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 work colleagues ("pals"), rather than being arbitrarily allocated to battalions.
At the outbreak of World War I, Lord Kitchener, 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 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 work colleagues. He appealed to London stockbrokers to raise a battalion of men from workers in the City of London to set an example. 1,600 men enlisted in this 10th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, the so-called "Stockbrokers' Battalion", within a week in late August 1914.
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.
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.
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 sizeable contingent of supporters of Scottish professional club Heart of Midlothian F.C. Out of nearly 1,000 battalions raised during the first two years of the war, more than two thirds were locally-raised pals battalions. Some pals battalions were trade/background linked rather than area linked, such as artists' battalions and sportsmen's battalions.
Several of these battalions suffered heavy casualties during the Somme offensives of 1916. One of the most notable 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. Of an estimated 700 Accrington Pals who took part in the attack, 235 were killed and 350 wounded within the space of twenty minutes. Despite repeated attempts, Serre was not taken until February 1917, at which time the German forces had evacuated to the Hindenburg Line.
The policy of drawing recruits from amongst a local population ensured that, when the pals battalions suffered casualties, individual towns, villages, neighbourhoods, and communities back in Britain were to suffer disproportionate losses. With the introduction of conscription in January 1916, further pals battalions were not sought. Most pals battalions were decimated by the end of 1917 and beginning of 1918, and most were amalgamated into other battalions to regularise battalion strength.
- History of the Pals Battalions (BBC)
- The Accrington Pals of the East Lancashire Regiment
- The Barnsley Pals of the York and Lancaster Regiment
- A Pal on trial
- McCrae's Battalion
- One Soldiers War Diary - Percy Allsup, Chorley Pals
- 4 Brothers in War - All survived - The Allsup Brothers