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Webmatters : Serre: 1st July 1916, The fate of the Pals Battalions
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Serre: 1st July 1916

The 31st Division

The Pals Battalions

On the outbreak of war in 1914 the British Army was geared to fighting the odd colonial war but certainly not a large scale conflict against the massive conscripted armies of Europe.

Whilst many at the time thought that the war would be over within months Lord Kitchener the Secretary of State for War, thought otherwise. His idea was to form a new army made up solely of volunteers.

The response to the call that Kitchener and Britain had need of them was that hundreds of thousands thronged the recruitment offices to join up and do their bit – for the duration of the war !

Over the next year almost two and a half million men answered the rallying call (Which is more than were conscripted over the next two years).

However, men (and at times boys) not only wanted to get into the army, they also wanted to go into battle with their relatives, friends and in particular workmates.

Thus was born the idea of the Pals Battalions.

 

Regimental designations and nicknames

Whilst in theory each Battalion had an official army name reflecting the parent regiment, the soldiers thought themselves members of a different society, drawn by a common background, that had little to do with military heritage.

Thus were born battalions known to its members by their town name or a previous occupation, such as: The Grimsby Chums or The Post Office Rifles.

In the case of the 31st Division it was made up entirely of such men:

92nd Brigade

93rd Brigade

94th Brigade

10th Bn East Yorkshire
Hull Commercials

15th Bn West Yorkshire
Leeds Pals

12th Bn York & Lancaster
Sheffield City

11th Bn East Yorkshire
Hull Tradesmen

16th Bn West Yorkshire
1st Bradford

13th Bn York & Lancaster
1st Barnsley

12th Bn East Yorkshire
Hull Sportsmen

18th Bn West Yorkshire
2nd Bradford

14th Bn York & Lancaster
2nd Barnsley

13th Bn East Yorkshire
Hull T’others

18th Bn Durham Light Infantry
Durham Pals

11th Bn East Lancaster
Accrington Pals

The Divisional Pioneers were the 12th Bn King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry known as T’owd Twelfth and included many of the miners from Charlesworth Pit in Leeds.

Not much experience but plenty of enthusiasm

The Pals battalions were all slowly kitted out, drilled in army ways and taught how to shoot and manoeuvre, however they still lacked the years of professionalism found in the regular army battalions.

The 31st was sent out to Egypt where it served as a guard on the Suez Canal for a while before being brought back to France in March 1916.

The Battle of the Somme was to prove to be its blooding in the arts of modern warfare.

 

The General Plan

In February 1916 the German Army had launched a full scale assault on the French town of Verdun. Their objective was not to take the town which was of significant morale value to the French, but to simply bleed the French Army to death in trying to defend it.

The French position became increasingly difficult and the British Commander: General Haig was put under pressure by his counterpart General Joffre to mount an offensive of sufficient size to syphon German troops away from Verdun.

The chosen place was to the north-east of Amiens where the French and British Armies met alongside the River Somme. The French would attack towards Peronne whilst the British advanced towards Bapaume.