A FEW weeks ago, I posted on a Bradford history facebook page that May 3 should be as important as July 1 as annual anniversaries for the Bradford Pals and Territorials in the Great War.

On May 3, 1917, both Bradford Pals battalions made their attack at Gavrelle, the Bradford Territorials (2/6th Bn WYR) made theirs at Bullecourt, the numbers of casualties to these Bradford Battalions almost exactly the same as on the Somme on July 1.

One response intrigued me: a man told of his grandfather, Horace Johnson, who served in India through the war and when he came back, he had lost two of his brothers. The family had photographs of these two brothers in uniform, but their names had been lost. Here was a mystery that had to be solved...

Mindful of previous research into a group of Bradford Pals transferred to the 1st Bn Yorkshire Regiment in 1916 to supplement their garrison in India, I found Horace. He was 21937 of the 1st Yorkshire Regt, right among those I knew to be Bradford Pals. The Bradford Roll of Honour showed he enlisted on September 21, 1914, a key date for joining the Pals, and I found him in the Bradford Daily Telegraph’s list of the first ‘1000 in the Bradford Battalion’ from October 1914. Horace was indeed a Bradford Pal.

From his address in the Roll of Honour, I found the Johnson family on 1901 and 1911 censuses. Horace was one of 10 siblings. It was possible that six of them could have served in the Great War. Indeed, I found that all six had. Here is their story:

War came in August 1914, there was a rush by young men to ‘join the colours’. In September the ‘Bradford battalion’ was formed, later the 1st Bradford Pals (16th Bn West Yorks). Horace, 23, and Walter Shaw Johnson, 19, joined the queue. Horace’s number is not known, Walter was 16/484. They trained in Lister Park then Raikeswood Camp at Skipton.

The ‘Bradford Battalion’ had been filled in a week. Spring 1915 saw the recruitment of a second Bradford Battalion (2nd Bradford Pals, 18th West Yorks). This time, Charlie Johnson, 29, wasn’t going to miss out; he must have been able to see the front of the queue as his number would be 18/60! Recruitment was brisk and towards the end no. 18/975, Arthur Johnson enlisted. Keen to join his brothers, told a ‘patriotic lie’ to get in - he was only 16. Four brothers in the Pals, all together! What could possibly go wrong?

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Raikeswood training camp near Skipton, where the Pals trained Raikeswood training camp near Skipton, where the Pals trained

Things went wrong in August 1915, when Horace Johnson was rejected for active service overseas. He found himself in the 20th West Yorks (Bradford Reserves battalion), prior to being transferred and sent to India to serve in the 1st Yorkshire Regt on Garrison duty for the remainder of the war. Walter, Charlie and Arthur Johnson all went off from Liverpool for Egypt in December 1915 and returned to France the following March, to spearhead the attack at Serre on July 1, 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. It is not known what happened to Walter Johnson this day; he survived the battle and went on to survive the war, but ended it with the 1st York and Lancaster Regt - this may have been a result of being wounded with the Pals or that both Bradford Pals battalions were broken up in early 1918. Charlie Johnson, now a sergeant, survived the attack on Serre. Arthur Johnson, 17 and a Lance Corporal, led his section ‘over the top’ at 8.30am. He was badly wounded, the overwhelmed medical services in Basin Wood could only treat those who might be expected to survive. This wasn’t the case for 17-year-old Arthur Johnson; he died of wounds that day and was buried In Euston Road Cemetery.

Following the rebuilding of both Pals battalions, they attacked again at Gavrelle on May 3, 1917 in the Battle of Arras. Charlie Johnson was part of this attack, he was ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’ and received a Certificate of Merit. He was killed in the attack, his body not identified, his name is on the Memorial to the Missing in Arras. Here were Horace Johnson’s two brothers, whose photographs had survived, but whose names had been lost.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Arthur, left and Charlie Johnson. Arthur died of wounds. Charlie’s body was not foundArthur, left and Charlie Johnson. Arthur died of wounds. Charlie’s body was not found

Two more brothers served in the war. Lewis Johnson enlisted in July 1917 into the Machine Gun Corps (no. 125430). He went out to France in November the same year at Passchendaele and took part in both the 1918 German Spring Offensive and ‘Advance to Victory’. His records show he was discharged from the Army in October 1918 with a Silver War Badge. No mention is made of him being wounded, his reference in the National Roll might suggest ‘shell-shock’.

Raymond Johnson was the last to enlist, in July 1918, into the newly formed RAF (no. 169094). He too went to France as an Aircraftsman. He too ended the war with a disability pension.

I passed this information to the family, they had no idea any of the brothers were in the Bradford Pals, nor that two of them were killed in their two key actions. Their unnamed photographs were of Arthur and Charlie Johnson, killed in France. Their response: “We have had these photographs for many years, we knew they were Granddad’s brothers. Tonight we have been able to write their names on them, they will not be forgotten now.’

I thought of Horace Johnson, sat in barracks in India, receiving news of the death of his brothers on July 1, 1916 and May 3, 1917. He came home to find them gone and his other brothers’ lives ruined. What must he have thought of his survival?

In July the Bus to Bradford WW1 Group will visit battlefields to commemorate the Pals at the French village of Bus-les-Artois. One member will visit Arras to photograph Charlie’s name and the group will visit Euston Road Cemetery to pay respects at Arthur’s grave. Without the information I found it would have been impossible to find the brothers’ records on the CWGC database. I will work with the family to have them updated so others in future can find these Bradford Pals - found after a century!