“Men who join up together will serve together!” That was the British Army recruiting promise that led to the formation of the Pals Battalions – each one drawn from the same area.
One such Battalion was the Accrington Pals, officially the 11th (Service) Battalion (Accrington), East Lancashire Regiment. One of the the four 250-strong companies that made up the original battalion was composed entirely of men from Accrington. The rest volunteered from other East Lancashire towns nearby such as Burnley, Blackburn, and Chorley. The men from Chorley, who formed Y Company, were known as the Chorley Pals. The men from Burnley, who formed Z Company, were known as the Burnley Pals.
On the first day on the Somme, 1 July 1916, the 31st Division was to attack the village of Serre and form a defensive flank for the rest of the British advance. The 31st Division’s attack on Serre was a complete failure, although some of the Accrington Pals did make it as far as the village before being killed or captured. One of the battalion’s signallers, observing from the rear, reported:
- “We were able to see our comrades move forward in an attempt to cross No Man’s Land, only to be mown down like meadow grass. I felt sick at the sight of the carnage and remember weeping.”
Approximately 700 men from the Accrington Pals went into action on 1 July; 585 men became casualties, 235 killed and 350 wounded in about half an hour. The battalion’s commander, Lieutenant-Colonel A. W. Rickman, was among the wounded.
The Accrington Pals were effectively wiped out in a matter of minutes on the first day on the Somme.
It was said for many years afterwards that Accrington never recovered from the disaster. The video below shows young men in the town today….