IN a rural corner of northern France lies a small village that, for many Bradford men, offered brief respite before the march to the Somme battlefields.

Scratched into the church walls are names and regiment numbers of young soldiers. Some carved the date, June 30, 1916, perhaps knowing it would be the last day of their lives.

Bus-les-Artois was where the Bradford Pals were billeted in the summer of 1916, prior to the Battle of the Somme. Up to 8,000 troops stayed in tents around the village, with Divisional Headquarters in its chateau. For most Pals, the village they fondly called ‘Bus’ offered a last taste of leisure, before they arose early on July 1 and marched away, never to return.

It was in ‘Bus’ where they washed uniforms and polished boots, played cards over a drink or two in the estaminet, sat beneath trees listening to bandsmen play, and watched silent films on a big screen set up in a barn.

Today 120 people live the village, in the Hauts-de-France region, and some are still unearthing items, including exploded shells. Former mayor Philipe Rouvillian, found in his garden a ginger beer bottle with Milnes and Son of Undercliffe inscribed on the glass. The bottle either travelled to France in a Bradford soldier’s pack-up or was sent to him by his family. It is now kept at Undercliffe Cemetery lodge. “Monsieur Roubillian digs his garden each spring and every year finds the odd detritus of war,” said Andy Tyne from Bus to Bradford.

An array of items, including shaving kits, toothbrushes and helmets left by the men are displayed in a little museum. A scrapbook of photos, amassed by a villager during the war, offers a glimpse into life behind the Front.

In the village stands a memorial installed in the summer of 2016 by a group of Bradford City supporters. The group, called Bus to Bradford, raised £3,000 for the memorial stone and unveiled it at a ceremony attended by the Bus-les-Artois mayor and French Army veterans. Early on July 1, 2016, the centenary of the first day of the Somme, the group followed the Pals’ footsteps on a four-mile route to Serre.

More recently Bus to Bradford paid tribute to one of Bus-les-Artois’ oldest villagers, Yvette Graire, who celebrated her 100th birthday this month. “She’s rather special,” says Bus to Bradford president David Whithorn. “Her family owned the estaminet in Bus-les-Artois where survivors of the Bradford Pals came for a meal and a drink on their annual pilgrimages after the war. She remembered them well and was one of their favourites! Mme Graire’s mother looked after the Pals in 1916 from the same estaminet. Nice to know Mme Graire too has family who may one day look after Bradford people coming to ‘Bus’ in future years.

“The gentleman handing her the flowers, from Bus to Bradford, is Ghislain Lobel a CWGC gardener. As a boy he remembers the Bradford Pals in Bus and giving the children sweets.”

Mme Graire appears in a film shot in 2006 when David, representing the Bradford Pals, joined the Great War Society in commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Somme. Watch it at

Emma Clayton