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At the start of the First World War there was no conscription.

The Accrington Pals are probably the best remembered of the battalions raised in the early months of the First World War in response to Lord Kitchener's call for volunteer armies. Lord Kitchener hit on the idea of 'pals'. Groups of lads were encouraged to join up all together. 'Pals' battalions were attached to many regiments. The scheme was a huge success. Thousands of lads rushed to join up. Despite the town's small size, Accrington lads accounted for the biggest battalion of 'pals'. Groups of friends from all walks of life in Accrington and its neighbouring towns enlisted together to form a battalion with a distinctively local identity. In its first major action, the battalion suffered devastating losses in the attack on Serre on 1st July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. The losses were hard to bear in a community where nearly everyone had a relative or friend who had been Killed or wounded. Although the battalion was to fight again, its Pals character had been irretrievably lost.

A month after the outbreak of war, the Accrington Observer & Times of 8th September 1914 reported that the War Office had accepted an offer made by the mayor of Accrington, Captain John Harwood, to raise a complete battalion. When recruitment began on 14th September, 104 men were accepted in the first three hours. Brothers, cousins, friends and workmates enlisted together, and by 24th September the Accrington battalion had reached a full strength of 36 officers and 1,076 other ranks.

Around half the battalion had been recruited from Accrington and District; the majority of the remainder had been raised in the neighbouring towns of Burnley, Chorley and Blackburn. Some months later, the battalion was to be strengthened by a quarter through the recruitment of a reserve company.

The Attack on Serre

In January 1916, the commanders-in-chief of the French and British armies, Joffre and Haig, had reached agreement to mount a joint offensive on the Western Front in the coming summer. Although Haig had argued for an offensive in Flanders, the decision was taken to attack along a wide front at the point where the two armies met close to the Somme river. The choice could hardly have been worse; the chalk-based nature of the ground here had allowed the Germans to construct deep underground shelters, largely untouchable by artillery. North of the Somme river, the German lines ran along the higher ground, protected by dense concentrations of barbed wire and linked by heavily fortified villages and redoubts.

The objective of the Pals battalions of 94th Brigade was to capture the hilltop fortress of Serre and form a defensive flank facing north-east and north. The attack was to be led by the 11th East Lancashires on the right and the 12th York & Lancasters (Sheffield City Battalion) on the left. The 13th and 14th York & Lancasters (1st and 2nd Barnsley Pals) were to support the two leading battalions. Against them, Serre was held by the 169th (8th Baden) Infantry Regiment.

At 7.30am, the bombardment was lifted from the German front line and the leading waves rose and walked in line towards the German positions. Machine gun- and rifle fire immediately tore into the advancing lines of infantry. One British observer likened the lines of dead to "swathes of cut corn at harvest time". Incredible as it now seems, groups of Pals defied the machine gun fire, threaded their way through the barbed wire and dropped into the German front line. On their left, some of the 12th York & Lancasters also fought their way through. All was in vain. Behind, the third and fourth waves suffered dreadful losses before even reaching No Man's Land. The leading companies of the 13th York & Lancasters were cut down in turn. Some of the Pals - their officers Killed or wounded - pressed on towards Serre, never to be seen again. The remaining survivors in the German front line - bereft of reinforcements - were forced to withdraw. By 8am, the battle for Serre was effectively over.

"The History of the East Lancashire Regiment in the Great War" records that out of some 720 Accrington Pals who took part in the attack, 584 were Killed, wounded or missing.

On reading the pages of the Accrington Observer & Times for the months of July and August 1916, the impact the disaster had on the town is all too clear. The initial accounts of success on the Somme, including an erroneous report of the capture of Serre, soon gave way to pages filled with photographs of the Killed, wounded and missing. Few, if any, of the town's population could have been untouched by the tragedy. Percy Holmes, the brother of an original Pal, recalled "I remember when the news came through to Accrington that the Pals had been wiped out. I don't think there was a street in Accrington and district that didn't have their blinds drawn, and the bell at Christ Church tolled all the day."

The Battle of the Somme was to continue through the months of 1916 until winter brought fighting to a standstill. Serre itself was to remain in German hands until February 1917.

Although the Pals character of the 11th East Lancashires had been destroyed in front of Serre, the battalion was returned to strength and went on to fight through to the end of the war. It took part in successful offensive actions on 28th June 1917 at Oppy-Gavrelle (Battle of Arras), on 28th June 1918 at La Becque, and on 28th September 1918 at Ploegsteert Wood. During the great German Spring Offensive of 1918, the battalion distinguished itself in defensive roles on 27th March at Ayette and on 12th-13th April at the Lys (Hazebrouck).

The Men from Rishton.

ASPINALL, Corporal Harry, 15384; Born in Rishton; Wounded November 1916; Killed in Action 24th February 1918 (age 24); Buried at Roclincourt Mil. Cemetery.

BARNES, Lance Corporal George, 15479; Born in Rishton, Son of Daniel and Elizabeth Barnes; Killed in Action 1st/2nd July 1916 (age 23); commemorated at Thiepval Memorial.

BARNES, Corporal James, 15301 (later 35416); Born in West Houghton, Wigan, Son of George Barnes of Rishton; Enlisted 16th September 1914 (age 20); Wounded 1st July 1916; taken Prisoner of War, 27th May 1918.

BATESON, Pte. Thomas, 16030; Born in Rishton; Wounded 1st-5th July 1916; returned to 11th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment as 35408; Killed in Action 27th March 1918; commemorated Arras Memorial.

BEAGHAN, Pte. Robert, 15770; lived at 16 Brook Street, Rishton; transferred to Labour Corps as 651863.

BOWERS, Sergeant  Jonathan (John) Edward, 15076; lived at 12 Henry Street, Rishton.

BOWERS, Pte. William, 15790; Born in Rishton; Killed in Action 1st/2nd July 1916 (age 19); commemorated Thiepval Memorial.

BRIDGE, Col. Sergeant  James, 15385; lived at 86 Harwood Road, Rishton; Died 1982 (89).

CALVERLEY, Pte. Robert, 15782; lived at 36 Burton Street, Rishton; transferred to Royal Engineers as 615324.

CLARKE, Pte. William, 15193; Wounded 1st July 1916; lived at Close Nook, Rishton; Died 1974 (77).

CONWAY, Pte. (Bandsman) Arthur Porter, 15194; Born in Rishton, Son of John Thomas and Martha Conway of Rishton; Killed in Action 1st/2nd July 1916 (20); Buried at Queens Cemetery, Serre.

CRABTREE, Pte. Thomas (Tom), 15386; Son of Mrs. Crabtree of 3 Harwood Road, Rishton; Wounded 1st-5th July 1916; transferred to The Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment) as 62974.

CUNLIFFE, Pte. Frank, 15306; Wounded 1st-5th July 1916; lived at 29 Stourton Street, Rishton.

DOBSON, Sergeant Alfred, 15080; lived at 37 Clifton Street, Rishton.

EAGLES, Corporal Arthur, 15307; lived at 10 Chapel Street, Rishton.

EDGE, Sergeant  Israel, 15082; Born in Rishton, Son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Edge of Cliff Street, Rishton; Killed in Action 1st/2nd July 1916 (23/24); Buried at Queens Cemetery, Serre.

GREEN, Pte. Jesse, 15387; Wounded 1st-5th July 1916; lived at 29 High Street, Rishton.

GREENHALGH, Pte. Fred, 15591; lived at 102 High Street, Rishton; transferred to North Staffs. Regiment as 43680.

HOLDEN, L/Corporal Joseph Thomas, 15593; Born in Rishton; Killed in Action 1st July 1916 (26); commemorated Thiepval Memorial.

HOPE, Pte. Percy, 24164; only Son of Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Hope of Station Road, Rishton; Wounded 1st July 1916.

McGREGOR, Pte. Robert; drowned 9th November 1914 (27); Buried at Rishton. [4]

METCALFE, Corporal Robert (Bob), 20997; Born in 1896 at Rishton, Son of T. C. and Elizabeth Metcalfe; lived at 376 Manchester Road, Baxenden; e. 24th June 1915 at Accrington; posted to 12th Battalion 3rd September 1915, returning to 11th Battalion 30th November 1915; Wounded 14th August 1916 and hospitalized at Colchester; posted to 3rd Battalion 20th November 1916; transferred to 25th Battalion, King's (Liverpool) Regiment as Pte. 108264 24th April 1918; demobilized as Corporal 20th February 1919; m. Dora Farrar 1922; Died 1968.

MOLLOY, Pte. John, 15941; Born in Accrington, Son of Joseph and Ellen Molloy of Accrington; husband of L. Beesley (formerly Molloy) of Rishton; transferred to 12th Battalion then back to 11th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment; Killed in Action 1st/2nd July 1916 (26); Buried at Queens Cemetery, Serre.

ORMEROD, Lance Corporal William Arthur, 15388; Born in Blackburn, Son of Mr. W. H. and Mrs. E. Ormerod of Rishton; Killed in Action 1st/2nd July 1916 (24); Buried at Railway Hollow Cemetery, Serre.

PARKER, Pte. Harold, 15086; lived at 27 Cliff Street, Rishton; transferred to Labour Corps as 599345.

PICKUP, Lance Corporal Frederick, 15594; Born in Great Harwood, Son of Mr. and Mrs. Pickup of Rishton; husband of Clara Pickup; Killed in Action 1st/2nd July 1916 (25); Buried at Railway Hollow Cemetery, Serre.

RADMORE, Corporal Lewis, 15087; lived at 57 Haworth Street, Rishton.

RUSSELL, Pte. John, 15088; Born in Caldercrook, Herbury, Son of John Russell of Rishton; Killed in Action 1st July 1916 (24); Buried at Queens Cemetery, Serre.

SHUTTLEWORTH, Pte. Edward, 15632; Born in Rishton; Killed in Action 1st July 1916 (23); commemorated at Thiepval Memorial.

SINGLETON, Pte. Roger, 15922; lived at Rishton; Wounded in calf by shrapnel 29th/30th April 1916; poss. also Wounded 1st-5th July 1916; lived at 12 Edward Street, Rishton.

SMITH, Corporal Samuel, 15254; Born in Rishton; Killed in Action 1st/2nd July 1916 (25); Buried at Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps.

THORPE, Pte. John Bramwell, 15201; Born in Rishton; Wounded June 1916 and/or 1st-5th July 1916; Killed in Action 12th August 1916 (19); Buried at St. Vaast Post Mil. Cemetery, Richebourg l'Avoue.

TOMLINSON, Pte. Thomas Walter Military Medal, 15389; lived at 97 Harwood Road, Rishton; award of Military Medal gazetted 21st August 1917.

WHITTAKER, Captain Harold Edgar; Born in 1890 at Rishton, Son of John and Emily Whittaker; Enlisted 28th December 1914 as Pte. 19173 16th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers; appointed. 2/Lt. 11th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment December 1914; posted to 12th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment 12th November 1915; appointed. Lt. 1st March 1916; appointed Captain 1st June 1916; joined 2nd Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment 7th November 1916; Wounded 28th January 1917 by gas shell near Bouchavesnes.

WILSON, Pte. William Aitken, 15202; lived at 32 Parker Street, Rishton.

Our apologies if we have missed anyone from Rishton. If you know of anyone missing from this list please contact us so we can update the information.

Of the 35 men listed above, 7 were wounded on the 1st July 1916, and 11 were killed in action. That's half of the recruits from Rishton injured or killed on the first day of battle.

References

Accrington Pals Website.

Rishton War Memorial

Rishton Parish Church