SUNLIGHT poured through the window of a little chapel in northern France as it filled with people, from a government minister to local children, paying tribute to Bradford men who died on surrounding fields.

Rain that had been lashing down an hour or so earlier was replaced by autumn sunshine as a Bradford contingent joined French dignitaries and locals for a special ceremony on November 19, 2016.

It was here, on the Serre salient, that an estimated 1,400 Bradford men went ‘over the top’ on July 1, 1916. On that day alone, 1,017 were killed or injured.

A century on from the end of the Battle of the Somme, a group of Bradfordians were at the site of the bloody conflict to unveil a memorial dedicated to the Bradford Pals and other men from the district who lost their lives there.

The memorial stone was draped in a Union Jack which once flew above Bradford Mechanics Institute, where hundreds of Bradford men registered to join the Pals shortly after the start of the First World War, responding to Lord Kitchener’s ‘Your Country Needs You’ call for more men to enlist.

It took two years of planning to get the Pals memorial in place. The piece of Bradford stone, overlooking a cemetery where our men are buried, was the result of the Honour the Pals appeal, launched by the Telegraph & Argus and Bradford Council in August, 2014. Raising £5,485, with match funding by the Council, it was backed by Bradford World War One Group which organised the inscription, transportation and installation of the 1.5 ton stone, donated by Fagley Quarries.

As donations poured in from individuals and businesses, the WW1 Group set about finding a location. After two years of emails, phone calls and visits to the mayors of neighbouring towns Hebuterne and Serre-les-Puisieux, Bradford WW1 Group president Tricia Platts stood by the stone, bearing the same inscription as the Pals memorial in Bradford city centre, and said: “This is a result of a wonderful connection between Bradford and Hebuturne and Serre-les-Puisieux, and the respect and gratitude the French people have for our men who fought and died here.”

Addressing the chapel congregation in French, she said: “This memorial is a lasting reminder of the sacrifice of the many young Bradfordians who lost their lives in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. On July 1, 16th and 18th Battalions, West Yorkshire Regiment, known to us as the Bradford Pals, attacked enemy lines in front of Serre, as French troops had in 1915. Many of these men, known and unknown, now lie in cemeteries and fields nearby. Over half the men who perished have no known grave.

“Others returned with life-changing battle scars. We’re honoured to lay wreaths in shared remembrance of French and British troops who fought and died here.”

During the unveiling, a First World War officer’s whistle sounded and the Lord Mayor of Bradford at the time, Councillor Geoff Reid, laid a poppy wreath. The Mayor of Hebuterne, Jean-Luc Tabary, laid flowers, and wreaths were left from Bradford organisations including the WW1 Group and Family History Society.

Afterwards, in the village hall at Serre-les-Puisieux, Anglo-French conversation flowed. Monsieur Tabary told the T&A: “It is very important for Hebuterne and Bradford to commemorate the men who died in Serre, one of the worst places of fighting in the war. We hope to continue this special relationship between your city and our small town. There is now part of the ground of Bradford in our town.”

Members of Bradford WW1 Group each had their own reasons for making the trip. At St Vaast cemetery, Richebourg, Ray Greenough placed a poppy cross at the grave of his wife’s great uncle, William Warrener, of Great Horton. Private Warrener, of the 17th West Yorks, died of wounds on April 20 , 1916.

“The family supplied five sons - Enos, George Arthur, William, Lloyd and Tom - two never came back and one returned badly injured,” said Ray. “They fought in the Somme, Italy, Egypt and Turkey. They all enlisted at the first opportunity, against their mother’s wishes. The chance that all her sons may never return was a burden she didn’t want to bear.”

On July 27, 1916 Bradford Pals came under heavy fire at Richebourg. German troops broke into the front line armed with pistols and bombs and left with prisoners, including Bradford City footballer Dickie Bond. Buried here are several Bradford men killed in the hand-to-hand fighting that day.

Ray, who is also researching former pupils of Bradford’s Marshfield School, killed in WW1, found names of some at the Arras Memorial.

Geoff Barker first travelled to the region 22 years ago, in the footsteps of his great uncle, Harry Barker. “He was killed on the first day of the Somme. His body was never found, his name is on the Thiepval Memorial” said Geoff.

“My grandad was in the Territorials, he fought at Passchendaele and was gassed but survived. As a child I’d sit with him and he talked about the war. He told me about a soldier who carried on running when his head was blown off, and another man who leapt off a stretcher and ran to the ambulance as soon as he saw it! As a boy, those stories stayed in my head.”

Geoff co-founded the Bradford WW1 Group with the late Joan Kenny, a driving force behind initial plans for a Bradford Pals memorial in France. “This memorial is the culmination of what Joan wanted - to leave something substantial for Bradford soldiers,” he said.

Chris Power visited graves of men from the Indian Army and British West Indies Regiment, buried at cemeteries including Vieille Chapelle, Arras and Hooge Crater, Belgium. “I want to tell their story, it’s one that is generally left out of accounts of WW1,” said Chris.

Paul Sharkey found his grandfather’s cousin Charles Sharkey’s name on the Loos Memorial. Charles, from County Donegal, served with 2nd Battalion Irish Guards and was killed at Loos on September 30, 1915. “I’m probably the first person in my family to visit,” said Paul. “For a long time, Irish men who’d served in the war were seen as traitors. I think a century on, they can finally be remembered.”

Royal British Legion standard bearer Martin Fearnley led the parade into the Serre Road chapel. “My grandad died in the Second World War, and the British Legion fought for my grandma’s widow’s pension,” said Martin. “She and my parents were in the Legion. My grandma sold poppies on the streets. It was an honour to represent my city at this memorial, and to join the French standard bearers.”

In late summer 1914, scores of Bradford men turned out in pressed suits and polished boots to register for the new Pals battalion.

They went off to a war they thought would be over in a few months and fought together on the Serre Road salient, where it is said every German bullet hit a target.

The Bradford Pals memorial is forever a piece of home on that now peaceful site.