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.
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”
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.
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."
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.
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.
|"And lo, a mighty army came out of the North"|