FOLLOWING his moving T&A article this week about the devastating first day of the Battle of the Somme, DAVID WHITHORN looks at the impact on the Bradford Pals, and how the news was received at home.

Coming back to Bus-les-Artois, the Pals’ comrades came out to meet the few survivors. Officers gave up conventional war diary entries and instead took 16 pages of witness statements by survivors; those back in Bradford would want to know what went wrong. Fred Rawnsley, once eager to go with his Pals but left behind, now confided to his diary: ‘Thank God, I did not go.’

The Leeds Pals and two Bradford Pals battalions had attacked with approximately 650 men and 24 officers. The Leeds and 1st Bradford Pals had lost every officer; the 2nd Bradford Pals all but one. Each battalion suffered over 500 casualties in a matter of hours, minutes really. In total, fatalities to the two Bradford Pals and Bradford Territorials on July 1, 1916 amounted to approximately 300 men, most wounded or missing. Some would return later.

Back in Bradford, after initial newspaper reports of success and light casualties, the truth of what happened took days to come through. Officers’ families received early telegrams. Families of other ranks had letters in the post. In most cases, in these early days it wasn’t known what happened to individuals, they were just reported as ‘missing’. These letters would be posted together and received by families in the same post.

My grandmother, then 10-years-old, remembered playing in the street with her friends. The postman came down the street delivering these letters. There were shrieks at the door and the rapid closing of curtains of firstly one house then all the houses in the street out of respect. My grandmother with her brothers and sisters were dragged in, made to sit quietly and not ask questions. For days there was silence in the streets, grown-ups openly cried and held each other but, what could a child understand?

Following the battle, the Bradford Pals battalions had replacements, but these men didn’t always come from Bradford, they had no memories of the comradeship of the Pals from the early days, they had not been at Serre. They attacked again at Rossignol Wood and Gavrelle in 1917, no successful attack, only more casualties. In early 1918, both Bradford Pals were broken up to provide replacements to other battalions. The ‘Bradford Pals’ never marched home...

On June 30, 2016, a group of Bradford people unveiled a memorial to the Bradford Pals in the village of Bus-les-Artois to join a Leeds Pals memorial unveiled in 2006. Not the place where the Pals were slaughtered, but the place that on that last day of June 1916, they were at their happiest - Pals together! That night, in 2016, members of the group gave up their hotel beds and spent a long, cold night in the fields close to Serre. At 7.20am the group formed up along the site of ‘Bradford Trench’, the assembly and jumping off positions of the 1st Bradford Pals, and counted down the minutes. At 7.30am, 100 years ago to the minute, and to the yard an old army whistle, known to have belonged to an officer of the Bradford Pals was sounded, three short blasts...all as it once it had been...Bradford had remembered the Pals!