DLI soldier captured by Germans May 1940

Discussion in 'Durham Light Infantry' started by anniemudge, Jul 5, 2013.

  1. anniemudge

    anniemudge Member


    Please could someone possibly point me in the right direction?

    I am trying to find out a little more about Sergeant Robert Henderson, a rifleman for the DLI from Houghton-le-Spring. He served with either the 2nd or 11th battalions - I'd love to know which one.

    He was born in 1902, trained with the Territorial Army during the 1930s and, despite being a miner when war broke out, was called up to fight almost at once.

    In 1940 he was posted to northern France with the advance forces, where he saw action with enemy forces, and in May of that year he was captured on the France/Belgium border.

    He spent the rest of the war in prisoner-of-war camps, including Stalag 383 in Bavaria, and wrote a short journal of his capture experience after returning home.

    Unfortunately, it doesn't give his soldier number or battalion information. (Or even the exact date of his capture). Can anyone help?
  2. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    There are several here with copies of the DLI diaries and probably the 'Missing Men' enquiries so I'm sure that you'll learn something.

    Would you be able to post his account of his time with the BEF ? Does he say exactly when and where he was captured ?
  3. anniemudge

    anniemudge Member

    His record on the events is 14 pages long, but he does mention the Nord Canal and Arras - so that possibly means he was in the 11/DLI at the time... At least according to details on this website: http://durhamlightinfantry.webs.com/the10th11thdli.htm

    In the days before his capture, Henderson and his men made camp close to the canal, and were bombed repeatedly by the Germans on one day, although only one or two casualties were recorded.

    There are no dates in this part of his report, but he records that at 0200 hrs after the day of bombing a steel bridge spanning the canal was blown up, to stop any advance by the Germans.

    The battalion then moved to a new camp, beside a sing track railway - where they were joined by a small group of French soldiers. Hundreds more French soldiers arrived in dribs and drabs over the next few hours, most unarmed - and heading for home.

    "It was a depressing sight to see those soldiers, our allies, leaving us with our small force to provide some protection for their country," he wrote in his journal.

    On May 20, 1940, the troops woke up hungry, due to lack of supplies, but had to hunt several enemy parachutists, who were dropping in significant numbers in the area around them.

    Henderson's group was fired on by a party of Germans, prompting Henderson to crawl closer to the men and fire back. "I have never been so bloody frightened and mad at the same time," he wrote.

    Eventually, he was cut off from his platoon and, as all allied firing died away, he crawled into a bush to escape the approaching Germans - who set up base just 30 yards away from him.

    He remained hidden until night fell, hoping to make a break for it, but the moon was so bright it "turned night into day." At some point during that day he was also joined by another soldier, from the 10/DLI.

    The men spent the whole of the next day and night in the bush, with one narrow escape when a German soldier passed by - spotted the men but passed on, after spitting on them, "probably thinking he had seen a dead man," wrote Henderson.

    It was only on the third day, when a tank started making a bee-line for Henderson's bush, that he and his 10/DLI were forced to reveal themselves - or be run over. "Almost at once we were surrounded. One of them addressed us: "Who are you. Tommies?"

    Henderson was questioned for several minutes, before being sent to join a group of captured comrades. Before sending him away, the same officer apparently gave Henderson a cigarette and said the classic line: "For you, the war is over."
  4. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Hopefully I'll be able to come back to this when I have more time. I have both battalion war diaries and the missing men file. Avenues you could go down yourself would be to apply for a copy of his service records from the MoD, they will definitely tell you what unit(s) he was with and ask the National Archives to check and see if he completed a liberation report, if he did, he may have put down the battalion he was serving with at the time of capture.

    Cheers for now
  5. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Thanks for the account - sounds like he was captured shortly after the battle of Arras.
  6. KevinBattle

    KevinBattle Senior Member

    Hi and welcome.
    Firstly, I think you are a misapprehension about "despite being a miner, he was called up to fight..." Well, he was in the Army Reserves as a Territorial soldier, so would have been automatically required to report to his base depot when War was declared, and most if not all went willingly.
    Secondly, there are 5 men from Houghton le Spring who were killed in May 1940, and it could be that one or more were his Pals who he was in the Territorials with... that might help place him, especially if any Names are mentioned in his account.
    (Thanks to Geoffs Search Engine)
    001 CHASE ML 4453106 2ND BN 27/05/1940 DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY
    002 FISHER J 4443470 2ND BN 31/05/1940 DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY
    003 LEONARD JG 4447924 2ND BN 24/05/1940 - - 31/05/1940 DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY
    004 MCPARLIN RDT 4455849 11TH BN 15/05/1940 - - 24/05/1940 DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY
    005 SILL A 4456086 8TH BN 21/05/1940 DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY
  7. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Bit of a long shot - I don't suppose you know if he had a brother called O. Henderson?
  8. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Hello anniemudge,

    The 2nd Bn Durham Light Infantry were regulars, not Terriers.

    If he was a Terrier, then he would be, either, 6th, 8th or 9th Bn Durham Light Infantry, 151st Infantry Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division, or 10th, 11th or 12th Bn Durham Light Infantry, 70th Infantry Brigade, 23rd (Northumbrian) Division. Both of these brigades fought around the Arras area.

    The 10th, 11th and 12th were second line troops and duplicate Battalions of the first line 6th, 8th and 9th Battalions.

    NB. The 12th Bn Durham Light Infantry had by now been rebadged 1st Bn Tyneside Scottish (of the Black Watch).

    Where he was resident at the outbreak of WWII would probably give a very good indication of which two battalions - the first or second line - he may have served with. For example, as he resided in Houghton-le-Spring he was likely to be 'D' Coy in either 8th or 11th Bn Durham Light Infantry.

    I have never previously read of parachutists being encountered by the Durham Light Infantry during its time with the BEF and was sceptical. However, I found this in the War Diary for the 11th Bn Durham Light Infantry.

    As Andy has advised, you really need Sjt Robert Henderson's service records to confirm.



    Edited: a mistake out!
  9. Mr Jinks

    Mr Jinks Bit of a Cad

    The clue to this lies with the above website or at least its owner! If he came back it would save me emailing him all the time :)

  10. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I had a quick skim through the DLI missing men file and couldn't find him, I suspect Jim may have typed all the names out so it should be easier for him to find if he is mentioned..
  11. Mr Jinks

    Mr Jinks Bit of a Cad

    Hi Drew,

    I don't know if he typed out those names but this he said came originally from the local press in 2009 when they ran a story on his son, Roy, planning to donate his dads journals to the Records Office in Durham.There was also a list he obtained from a soldier captured at St Venant listing all the various DLI NCOs who were in the camps with him and Henderson was on that too but the list did not have battalion numbers.

    Just had a thought if he filled in a Lib questionnaire that would give his battalion, where captured and date wouldn't it?
  12. amberdog45

    amberdog45 Senior Member

    There are two possible entires at findmypast. See below. I think you can get a free trial on findmypast. I'd look them up but I don't subscribe to the site. They might reveal more, but then again, they may just confirm what you already know.

    Attached Files:

  13. stevej60

    stevej60 Active Member

    It could be worth contacting the DLI museum to see if they have any muster rolls for those members of the 8th/11th battalion at the Houghton
    drill hall I know they do for the nearby town of Birtley.
  14. anniemudge

    anniemudge Member

    I have just managed to get this information from Find My Past - (sparking a fraud alert on my bank account for some random reason....!)

    First Name(s):R.
    Last Name:Henderson
    Camp No.:383
    PoW No.:5663
    Soldier No.:4443317
    Record Office:Infantry and Army Educational Corps Record Office, York
    Camp Type:STALAG
    Camp Location:Hohen Fels
    Regiment:The Durham Light Infantry

    I think this is the chap I need (he was certainly at Stalag 383) - does the soldier number mean I can now track down his battalion?
  15. arnhem44

    arnhem44 Member

    What is exactly "a tank making a bee-line" ?
    (being a non native speaker..)
  16. Mr Jinks

    Mr Jinks Bit of a Cad


    Hope you didn't pay too much for that information as its all in the posts above ? As Drew mentioned maybe a PoW questionnaire will list his battalion ? The number simply confirms DLI enlistment not the battalion it certainly helps if you plan to apply for the service records. Pay a visit to the DLI site again there`s more on there ,enlistment details, photograph etc I`m not cutting and pasting I know him well and he`s putting a stack of work into that site so I wouldn't feel comfortable doing it` :)
    Bee-Line.........a direct route, without deviation, straight course to...

  17. KevinBattle

    KevinBattle Senior Member

    annie: Unless you want to continue with your subscription, DO ensure you haven't inadvertently signed on for future monthly payments.
    Unless you are sure, you need to recheck, amend or cancel AND watch your next bank statement....
  18. John L Dixon

    John L Dixon Researcher

    Sgt Henderson was indeed a member of 11th DLI. His details should be uploaded to the Memorial History Website on 70th Brigade in the next few weeks - along with the hundreds of other Brigade PoWs captured at Ficheux and Mercatel. Still finalising some queries and then have to get the databases re-run.

    By all means get in touch (link is on Website at www.newmp.org.uk/70brigade ) if you have further queries.

    John L Dixon
  19. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Assuming he definitely is 11 DLI and you come back, here are some pages from the WO 167/782 11 Durham Light Infantry war diary for May 1940:

  20. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive


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