Pals battalion

Last updated
"Pals" departing from Preston railway station, August 1914 Preston Pals - Preston Railway Station.jpg
"Pals" departing from Preston railway station, August 1914

The Pals battalions of World War I were specially constituted battalions of the British Army comprising men who had enlisted together in local recruiting drives, with the promise that they would be able to serve alongside their friends, neighbours and colleagues, rather than being arbitrarily allocated to battalions. [1]



At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, believed that overwhelming manpower was the key to winning the war and he set about looking for ways to encourage men of all classes to join. This concept stood in direct contrast to centuries of British military tradition, in which the British Army had always relied on professional (rather than conscript) soldiers, and had drawn its members from either the gentry (for officers) or lower classes (for enlisted men). General Sir Henry Rawlinson suggested that men would be more inclined to enlist in the Army if they knew that they were going to serve alongside their friends and colleagues. He appealed to London stockbrokers to raise a battalion of men from workers in the City of London to set an example. Sixteen hundred men enlisted in this 10th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, the so-called "Stockbrokers' Battalion", within a week in late August 1914.

Inspection of the Liverpool Pals, 1915 Liverpool Pals inspection, 1915.jpg
Inspection of the Liverpool Pals, 1915

A few days later, the Earl of Derby decided to raise a battalion of men from Liverpool. Within two days, 1,500 Liverpudlians had joined the new battalion. Speaking to these men Lord Derby said: "This should be a battalion of pals, a battalion in which friends from the same office will fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of Liverpool." Within the next few days, three more battalions were raised in Liverpool, forming the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Battalions of the King's Regiment (Liverpool).

Encouraged by Lord Derby's success, Kitchener promoted the idea of organising similar recruitment campaigns throughout the entire country. By the end of September 1914, more than fifty towns had formed Pals battalions, whilst the larger towns and cities were able to form several battalions each; Manchester, for example, raised four battalions in August, and four more in November. From the perspective of the War Office, the Pals battalion experiment relieved the heavy strain on the recruiting structure of a suddenly expanded regular army as well as easing the financial strain. In September 1914 Kitchener announced that the organizers of locally raised units would have to meet the initial accommodation and other costs involved, until the War Office took over their management. Accordingly, many recruits for the new Pals battalions were initially able to live at home while reporting for daily basic training. [2]


The "Grimsby Chums" was formed by former schoolboys of Wintringham Secondary School in Grimsby. Many other schools, including some of the leading public schools, also formed battalions. Several sportsmen's battalions were formed, including three battalions of footballers: 17th and 23rd (Service) Battalions, Middlesex Regiment, and 16th (2nd Edinburgh) (Service) Battalion, Royal Scots, the last-mentioned battalion containing the entire first and reserve team players, several boardroom and staff members, and a sizable contingent of supporters of Scottish professional club Heart of Midlothian F.C. [3] Out of nearly 1,000 battalions raised during the first two years of the war, 145 Service and seventy Reserve infantry units were locally raised Pals battalions. [2] Some Pals battalions were trade/social-background linked rather than area linked, such as artists' battalions and sportsmen's battalions. Professional golfers Albert Tingey, Sr., Charles Mayo, and James Bradbeer joined Pals battalions. [1]

The 17th and 32nd Battalions, Northumberland Fusiliers were almost entirely created from the ranks of the North Eastern Railway (United Kingdom). For members who joined the battalions, the North Eastern Railway gave some offers including; provisions for wives and dependants; to keep men's positions open; to pay their contribution to the Superannuation and Pensions and to provide accommodation for the families who were occupying company houses. [4]


While the majority of Pals units were infantry battalions, local initiatives resulted in the raising of forty-eight companies of engineers, forty-two batteries of field artillery and eleven ammunition columns, [2] drawn mainly from groups with common occupational backgrounds. The relatively high skills and educational levels of many Pals battalions meant an outflow of potential officers for commissioning elsewhere, from 1915 on.


A commemorative plaque for the Preston Pals The Preston Pals monument (geograph 5804283).jpg
A commemorative plaque for the Preston Pals

Many of these locally raised battalions suffered heavy casualties during the Somme offensives of 1916. A notable example was the 11th (Service) Battalion (Accrington), East Lancashire Regiment, better known as the Accrington Pals. The Accrington Pals were ordered to attack Serre, the most northerly part of the main assault, on the opening day of the battle. The Accrington Pals were accompanied by Pals battalions drawn from Sheffield, Leeds, Barnsley, and Bradford. [5] Of an estimated 700 Accrington Pals who took part in the attack, 235 were killed and 350 wounded within the space of twenty minutes. [6] Despite repeated attempts, Serre was not taken until February 1917, at which time the German Army had evacuated to the Hindenburg Line.

Termination of regional or group recruiting

The Battle of the Somme marked a turning point in the Pals battalion experiment. Many were disbanded or amalgamated after the scheme effectively came to an end following the summer of 1916. Others retained their titles until the end of the war but with recruitment dependent upon drafts from a common pool of conscripts rather than from those with regional or other common ties.

The practice of drawing recruits from a particular region or group meant that, when a "Pals battalion" suffered heavy casualties, the impact on individual towns, villages, neighborhoods, and communities back in Britain could be immediate and devastating. As an example, The Sheffield City Battalion (12th York and Lancaster Regiment) had lost 495 dead and wounded in one day on the Somme and was brought back to strength by October only by drafts from diverse areas.

With the introduction of conscription in March 1916, further Pals battalions were not sought. Voluntary local recruitment outside the regular army structure, so characteristic of the atmosphere of 1914–15, was not repeated in World War II. [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

Recruitment to the British Army during the First World War

At the beginning of 1914 the British Army had a reported strength of 710,000 men including reserves, of which around 80,000 were regular troops ready for war. By the end of the First World War almost 1 in 4 of the total male population of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland had joined up, over five million men. Of these men, 2.67 million joined as Volunteers and 2.77 million as conscripts. Monthly recruiting rates for the army varied dramatically.

Kitcheners Army initially, an all-volunteer army formed in the United Kingdom

The New Army, often referred to as Kitchener's Army or, disparagingly, as Kitchener's Mob, was an (initially) all-volunteer army of the British Army formed in the United Kingdom from 1914 onwards following the outbreak of hostilities in the First World War in late July 1914. It originated on the recommendation of Herbert Kitchener, then the Secretary of State for War to raise 500,000 volunteers. Kitchener's original intention was that it would be formed and ready to be put into action in mid-1916, but circumstances dictated its use before then. The first use in a major action came at the Battle of Loos.

16th (Irish) Division WWI British infantry division

The 16th (Irish) Division was an infantry division of the British Army, raised for service during World War I. The division was a voluntary 'Service' formation of Lord Kitchener's New Armies, created in Ireland from the 'National Volunteers', initially in September 1914, after the outbreak of the Great War. In December 1915, the division moved to France, joining the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), under the command of Irish Major General William Hickie, and spent the duration of the war in action on the Western Front. Following enormous losses at the Somme, Passchendaele and Ypres, the 16th (Irish) Division required a substantial refit in England between June and August 1918, which involved the introduction of many non-Irish battalions.

31st Division (United Kingdom) division of the British Army

The 31st Division was an infantry division of the British Army. It was raised in the Great War by volunteers from Kitchener's Army and formed in April 1915 as part of the K4 Army Group and taken over by the War Office on 10 August 1915. Comprising mainly infantry battalions from Yorkshire and Lancashire, the division was sent to Egypt in December 1915 before moving to France in March 1916 and spent the remainder of the First World War in action on the Western Front. The 31st Division was the quintessential New Army division, being made up entirely of Pals battalions.

The Tyneside Scottish Brigade was raised in 1914 as part of Kitchener's Army. Officially numbered the 102nd Brigade, it contained four Pals battalions from Newcastle-on-Tyne.

Tyneside Scottish is an honour title which has been held by a variety of British Army units since 1914. The Regiments which have held the title are the Northumberland Fusiliers, Durham Light Infantry, Black Watch and Royal Artillery. The Tyneside Scottish title is currently maintained by 204 Battery Royal Artillery.

The Accrington Pals, officially the 11th (Service) Battalion (Accrington), East Lancashire Regiment, was a pals battalion of Kitchener's Army raised in and around the town of Accrington during the First World War.

Public Schools Battalions

The Public Schools Battalions were Pals battalions of the British Army during the First World War. They were raised as part of Kitchener's Army, originally made up exclusively of former public schoolboys. When the battalions were taken over by the British Army they became variously the 16th (Service) Battalion, Middlesex Regiment and 18th (Service) Battalion , 19th (Service) Battalion , 20th (Service) Battalion and 21st (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers.

Royal Munster Fusiliers (New Army)

The Royal Munster Fusiliers was a regular infantry regiment of the British Army. One of eight Irish regiments raised largely in Ireland, its home depot in Tralee. With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 the immediate need for a considerable expansion of the British Army resulted in the formation of the New Army under Lord Kitchener. The war target was seventy divisions in all, the New Army to have thirty volunteer divisions separate and under Army Order 324, as additional from the Regular Army, with a planned period of service of at least three years. On 7 August a general United Kingdom-wide call for 100,000 volunteers aged 19–30 was issued. The battalions were to be distinguished by the word 'Service' after their number.

The Sheffield City Battalion was a Pals battalion during the First World War.

Liverpool Pals

The Liverpool Pals were Pals battalions formed during the First World War as part of the King's (Liverpool) Regiment. They, along with the Manchester Pals, are commemorated at a small memorial in France.

Charles Wilson, 2nd Baron Nunburnholme British politician (1875-1924)

Charles Henry Wellesley Wilson, 2nd Baron Nunburnholme, CB, DSO,, was a British peer, and one of the heirs to the Thomas Wilson Sons & Co., a Hull-based shipping company that built a near-monopoly over affordable travel packages from Scandinavia and the Baltic. He was an officer in the Volunteers and saw active service in the Second Boer War and World War I. During the later war he was distinguished for the number of new units that he recruited for the war effort, notably the 'Hull Pals'.

Ireland and World War I involvement of Ireland in the First World War

During World War I (1914–1918), Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which entered the war in August 1914 as one of the Entente Powers, along with France and Russia. In part as an effect of chain ganging, the UK decided due to geopolitical power issues to declare war on the Central Powers, consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria.

The Sportsman's Battalions, also known as the 23rd (Service) Battalion and 24th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers were among the Pals battalions formed by the British Army in the early stages of the First World War (1914–1918). Rather than be taken from a small geographical area, these particular battalions were largely made up of men who had made their name in sports such as cricket, golf, boxing and football or the media.

The Preston Pals — officially 'D' Company, 7th (Service) Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment — were a group of men from the town of Preston in Lancashire, England, who volunteered to fight in France during World War I, and took part in the Battle of the Somme.

British Army First World War reserve brigades

The article lists British Army reserve brigades in the First World War. At the start of the war, British Army volunteers in the vast majority of cases joined their local infantry regiments reserve battalion.

Hull Pals

The Hull Pals were a brigade of four battalions of the East Yorkshire Regiment raised as part of Kitchener's Army in 1914. They served in 31st Division at Serre on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, though they escaped the worst of the disaster. However, they suffered heavy casualties in the same area later in the year, and again at Oppy Wood in early 1917. They continued to serve on the Western Front for the rest of the war, including hard fighting against the German Spring Offensive and in the final Hundred Days Offensive.

Reginald St John Battersby youngest known commissioned officer of the British Army of the First World War

Reginald St John Beardsworth Battersby was, at the age of 15, the youngest known commissioned officer of the British Army of the First World War. He enlisted in the Manchester Regiment at the age of 14 and was promoted to lance corporal within a week. When his father realised what Battersby had done, he intervened and had him commissioned as an officer in the East Lancashire Regiment. Battersby was wounded in action leading a platoon over the top on the first day of the Somme but returned to duty to fight in the 1917 Operations on the Ancre. It was here that he was struck by shrapnel from a German shell, resulting in the amputation of his left leg. Battersby was asked to resign his commission owing to disability but insisted he could still be of use to the army if fitted with a prosthetic leg and successfully returned to duty with a Royal Engineers transport unit. After the war he studied theology and became a vicar at Chittoe, Wiltshire. During the Second World War he organised the local Home Guard unit and between 1943 and 1945 served as a chaplain to the Royal Marines at Chatham Dockyard.


  1. 1 2 Robinson, Bruce (10 March 2011). "The Pals Battalions in World War One". BBC . Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 Chandler, David. The Oxford History of the British Army. p. 241. ISBN   0-19-285333-3.
  3. War Memorial Site [ permanent dead link ]
  4. Lt. Col. Shakespear. A Record of the 17th and 32nd Battalions Northumberland Fusiliers 1914 - 1919 (N.E.R.) Pioneers. Unit 10, Ridgewood Industrial Park, Uckfield, East Sussex, TN22 5QE, England: The Naval & Military Press Ltd. pp. 1–14. ISBN   9781843426875.CS1 maint: location (link)
  5. "Serre". World War One Battlefields. 2006. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  6. "Carnage as 235 Pals died in 20 minutes". Accrington Observer . 30 June 2006. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  7. Chandler, David. The Oxford History of the British Army. p. 242. ISBN   0-19-285333-3.