PALS 100 years on (in memoriam)

A few members of The Accrington Pals regiment (picture: DailyStar)

One this day, 11/11/2018 let’s remember a group of men in whose sacrifice is a lesson our leaders have refused to learn.

Link to audio version

They came from factory, mill and mine,
from office desk and workshop bench,
were taught to shoot and march in line,
sent to defend a mud — filled trench
leaving behind sweethearts and wives,
children they would not see grow,
commanded by a voice that drives
beyond good sense to bravado.

Singing the patriotic song
they marched towards the greedy guns,
in raging minutes they were gone.
Such senseless slaughter always numbs
emotions ~ that let us grieve the loss
of a favourite horse or dog.
We never learn to count the cost
of old men’s wars in young men’s blood.

The British Army’s “pals” regiments of WW1 were recruited from within small areas thus many of them had known each other since childhood. In an example of military arrogance unsurpassed either before or since, the mayor of the east Lancashire town, Accrington, a former army officer named Captain John Harwood, in response to an appeal from military Chief of Staff, Lord Kitchener for volunteers, pledged that he would recruit a complete regiment from the town. The “Accrington Pals,” young conscripts from the industrial town were assigned to serve in a new battalion of the East Lancashire regiment.

The reasoning behind the decision to keep so many men from the same area together was that because they shared similar backgrounds and experiences it would be good for morale. Nodody gave a thought to the likely social consequences as other Pals regiments were formed around the nation.

On July 1, 1916 The Accrington Pals were sent “over the top,” charging towards German gun emplacements. In a few minutes an entire generation of the town’s male population was virtually wiped out. Not many people now will understand that being sent “over the top” meant the men were ordered to climb out of the protection offered by the trenches and run directly at the enemy lines as German gunners swug their tripod mounted, heavy calibre machine guns in arcs, left to right, then back right to left.

Brighter soldiers who spotted that their best chance of survival was to drop to the ground when the hail of lead came close to them and beging to charge once more when the line if fire had passed could find themselves accused of cowardice. It was not a common soldier’s place to think about how best to win the battle, they were just cannon fodder, required to obey orders without question.

Initially the authorities tried to make propaganda of the mens’ pointless deaths, proclaiming them has heroes of the British cause and the “Christian” way of life (the Germans were Christians too of course — and their treatment of soldiers was no better,) but by the end of hostilities, 100 years ago today, trench warfare was seen as senseless slaughter and more recently the story has become a monument to stupidity and the corrupting effects of political vanity and misplaced patriotism.

Songs of Glory

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