War and Remembrance
Remembering Bradford's 'Pals'
On the morning of July 1st 1916 2000 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 the village of Serre where they had been told there would be little resistance. Instead they were met by 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.
In common with other Northern towns, when war broke out in 1914, friends and work mates in Bradford had rushed to enlist together to form Pals battalions.
Life on the Western Front...
July 1st 1916 is still the most disastrous single day ever experienced by the British army. The full extent of the tragedy was brought home to Bradford in the following days as the lists of casualties, accompanied by passport-style photographs of the dead, appeared in local newspapers.
In 1974 a BBC Yorkshire TV crew accompanied some of the surviving Bradford Pals on what was to be their last trip back to the Somme. These are some of their memories.
Ernest Wilson was an apprentice woolsorter before joining the Pals:
"Naturally, you know I was keen, and I went to Belle Vue barracks, and I went home and I told my mother, 'I've joined the army' and she said, 'Yes, you have. I'm there in the morning and I'll fetch you out,' So, of course, when I went, they told me, 'You are too young. Grow a bit.' Anyway, I was still an apprentice woolsorter so they sent me with some samples down to Bradford to different firms. As I'm coming back I call in the recruiting office. I was only a lad, like. Anyway I go on the scale and I weigh 108 lbs and the doctor says, 'Oh, this fellow will swell out,' so they passed me and I got a shilling. I went across to the Theatre De Luxe and had a right good time. I went back to work and I told the boss, I'm in the army,' and he said, 'Thank God, we haven't got a navy.'"
A Bradford Pal remembers the opening hours of the Battle of the Somme:
"Half-past seven in the morning on the first of 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 everybody was 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. The other battalion had come over before us. There were so many dead lying about and it was almost impossible because the other battalion had come over before us. There were 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 and out of the battalion strength of 800 there were only 147 left at the end of the day."
An old comrade remembers the death of a Lieutenant Foizey:
"At twenty-five-past seven the officer said, 'Fix bayonets.' At half-past-seven away we go, and he said to me, I shall never forget this, he said, 'I shan't come back,' and it was a gentleman called Foizey.
I said to him, 'Don't talk like that, I shall come back,' and we hadn't gone above twenty yards over the top when they opened up with the machine guns and we all dropped down except the Colonel, and he said, 'Come on boys, up you get, and he was shot straight away, killed."
Another Bradford Pal remembers casualties at the Somme and being wounded himself:
"We were supposed to go over at ten-past-eight. We were the third wave, the second battalion Pals. The Leeds Pals and the first Bradford Pals went over at ten-minutes-to-eight. It was a massacre, they were just wiped out. No chance at all. It was pure massacre and anybody who says it wasn't is just telling a pack of lies. At 8 o'clock the whole brigade, the whole lot, were wiped out in half-an-hour. By the afternoon there were 63,000 casualties, and it all took place in the first hour, just like that.
"I got wounded at about 10 o'clock and they told me to get out because I was only a walking case. I did walk out. I bl**dy would have run out, and make no mistake about that, I got out as quick as I could. We'd got a one-eyed officer. He'd lost an eye at Ypres. He was going in the wrong direction. I told him, 'You're going in the wrong direction,' so he said, 'All right, if you think I am going in the wrong direction, find some senior officers.' Well, I was searching on my belly and my knees and crawling, and eventually found just one. I was taking him back the best way I could. He got wounded. I was attending to him, patching his wound up in the back, and I got wounded. Just like someone put a stick right across my back. Ten o'clock as far as I was concerned, the Battle of the Somme was over."
Ernest Wilson talks about going home:
"We weren't a nation of soldiers, you know. We weren't a military nation at all but, of course, when the call came, the response was great. A lot of us volunteered straight away. Boys from offices, factories, volunteered immediately and when we got home, of course, most of us wanted to forget about the whole thing and, in any case, we wanted to settle down to civilian life. A lot of us, of course, we hadn't finished our apprenticeships, you know. We wanted to get on with work and forget all about it. Naturally there were relatives and friends that kept asking the question, 'Were you captured in so-and-so, Ernest? Well, you see, I think our Dad was killed somewhere near there? Have you seen his grave?'"
There were many others from Bradford who fought in different regiments and battalions. Looking back at the Bradford of his youth writer J.B. Priestley observed: "There are many gaps in my acquaintance now; and I find it difficult to swap reminiscences of boyhood. The men who were boys when I was a boy are dead. Indeed they never even grew to be men. They were slaughtered in youth; and the parents of them have grown lonely, the girls they would have married have grown grey in sisterhood, and the work they have done has remained undone."
Now all the Bradford Pals have gone. The Bradford Cenotaph was unveiled on July 1st 1922, the sixth anniversary of the Somme. The Bradford Pals Memorial in Centenary Square and a window in Bradford Cathedral also commemorate the bravery of these young men from Bradford over 90 years ago on the battlefield of the Somme.
last updated: 01/07/2009 at 12:13