The Accrington Pals
The Accrington Pals
The Accrington Pals was a British First World War Pals battalion of Kitchener's Army raised in and around the town of Accrington in Lancashire. When the battalion was taken over by the British Army it was officially named the 11th Battalion, The East Lancashire Regiment.
Recruiting was initiated by the mayor of Accrington following Lord Kitchener's call for volunteers and it took only ten days to raise a complete battalion. The battalion's nickname is a little misleading since of the four 250-strong companies that made up the original battalion, only one was actually composed 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.
The Accrington Pals joined the 94th Brigade of the British 31st Division, a "Pals" division par excellence containing many famous North Country Pals battalions. With the 31st Division, the Accrington Pals were initially deployed to Egypt in early 1916 to defend the Suez Canal from the threat of the Ottoman Empire. The troopship carrying the Accrington Pals was narrowly missed by a torpedo; a fortunate miss because the ship also carried sixty tons of lyddite explosive.
The Accrington Pals next moved to France where they first saw action in the Battle of the Somme. 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 though 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 in to 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. A rumour that spread around Accrington was that only seven men had survived from the battalion and an angry crowd surrounded the mayor's house, demanding information.
The Accrington Pals were effectively wiped out in a matter of minutes on the first day on the Somme. The battalion was brought back up to strength and served for the remainder of the war, moving to the 92nd Brigade of the 31st Division in February 1918.