ANY event to commemorate the Bradford Pals is special. Last week, I had two...

My lifelong interest in the Pals and the Great War began in my last days at Woodhouse Grove School, Apperley Bridge, in 1977. I have kept in contact over the years and Donna Shoemith-Evans, Deputy Head, invited me to the school to make a film, involving the Headmaster, staff and pupils telling the story of the Bradford Pals that I had written for them. Additionally, there would be footage of rare artefacts belonging to the Pals that I’d brought along. Underlying all, the story of 16/772 Cpl Allen Lee who joined the Pals in September 1914, went to Egypt with them in 1915 and was wounded in the 1st Bradford Pals attack on Serre on July 1, 1916. Lee would return to France to the 2nd Bradford Pals and ultimately to the Leeds Pals with whom he was captured in April 1918. Allen Lee died in July in the prison camp hospital, a fact not communicated to his wife, Lily, until a plain postcard came through her letter-box from Geneva literally as the church bells were ringing to celebrate the Armistice. Her husband would not be coming home.

Three of the pupils were past winners of the Whitehead Trophy, a prize given annually at the school to the pupil producing the best research report on a family member who served in the Great War, the legacy of a Battlefield Tour I previously led for them. A final photograph used in the film is of 2/Lt John H.Robinson of the 1st Bradford Pals who attended Woodhouse Grove and was killed in action at Serre on July 1. His father, JH Robinson Snr, was President of Bradford Chamber of Commerce and was instrumental in the formation of the Bradford Pals battalion in 1914.

The completed film will be shown on special occasions at the school around the July 1 anniversary. No student will leave the school without hearing the story of Bradford’s Pals battalions.

There was a highlight for me above all others. One of the Whitehead Trophy winners, Nathan, had volunteered to take part in the film and to show me his winning project on his relative, Ralph Hodgson of Steeton. Nervously, he handed me his ‘book’ which contained transcripts of letters, private photographs and more besides, all linked by Nathan’s caring, informative narrative. A tremendous effort that shone far above many published works I have read. Through the school, I will now supply Nathan with additional information regarding his relative. If he wishes, I will help and work with him, when free of exams, to complete his book with a view to this being published.

The following day I was at Undercliffe cemetery with Trustee Andy Tyne, a fellow enthusiast perpetuating the memory of Bradford’s WW1 soldiers in this important historic centre. Together we undertook three tours to raise funds for the cemetery conservation.

Andy led a tour of the 18 Bradford Pals buried or commemorated here, from their first casualty Pte Gerald Gray (who died of pneumonia in January 1915 in training at Raikeswood Camp, Skipton) to their last, Lt James Gordon Hewitt in November 1918, but the majority, centring around the Pals attack on July 1, 1916. Meanwhile I, wearing full kit, badges etc. correct to a member of the 1st Bradford Pals on July 1, 1916, gave a talk on their history and stories of these objects. Among the groups were several teachers keen to take photos for pupils. Other Bradford people too, bringing along their own special objects.

At both Woodhouse Grove and Undercliffe, the day was a poignant reminder of that day in July 1916, when Bradford lost so much. Among my objects was a whistle that belonged to a Pals officer; it was this whistle and others like it that day that sent the Pals ‘Over the top’. Its sound, for Bradford people, never to be forgotten.

Returning to Bradford to commemorate the story of the Pals battalions was always going to be special. Over the years, their story has inspired many people. Over 40 years ago at Woodhouse Grove, this would include me. Now this film will hopefully inspire others at the school too. As a result, one of them will now receive both the teachers’ and my help to increase his self-confidence, to come to believe in his own abilities and to allow him to succeed in a future world. I think the original Bradford Pals who fell on the Somme, those who died of wounds and were buried in Bradford and those who survived would be proud of that.