On 1st July 1916 the Bradford Pals (16/18 West Yorkshire Regiment) were at the heart of the assault on the Somme. Drawn from the mill city of Bradford they were tasked with taking objectives in and around the fortified village of Serre. The West Yorkshire Regiment suffered the highest casualty rates of any sent into battle on the first day of the Somme. The men of the area also fought elsewhere with detachments seeing action in the Middle East. This page provides a brief overview of their involvement in the First World War.
Upon the outbreak of war, Walter Stead, a Leeds Solicitor and council member, asks Lord Kitchener for permission to raise a ‘Pals Battalion’ in Leeds. Edward Brotherton, the Lord Mayor of Leeds, pays for the cost of raising and equipping the battalion. Evidence Link
By September 8th, 1914, the Leeds Pals had recruited 1275 men. Many others had been rejected on medical grounds.
The Leeds Pals included several ‘famous’ names:
Evelyn Lintott – Leeds / Bradford City footballer. England International.
Morris Flemming. Footballer.
Major Booth – Yorkshire County Cricket Club / England Cricket team.
Arthur Dolphin – Yorkshire County Cricket Club
Roy Kilner – Yorkshire County Cricket Club
20th September. Bradford is granted permission to form a ‘Citizens Army League’ (Pals Battalion). It is formed with headquarters at 23 Bridge Street.
Arthur Wadsworth is rejected by the Bradford pals due to his age (16). Disgusted at his rejection, he walks to Leeds, tells them he is 19 and is accepted into the Leeds Pals.
A man describes the medical examination he underwent prior to enlisting and how he had to do exercises to expand his chest before he was accepted – play clip (1:40)
September / October. Former members of the Bradford Grammar School Officer Cadet Corps are recruited as officers for the Bradford Pals. Many had no military experience beyond brief afternoon training sessions at the school. They were expected to purchase their own uniforms from Pope and Bradley at a cost of £2.12s 6d (Breeches) and a tunic at the cost of £3. 7s 6d.
AUDIO Joining up on Manningham Lane is recalled – play clip (0:27)
Pay for recruits to the Bradford Pals in 1914: Lodgings allowance of 21 shillings per week and pay of 7 shillings per week (Of which half was to be given to the soldiers’ next of kin.) From the remaining money, the soldier was expected to purchase buttons, boot polish, cap badges etc.)
22nd September 1914. The first group of Leeds Pals leave for the training camp in North Yorkshire. On 25th September an estimated 20000 wave off the remainder of the battalion as they leave Leeds Railway station for Masham.
14th January. The First Battalion of the Bradford Pals march from Bradford city centre to training facilities in Skipton.
A dual purpose Battalion is recruited across West Yorkshire. The 21st Service (Pioneers) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, was to combine infantry duties with Pioneer duties.
AUDIO: A soldier recalls being sent to Bradford in 1915 to recruit local men – play clip (1:15)
February. A second Pals Battalion is raised in Bradford. (18th Service Battalion, Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment).
May. 16th and 18th Battalions (First and Second Bradford pals) transfer to Ripon. Here they are integrated into the main army and are given Khaki uniforms – they had previously worn blue uniforms, made in Bradford of worsted wool.
AUDIO A man remembers how the 1st Pals wore blue uniforms but his battalion wore khaki. He recalls marching to Ripon from Bradford, the songs the marchers sang and the state of his feet! – play clip (2:08)
Jack Hobbs signs for Idle Cricket Club. He plays for them in the Bradford League for the duration of the war, winning the League Title in his first season with the club.
July. The reserves of the First and Second Bradford pals are transferred to Colstersdale (home of the Leeds pals training camp) to merge with the 2 reserve battalions of the Leeds pals and form the 19th Battalion (Local Reserve) West Yorkshire Regiment. The group was too large though and was later split into 2 groups, the 19th and 20th reserve Battalions, the latter being transferred to Nottinghamshire.
5th July. Donald Bell, footballer for Bradford (Park Avenue) attacks an enemy trench armed with grenades. He clears the trench single-handedly. His actions result in the awarding of the Victoria Cross. Bell is the only professional footballer to have ever received this honour.
6th December. The Transport section of the Leeds Pals boards HMS Shropshire and set sail for Port Said, Egypt. They are followed by the remainder of the Leeds Pals and the rest of the division on December 7th, who sail on ‘The Empress of Britain.’ The Empress also carries the 16th and 18th Battalions (West Yorks – Bradford pals) and the 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (Durham pals) who collectively formed the 93rd Brigade.
Note: only the officers knew the destination of the Empress. The ‘ordinary’ men were left to Speculate as to where they were going: Gallipoli or India were popular rumours.
AUDIO: Troop movements around England and a confrontation with an Italian ship off the coast of Malta are remembered – play clip (1:43)
AUDIO: A man recalls spending his birthday in Egypt in 1915 – play clip (1:02)
22nd December. The Leeds Pals disembark at Port Said and march 32 miles up the Suez Canal. They are assigned a number of defensive positions which they guard until March 1st 1916 when they are withdrawn due to the likelihood of a major Turkish assault. Evidence link
13th January. 5th (Reserve) Battalion transfer to Salisbury Plain for training.
February. An example of censorship gone badly wrong! In the Yorkshire Observer on 18th February appeared a photograph of several Bradfordian officers. The caption reads, “Off duty Bradford officers, “Somewhere in the East”. Understandable that the location isn’t going to be given away. A quick glance at the Pyramid and Sphinx in the background might help the enemy to locate them though!
March 1916. The Leeds Pals board HMS Asconia and sail from Port Said to France. In France they are assigned a position on the Somme front. They are initially billeted at merelassat (16th Battalion, 1st Bradford pals) and Citerne (18th Battalion, 2nd Bradford Pals)
AUDIO: A soldier remembers travelling on the ship Empress of Britain and landing at Marseilles – play clip (0:24)
AUDIO: Travelling across France in a cattle truck – play clip (1:42)
March / April. ‘Half companies’ of the Leeds and Bradford pals are attached to the Durham Light Infantry who are in the front line, in order for them to gain experience of fighting conditions. A number of officers and NCO’s were also temporarily assigned to the Durham LI to gain experience.
AUDIO: A man recalls his first time in the trenches – play clip (2.28)
22nd April. First Casualty for the Bradford Pals. Private E MacKay is seriously wounded by shrapnel. The following day brought the first fatalities, Privates Smith, Slingsby and Bannister being killed by shelling.
June 4th. First officers to be killed. Lieutenant Laxton is killed immediately as shells hit C company HQ and Captain H Russell dies after being buried as a result of the shelling.
June 8th. 5th (Reserve) Battalion placed on Coastal Defence duties at Lowestoft.
Local soldier, Noel Hodgson, wrote a poem, ‘Before Action’ towards the end of June 1916. The poem can be found on this webpage. It was published 2 days before he was killed in action.
Carnage on The Somme
07.39am July 1st 1916. The Pals go ‘over the top’ as part of the Somme Offensive. They attack the village of Serre. 13 officers of the Leeds Pals are killed on the day. 2 more later die of wounds sustained in the attack. 209 other ranks are killed on the day, with a further 24 later dying of wounds.
ORDERS AND OBJECTIVES
First Objective – 15th Battalion (Leeds pals) objective – German trench K30c 2.6 to K30c 1.9 (Green Line)
Second Objective – 16th Battalion (Leeds pals) objective – ‘Leap Frog’ the 15th Battalion and reach and take K36a 8.7 (Red Line)
Remainder of 15th Battalion – consolidate Red Line.
Third Objective – 16th Battalion to take line between orchard and a copse (L25a 7.4 to L23a 2.6) (Brown Line)
Fourth Objective – 18th Battalion (Bradford pals) objective – take and garrison German trenches between L25a 7.4 to L26a 5.6 (Blue Line)
To see the geography of these references, see the Somme chapter in this document.
A detailed account, including many stories as told by survivors of the battle, can be found in this document.
AUDIO: A man describes his fear at the front – play clip (0.27)
AUDIO: The way in which a soldier might be recommended for a commission – play clip (0.21)
AUDIO: The trench positions of the Bradford Pals – play clip (0.52)
AUDIO: A man talks of his feelings during the Battle of the Somme – play clip (0.26)
July 6th. Bradford Pals withdrawn from the Somme.
27th July. Bradford Pals take up position in front lines at Neuve Chappelle. That evening a German raid on the trench is successful and results in a number of prisoners being taken. This included several officers and Dickie Bond, the England footballer. (6 killed, 42 wounded of whom 4 later died of wounds and 36 missing assumed taken prisoner)
21st August. LOW MOOR EXPLOSION. The Low Moor Munitions factory exploded killing 34 and injuring 60 more workers and fire-fighters. Many others were injured in the local area. Buildings upto 2 miles away were damaged by the blast. Over 30 railway wagons were destroyed and a further 100 badly damaged.
September 5th. Private H Crimmins and Private A Wild, 2nd Bradford pals, are executed after a court martial finds them guilty of desertion.
Mid September. Bradford Pals on front line at Givenchy.
25/26 September: ZEPPELIN RAID on York and Leeds. Evidence Link
October 21st. 93rd Brigade (Includes Leeds / Bradford Pals) moved to Hebuturne sector.
October 23rd. ‘Winkling’ parties begin. This involves small patrols attempting to find isolated German sentries, capture them and then ‘winkle’ out prisoners from dug-outs behind the sentry post.
December 31st. Brigade relieved. 18th Battalion remain in front lines until January 10th.
5th January. 5th (Reserve) Battalion leave Southampon for Le Havre. From here they travel to Fortel for training.
January 10th. 93rd Brigade begin training in newly introduced platoon tactics. They do so in the Doullens-Bernaville area.
February 14th. 5th (Reserve) Battalion moved into the front lines for the first time at Ten Tree Alley.
February 21st. The 93rd Brigade return to the front lines. They are put in the line at Gommersal Park in the Hebuturne Sector. Upon arriving at the front, it appears that the germans have withdrawn from their front line positions and withdrawn to the Hindenburg Line. Patrols are followed by a stronger force who infiltrate the first and second lines of the now deserted German lines. However once these forces reach the second line, they are hit hard by German counter attacks, snipers and Bombardments. Ongoing fighting continues until March 4th when the 93rd Brigade are relieved by the York and Lancasters. The non stop fighting had resulted in several units being decimated; many men being stranded in no-mans land and a large number of fatalities and injuries being inflicted upon the Bradford Pals.
A detailed account of the fighting at Gommersal Park can be found in Chapter 6 of “The Bradford Pals” available online in this pdf file.
2nd May. 5th (Reserve) Battalion move up for attack on Bullecourt.
July 20th. The Bradford Pals are posted into the front lines at Neuville St. Vaast. Action seen by the West Yorkshire Battalion whilst in this area can be read in detail in Chapter 7 of “The Bradford Pals” which can be found in this pdf file. Action on this part of the front lasted throughout Autumn and Winter. It included day and night patrols, resisting of enemy attacks and included liaison with British Aircraft.
Bradford Textile Mills are producing 250,000 yards of Khaki per week for the army. Link.
30th October to 12th November. 5th (Reserve) Battalion train for the Cambrai offensive.
20th November. 5th (Reserve) Battalion attack and capture Havrincourt.
31st January. orders received to disband the 18th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (2nd Bradford pals). 16th Battalion posted to Arleux Sector.
11th February. 16th Battalion relieved from the front lines.
February 28th. Officers and men transferred to 3rd Entrenching Battalion as the Bradford Pals are disbanded.
20th July. 5th (Reserve) Battalion attack Marfaux. 80 men of 2/5th are killed. In the week that followed, 2/3rds of the 2/5th Battalions fighting strength is killed or wounded.
18th August. 2/5th (Reserve) Battalion formally disbanded.
1935. Memorial Cairn placed at Colstersdale, the site of the Leeds Pals first training camp.
2002. Memorial to the Bradford Pals unveiled at Hebuterne. Link
November 2007. JB Priestley’s unpublished letters from the First World War are donated to the University of Bradford and made available for public viewing. Link. Further information about Priestley’s wartime experience can be found on firstworldwar.com.