It is an often forgotten fact that the majority of soldiers fighting during the early part of WW1 were volunteers, rather than members of the regular army, and a great deal has been written everywhere about the carnage surrounding the fighting in WW1, particularly with the Battle of the Somme in France, so this article concentrates more on the build up to going to war by the Bradford Pals, rather than going into full details of the battles themselves.
The story starts with local man Fred Bancroft, was born in Keighley in 1885, the son of Jabez and Elizabeth Ann Bancroft [nee Ramsbottom].
After leaving school he became a solicitor’s clerk, with various firms in Leeds, Hull, London and at the outbreak of WW1 was working as a clerk to Alex Neill’s Solicitors in Bradford, was one of the first to join up in 1914, with the 16th West Yorkshire Regiment, known as the 1st Bradford Pals, where he was eventually promoted to the rank of Company Quarter Sergeant.
Permission having been granted, the Bradford Citizens’ Army League was formed on 20th September 1914. Volunteers rushed to enlist. Men of all ages from mid-tens to mid-forties besieged the recruiting office and within a week 1,000 volunteers had been accepted into the battalion, and was officially known as the '16th Battalion, the Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment'. Locally it was known as ‘The Bradford Pals’, and later, when the Citizens’ Army League was able to cope with the organisation of a second battalion, it became the ‘First Bradford Pals’
|Rifle Drill in Manningham Park - 1914|
|Pals marching to Camp -1915|
On 14th January 1915, the ‘Bradford Pals’ marched to Skipton where they were to be accommodated in a purpose-built camp. Their march began from the city, where they were inspected by the Lord Mayor. The local newspaper, in described the scene said “ they displayed themselves as a body of fit, smart, purposeful manhood”
By February 1915 the League felt sufficiently confident to contemplate a second battalion and in February of that year a ‘Second Bradford Pals’ was formed. This battalion was officially designated the '18th [Service] Battalion, the Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment', and joined up with the First Pals in September 1915 for training in Skipton.
Initially both the Bradford Pals battalions formed part of the 31st Division, which was made up of various other Pals Battalions from towns in northern England. The 31st Division was largely comprised of locally raised units from Accrington, Leeds, Bradford, Barnsley and Hull are among the best known of all 1914-raised infantry, and it was a predominantly Northern Division, with most units originating in Lancashire or Yorkshire - hence the use of the red and white roses in the Divisional symbol.
The Bradford Pals volunteers were issued with this enamel lapel badge when they enlisted, before they were issued with their blue uniform.
On the formation of the 2nd Bradford Pals, which Fred Bancroft seems to have moved on to, where he was promoted to the rank of Regiments’ Quarter-Master Sergeant.
Their stay in Egypt remained short however, because the men sailed from Port Said on 29th February 1916, following orders from Field-Marshall Haigh’s plans for a grand offensive by the British on the western front. The 31st Division left Port Said aboard 'HMT Briton' bound for Marseilles in France, a journey which took 5 days. They travelled by train to Pont Remy, a few miles south east of Abbeville and marched to Bertrancourt arriving on 29 March 1916.Their first taste of action was at Serre on the Somme where they suffered heavy casualties as the battle was launched.The following short 3 minute film, set to music, shows the cruel reality of war during the Battle of the Somme. [to view in full screen, click the icon in the bottom right corner]
On the morning of July 1st 1916, two thousand young men from Bradford left their trenches in Northern France to advance across No Man's Land. It was the first hour of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The objective of their attack was to take the village of Serre, where they had been told there would be little resistance. Instead they were met by heavy fire from German machine guns. By the end of the first hour of the battle, 1770 men from Bradford had either been killed or injured and no ground had been gained.
|Serre Rd British Cemetery|
A Bradford Pal remembered this hell on earth, when he described the opening hours of the Battle of the Somme:
"Half-past seven in the morning on the 1st July 1916, and the whistles were blowing and the shells were coming over, and it was hell upon earth, and everybody dashed out of the trenches and were doing the best they could. It was the machine gun fire that caused all the damage. It wasn't the shell fire. And there were no gaps in the wire emplacements and we had to find the best way we could, you see. There were so many dead lying about and it was almost impossible because the other battalion had come over before us... so many dead lying about scattered all over the place. I was a member of the 18th West Yorkshires, 2nd Bradford Pals, on that particular day, out of the battalion strength of 800 there were only 147 left at the end of that day."
Towards the end of the war Fred Bancroft, seems to have managed to stay uninjured and returned to the Officers’ Training School in Rhyl, Wales. The Battalion was disbanded in France on the 15th of February 1918.
After the war, the survivors formed the 'Bradford Pals Old Comrades Association' with its headquarters at Claremont, Morley Street, Bradford and the Association was active until March 1979.
After the war Fred Bancroft returned to work in the legal profession, remaining a bachelor with no family of his own. He died on 13th July 1929 at the early age of only 44 years, and was buried in the town’s Utley Cemetery. For some reason he was buried in the family grave of his Aunt and Uncle, Ellen and John Nicholson, probably because his own parents did not have their own plot until later.
I want to finish this article with a touching poem about the Bradford Pals, written at the time of WW1 by a lady called Hilda Bradley,who lived in the Listerhills district of Bradford.
Under you our homage we pay, brave lads of our own town
Your memory will never die but will be our world renown
When duty called, you nobly went, just like an Englishman would
Ready to obey a Country’s command, and do just what you could
What a grand body of noble men you were as you marched along
Husbands and brothers, fathers and sons, marched on with a cheering song
How proud you were as you marched away, clad in your suits of blue
And many a humble yearning prayer went up to God for you
Oh, Bradford Pals, you gallantly fought, we only know too well
Our hearts thrill with pride when we think of the day you charged into that gaping hell
Many poor hearts have ached and bled for dear ones we lost in the fray
But noble you taught your enemies all that prepared you for “The Day”
The tiny crosses that make your graves are surmounted by God’s own love
Your lives laid down for us at home, our loss…your gain above
We pray your sacrifice may not be in vain, but through the coming years
A purer England we shall have, built up on our prayers and tears
|"And lo, a mighty army came out of the North"|