BY August 5, 1914, hours after Britain’s declaration of war, Territorials of the West Yorkshire Regiment were reporting for duty at Belle Vue Barracks, off Manningham Lane.

Under the headline ‘Busy scenes at Belle Vue’, the Bradford Weekly Telegraph described men bedding down with kit bags for pillows: “The orders for the day included the announcement that entrenching implements would be served out, but also - a grim item - that identity discs were distributed.

“Another thought-compelling matter is contained in the paybooks handed out. At the end there is a ‘short form of will’. Still, nobody allows little things like this to damp his ardour”.

A month later, on the evening of Monday, September 7, hundreds more young Bradford men got out their Sunday suits, ready for an early start. They were to register at Bradford Mechanics Institute on Bridge Street, and they wanted to make the right impression.

Next morning, Bradford Mechanics Institute was “besieged” by men eager to join up. A Union Jack fluttered in the September breeze and the band of the 6th West Yorks Territorials set the tone with rousing military music.

In his book Bradford Pals, David Raw writes: “There were scenes of great excitement and patriotic fervour. Scrubbed faces, polished boots, pressed suits, birthday tie-pin, grandad’s watch, macassared hair and bright eyes under best caps. Adventure, a patriotic glow, doing one’s bit, approval from the most powerful figures in the city, no more boredom at the ledger desk or noise, sweat and drudgery in the mills, the chance to be a hero, to thrash the Hun, admiring glances from young women, or possibly to get away from a nagging wife or the creditors. Who knows what mixture of motives and emotions these young men felt as they joshed and chatted in the queue as the band played that late summer morning.”

A Citizens’ Army League had been inaugurated in the city in response to Lord Kitchener’s call for more men. In Bradford a long list of leading citizens, “putting politics aside”, formed a committee to raise £7,000 supporting a new Bradford Battalion, distinct from the Territorials and the old Regulars.

Comprising friends and colleagues, the ‘Pals Battalion’ was to serve shoulder to shoulder. Men who had grown up on the same streets, gone to school together and worked in the same mills and offices would fight together in a war that was expected to be over by Christmas. Many of them would go over the top together and would die within minutes of each other.

Philip Main Crowther, a 24-year old solicitor from Manningham, was the first to sign up; he was given the number 1 and rewarded with a handshake from the Lord Mayor. More than 1,000 men attended the first drill in Lister Park, Manningham, on September 15. Today the Mechanics Institute is the home of Bradford World War 1 Group. President Tricia Platts says: “Rooms here were offered free of charge as the recruiting centre. The Bradford Daily Telegraph had urged men to come forward, and within a month 1,069 men had enlisted and the first Battalion, Bradford Pals was born.

“Such was the number of volunteers, a second battalion was formed during the next few months and the long process of training these civilian volunteers could begin. The men were in a camp at Skipton, then Ripon then Fovant, Wiltshire.

“Their first overseas posting was to Egypt where, for the first time, they encountered men of the British Indian Army; the Mysore Lancers were camped nearby and supplied the Bradford men with a welcome alternative to monotonous army rations in the form of bowls of curry.

“The Bradford Territorials had already come across men from the Punjab fighting with the Lahore Division at Neuve Chapelle. These were much admired by the Bradford lads.”

In February, 1916, the Bradford Pals were shipped to Marseille and taken by train to northern France. By that time, families back home in Bradford understood the full meaning of the recruiting slogan: ‘Join Together; Serve Together’ now also meant ‘Die Together’.”

On July 1, 1916 the British infantry attempted to cross No Man’s Land, along the 14-mile front from Serre in the north to Maricourt above the Somme river. The artillery barrage failed to destroy enemy lines, and the first day casualty rate was the highest ever - 19,240 killed out of 57,470 casualties. Among the losses were men of 16th and 18th West Yorkshire Regiment (Bradford Pals).

More than half the Pals, Territorials and Bradford men from other regiments have no known grave and are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial as the “Missing of the Somme”.

Bradford’s city centre Cenotaph was dedicated, on July 1, 1922. The Telegraph & Argus reported: “Weeping mothers, hands clasped in those of fatherless children, laid flowers in memory of loved husbands. Aged couples sorrowfully mounted the steps, their hearts aching with poignant yet proud remembrance of their heroic sons”.