A Brief History of the Accrington Pals
Perhaps one of the most famous stories of Hyndburn’s history is that of the 11th (Service) Battalion, The East Lancashire Regiment (Accrington) – the Accrington Pals.
In August 1914, during the early days of the First World War, the British Government was hurriedly seeking volunteers to join the armed forces to fight in the fields of Europe. It was suggested by the Government, that men would enlist in this volunteer army more willingly if they could fight alongside their friends and colleagues from their home towns – the concept of the ‘Pals’ battalion was born.
The Mayor of Accrington, Councillor John Harwood, called a meeting of the representatives of Church, Clayton, Great Harwood, and Oswaldtwistle on September 10 1914 to discuss the opening of recruitment stations in their towns. On the 8 September 2014 in Burnley there was a meeting held by QMS Riley of the League of Frontiersmen to discuss the developments in Accrington and forming a company in Burnley. The recruiting stations were opened on September 14 1914 and closed on 24 September 1914, the full compliment having been reached of thirty six officers and 1076 men who were recruited into the new battalion – to be commonly known as the Accrington Pals.
After five months of marching and drills at home, the Pals left for Caernarvon, Wales, on February 23, 1915 for further training. Over 15,000 people lined the streets to see them off, factories and schools closed for the day as local people waved goodbye to their husbands, brothers and fathers.
After further training at Rugeley, Staffordshire, Ripon, Yorkshire and Salisbury Plain, the Accrington Pals left Britain for Egypt in December 1915. There they remained until March 1916 when they were required in France as the British and French were preparing for their ‘big push’ against the Germans.
At 07:30 on July 1 1916, 720 men, the fighting strength of the Accrington Pals, left their trenches and advanced across no man’s land towards the village of Serre, only to be met by a hail of machine gun and rifle fire from the German trenches. When the roll was called by RSM Stanworth that evening, less than one hundred men answered their names.
The Pals did not leave the trenches until midnight 4/5 July 1916, during the preceding three days and nights they were aiding those wounded and burying the dead, wounded men were still coming in when they were finally relieved. The total casualties for that period for Greater Accrington were 121 killed and 204 wounded. Two men are recorded as having died as the result of WW1 wounds in the 1940’s.
The Pals were bravely defeated. Regimental history accounts were later to state ‘The Battalion, for whose efficiency all had worked so long, had been broken in an impossible task, but it carried out its duty in a manner worthy of the highest traditions of the Regiment.’
Virtually every family in the Hyndburn area was affected by the losses. Everybody had lost a relative, or at least knew someone else who had. Their story is one that has stayed with the people of this area ever since.
A room has been created in Accrington Town Hall dedicated to the memory of the Accrington Pals, with the walls featuring famous images of the Pals, along with interpretation boards telling their poignant story and a range of artefacts on display. The room is open during normal Town Hall opening hours.
Information kindly supplied by local Pals researcher and historian Walter Holmes.