BENEATH the overgrowth in Undercliffe Cemetery lie the names of several men who lost their lives in the First World War.

Historian David Whithorn was inspired to research one of them after cemetery volunteers Alan Raistrick and Andy Tyne cleared a newly discovered gravestone and found part of an inscription: ‘Also of Fred Nelson, Sergt 16th West Yorks Regt, youngest son of TH and E Nelson who fell in action in France, July 29 1917, aged 39 years.’

David takes up the story: “Clearly a member of the 1st Bradford Pals, his regimental number 16/180 put him as one of the first to enlist in September 1914. He served in Egypt and survived the slaughter at Serre on July 1, 1916 as well as Rossignol Wood and Gavrelle in early 1917, to perish on July 29, 1917. He was buried in a rarely visited cemetery at Neuville St Vaast. There had to be more of a story here...

“I discovered the following from the war diary of 1st Pals, July 28, 1917: ‘Usual artillery and aeroplane activity. A patrol of 1 NCO (Sgt Nelson) and 6 other ranks was surprised about 50 yards from our wire by a hostile patrol who fired upon them at point blank range from a shell-hole concealed in long grass. Sgt Nelson was mortally wounded and 1 other rank wounded. Our patrol was taken so much unawares that with the exception of one bomb thrown at the hostile patrol, no retaliation was made.’

Says David: “As an original member of the Bradford Pals and a well respected and experienced sergeant, his men ensured that he would have a grave. However for the luckless Pals, the night was far from over. The diary went on: ‘The night was intensely dark, it was then found that Privates Clayton and Martin were missing. Quebec Trench was heavily bombarded about 1am, resulting in one shell falling’...’with casualties’.

Continues Davie: “The fates of Pte Ernest Henry Clayton and Pte Albert Martin of 1st Pals will likely never be known. It is possible the ‘hostile patrol’ was a ‘snatch squad’ eager to stage a trench raid to secure prisoners. No trace of either man was found, they are commemorated on the Arras Memorial. The officer who died of wounds that night was 2/Lt Oscar Lionel Paus of Heaton Grove, Bradford. He was taken to the 42nd Casualty Clearing Station that night where he died and was buried in the adjoining cemetery, now Aubigny Communal Cemetery.

It wasn’t possible to identify the stretcher-bearer from 2nd Bradford Pals also killed by the shell. Two of the 2nd Pals were killed that night: Pte Walter Nowland and Pte Edwin Arthur Ogley, both commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Looking at the information, I knew the name Fred Nelson, of Laistridge Lane, was familiar, then I remembered some years ago I took a school party on a battlefield tour. We stopped at the tiny village of Neuville St Vaast and visited a small British cemetery. I took the party there, faced by the familiar badge of the West Yorkshire Regiment. What was more, the regimental number began with the ‘16/...’ of 1st Bradford Pals - the grave was for no other than Sgt Fred Nelson. By his graveside, I was able to tell my party a little more of the story of the Bradford Pals.”