As the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme nears, our Assistant Curator, Lizzie Labres agreed to write a blog post about how it affected the men of Bradford who were involved. She writes:
As we approach the centenary of the Battle of the Somme it seemed fitting to write a blog about the men of Bradford who fought in the battle. The 1914 German invasion left large areas of France and Belgium under German control. The Battle of the Somme was the main offensive of 1916, were the French and British Armies met, north of the River Somme. Losses at the Battle of Verdun, at the beginning of 1916, put General Sir Douglas Haig, the British Commander in Chief, under huge pressure to attack the German Army without delay. The aims of the campaign were to relieve the French Army at Verdun and weaken the advancing German forces.
During the Battle of the Somme men from Bradford fought at Serre, Thiepval and Fricourt north of the River Somme. 1,770 Bradford men are believed to have been killed or injured in the first few hours of the battle. In total over 1 million British, French and Germen soldiers were wounded or killed during the campaign. Of all the casualties ½ of the dead were under 22 and around 20% of casualties were under age when they joined up.
In 1914 Britain was the only European power that relied on a volunteer army, made up of the National Reserves and the Territorial Forces. On the 5th of August 1914 Lord Kitchener was appointed the Secretary of State for War. On the 7th of August 1914 he initiated a volunteer recruitment drive which saw 100,000 men enlist in 2 weeks. By mid September 1914 nearly 480,000 men had volunteered. By December 1915 around 2,500,000 men had volunteered to fight for Britain.
Bradford Park Avenue football player, Donald Bell was one of the men who joined at the start of the war. Bell enlisted in the 9th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, also known as the Green Howards, in November 1914. In July 1916, at the Battle of the Somme, the Battalion was placed in reserve near the town of Albert. On the 5th of July 1916 the Battalion was ordered to attack the German Horseshoe trench, coming under heavy machine gun fire. Donald Bell was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery during this attack. He is the only professional football player to be awarded the VC.
In Bradford, men formed their own Citizen’s Army League and by September 1914 1000 men had enlisted and formed the new 16th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment; the 1st Bradford Pals Battalion. By February 1915 a further 1000 men had enlisted. They formed the 18th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment; the 2nd Bradford Pals Battalion.
The 1st Battalion of Bradford Pals was the lead Battalion at the fortified town of Serre. By the end of the first day 527 men were killed or wounded. The 2nd Battalion of Bradford Pals were involved in a trench raid on the evening before the battle. In this raid 512 men were killed or wounded. In the first two days of the Somme the Bradford Pals Battalions saw casualties of 1039 men, out of an initial 2000 men who had joined the battalions.
Bradford Pals – The Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment
At the outbreak of war Bradford already had its own Territorial Army regiments. The 1/6th Battalion of The Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment was formed in 1908 and was based at Belle Vue Barracks in Manningham. The Battalion consisted of mainly textile workers from the local factories, along with Officers from professional backgrounds such as Doctors and Solicitors. The Battalion met on a weekly basis and Officers and men trained together, forming a strong bond within the Battalion. At the beginning of the war the Battalion was made up of 588 men. On the 1st of July 1916 the men waited in reserve at Thiepval and by the late afternoon they were called into action. Over the first two days of the battle the Battalion saw casualties of 264 men.
The 10th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment was formed in York in 1914 and was deployed to France in July 1915. The Battalion was sent into action at Fricourt on the 1st of July 1916 and suffered enormous casualties. On the 1st of July 310 soldiers from this regiment were killed.
The Battle of the Somme continued on until November 1916. By the end of the campaign the Allied forces had advanced only 6 miles, however this was the largest advanced made by the Allied forces since the Battle of Marne in 1914. The Battle of the Somme was the largest and one of the bloodiest battles of World War 1.
To mark the centenary of World War 1 and the contribution of Bradford’s people, Bradford Council, in conjunction with the Telegraph and Argus, launched an appeal in 2014 to raise funds for a memorial in France. The memorial will hopefully be unveiled in July this year as a lasting reminder of the sacrifices made during World War 1.
The Lord Mayor’s office also bought a poppy from the Tower of London Art Installation, to serve as a permanent tribute to those from across the district who lost their lives during the conflict. The poppy is on permanent display at Bradford City Hall. A Tower of London Poppy has also been donated to Bradford Museums & Galleries as a memorial to Walter Sefton, who died in 1917. This poppy is on permanent display at Bradford Industrial Museum.