Remembering brave Leeds Pals slaughtered at Battle of the Somme

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THEY were the Leeds men who bravely went over the top when the whistle sounded on the day that would end in mass slaughter of close friends and workmates.

Hundreds of men from the city - including clerks, mechanical engineers and schoolmasters - answered Lord Kitchener’s call to arms and signed up at Leeds Town Hall in September 1914.

Less than two years later, the Leeds Pals battalion would suffer horrendous casualties on July 1 1916 – the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Ordered to attack the German lines at the village of Serre, the Pals, or the 15th Battalion, as they were known, were decimated by artillery and machine gun fire.

A total of 248 of the 750 members of The Leeds Pals who fought that day were killed instantly or fatally injured.

Just 72 members of the battalion were left uninjured by nightfall on July 1 1916. In his book ‘The Leeds Pals’, author Laurie Milner quotes Private Morrison Fleming, who was among the Leeds Pals injured that day.

Members of the Leeds Pals pose for photos before July 1, 1916.

Members of the Leeds Pals pose for photos before July 1, 1916.

Private Fleming wrote: “The whistle blew and over we went. One or two of our lads had dropped down, they were dropping all round us, and one that had dropped was screaming out, his leg was in a [bad] way.... . I could see the bodies going up in the air.

“A terrible sight, a sight that I’ll never forget, and the ground was just like an upheaval, one mass of flame everywhere.”

Little is known about most of the men pictured on the YEP cover today, but David Townend, a bootmaker from Hunslet who was born in 1889 and joined up in September 1914, is one exception.

He was in the last two waves to go over the top on July 1 and was shot as he climbed out of the trenches.

The Memorial for the Leeds Pals at Colsterdale.

The Memorial for the Leeds Pals at Colsterdale.

His body is buried in New Fricourt Cemetery, France, with many of his comrades.

Buglers sounded across Leeds at 7.30am this morning to commemorate the exact moment troops went over the trenches at the start of the battle 100 years ago today.

The buglers were stationed at city centre locations including Victoria Gardens War Memorial, Leeds Civic Hall, the top of Briggate, Leeds Minster, Dortmund Square and City Square.

Buglers were also due play at Morley Town Hall and Headingley Cenotaph.

Units of the Leeds Rifles took part in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme which led to Corporal George Sanders being awarded the Victoria Cross.

Corporal Sanders was due to be remembered at a civic event at Leeds Minster from 10.30am today when a commemorative paving stone was due to be unveiled in recognition of his extraordinary courage. An East Leeds church was this morning due to sound a single bell and open its doors all day to mark the centenary of the start of the battle.

St Mary’s, Middleton joined scores of churches across the Anglican Diocese of Leeds – including the three cathedrals 
of Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon – in tolling the bell at 7.30am.

The first name inscribed on the war memorial inside the Middleton church is Leeds Pals member George Atkinson. He was one of the first sent over the top and died within ten minutes.

Residents from Bramley, Stanningley and Rodley were today marking the anniversary with a day of commemoration based around the Bramley War Memorial at Bramley Park. A service of remembrance was due to take place at the war memorial at 10.30am.

Coun Kevin Ritchie, (Labour/Bramley and Stanningley), said: “ A total of 77 men from Bramley, Stanningley and Rodley lost their lives at the Battle of the Somme, and I would urge everyone to join us to remember their sacrifice.”

As part of Horsforth school’s commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, year ten boys who are actors in the School’s forthcoming play ‘The Pals’ donned First World War uniform for a special opening of Horsforth Museum, which is staging an extensive exhibition on the conflict.

Ethan Wright, 15, who is playing soldier Walter Roberts in ‘The Pals’ play at Horsforth School on July 13 and 14, said: “I was delighted to attend the special museum opening uniform to allow people to find out more about the war and especially to think about the young soldiers who were just like us really, but who suffered a terrible fate.”

Underage Horsforth soldier Frank Clarke was just 18 when he died from wounds suffered in battle on July 1 1916.

Horsforth School pupil Joe Moss, 15, who will play Frank Clarke in ‘The Pals’, said: “We are pleased to have helped Horsforth Museum let more people know about Frank Clarke and the others, all of whom voluntarily gave their lives in our country’s service one beautiful but fateful July morning a century ago. It’s really made us think.”

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