W. D. Lowe Collection

Scope and Content

A collection of manuscript, typescript and printed material largely relating to William Douglas Lowe's career as an officer in 18th (Service) Battalion (1st County) Durham Light Infantry from its formation in September 1914 until October 1918.Lowe served with 18th Durham Light Infantry as adjutant and later commanding officer. During his service he retained many documents on training and operations, including aerial photographs, military manuals, captured German documents and maps invarious scales. There are gaps in the papers from some but not all periods when Lowe is known to have been absent from the battalion for various reasons. The miscellanea comprise a school notebook, a catalogue of Lowe's library, a file of materialrelating to the Royal Society of Antiquaries and one of the Army portfolios in which the collection was originally housed.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Douglas Lowe was born at Kearsley Moor near Bolton on 27th July 1879 and attended Shrewsbury School from 1893 until 1898. In that year he obtained a scholarship at Pembroke College, Cambridge where he studied classics. He spent some timein Germany, taught at Radley School briefly, and in 1903 became Junior Censor and Classical Tutor at University College, Durham. He remained at Durham for the rest of his life with the exception of the war years. He was a keen athlete and oarsmanand was one of the first members of the Durham University Officers' Training Corps. Some notes on OTC training have been incorporated by Lowe into later material assembled during his service in 18th Durham Light Infantry. He lectured on education aswell as classics and became Bursar of University College in 1913. He translated a number of works from German and also edited textbooks for the Clarendon Press. After the war he returned to University College and in 1920 he wrote the War history of the 18th (S.) Battalion Durham Light Infantry which incorporated much material from the papers. His death on 24th May 1922 at the early age of forty-two was unexpected. He was buried at Hinton St. Georgein Somerset some days later.

18th Durham Light Infantry was formed at Cocken Hall in Co. Durham and the papers cover its training there and at Ripon in Yorkshire and Fovant in Wiltshire during 1914 and 1915. The battalion moved as part of 93rd Infantry Brigade, 31stDivision to Egypt in December 1915 where it remained until March 1916. It was then transferred with 31st Division to France and took part in the Battle of the Somme near Serre in July 1916, served in the line in the area of Givenchy and Festubert,before returning to the Gommecourt area on the Somme over the winter of 1916 and spring of 1917. It was engaged in heavy fighting in May 1917 around Gavrelle during the Battle of Arras. Lowe was attending the Senior Officers' School at Aldershot atthis period and was not therefore personally involved but obtained many operation orders, maps and reports relating to the attack on Gavrelle as well as retaining the Aldershot course notes. The battalion was subsequently in the Arleux and Fresnoysector and trained on the old Vimy Ridge battlefield. Lowe was given temporary command of 11th (Service) Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment, better known as the Accrington Pals, in the autumn of 1917 and remained with them until the spring of 1918;some orders and training programmes for this battalion are amongst the papers. Lowe returned to 18th Durham Light Infantry as commanding officer during the German offensive in March 1918. Material for the action on Ayette Ridge includes letterswritten in 1920 from several officers who were asked by Lowe to record their experiences for the battalion history. The battalion spent much of the summer south of Meteren on the French/Belgian border where they conducted a number of minoroperations and trench raids for which there are operation orders, after action accounts, aerial photographs and maps. The final action recorded is the battalion's part in the capture of Bailleul and Mont de Lille in late September with the accountending on 1st October 1918.


Chronologically within the following groups: 

  • A: Training Papers
  • B: Operational Papers
  • C: Captured German Documents
  • D: Maps
  • E: Printed Books and Manuals
  • F: Miscellanea
  • G: Photographs

Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

The papers were bequeathed by William Douglas Lowe to University College, Durham in 1922. They were found in a cupboard in the Lowe Memorial Library in University College in 2001 and were transferred to Durham University Library, Archives andSpecial Collections. A number of military training manuals were extracted from the Lowe Memorial Library at the same time and placed with the papers.

Other Finding Aids

Separated Material

The National Archives, London: war diaries for 18th Durham Light Infantry are at WO95/4590 (Dec 1915-Feb 1916) and WO95/2361 (Mar 1916-Feb 1919)

County Record Office, Durham: some printed ephemera, the papers of the Old Comrades Association and photographs of the battalion during the 1914-1918 period are at D/DLI/2/18.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Head of Special Collections (e-mail PG.Library@durham.ac.uk) and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assist wherepossible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Related Material

Printed books and manuals within the collection are catalogued in Discover


William Douglas Lowe; obituary Durham University Journal, vol. 22, p. 427-429 Lowe, W. D., War history of the 18th (S.) Battalion Durham Light Infantry, Humphrey Milford, London, 1920