 1949 and subsequently served in Korea, Egypt, England, Aden, Cyprus, Berlin, Hong Kong and Borneo.
In common with six other infantry regiments a 2nd Battalion was raised in 1952, only to be disbanded in 1955. When the new Light Infantry regiment was formed in 1968 the 1st Battalion was serving with the United Nations Force in Cyprus.
The current Regimental Secretary, Major Chris Lawton MBE, was the last serving member of DLI in the Light Infantry, up until his retirement in 2004.
General Sir Peter de la Billiere - DLI, LI and SAS