SLIDESHOW: The First World War - Harrogate Pals

Throughout 2014, the Harrogate Advertiser series is publishing photographs and stories from our archive room at Cardale Park to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War.

Lucinda Abbott looks at the formation of Pals battalions.



Unlike many other people, secretary of state for war Lord Kitchener did not believe the war would be over by Christmas.

He warned the government that the war would be decided by the last million men that Britain could put into battles.

But as of yet there was no system of conscription in place, so more volunteers were needed.

In August 1914, general Sir Henry Rawlinson suggested that men would be more willing to enlist if they knew they would serve with people they knew. Rawlinson asked his friend Robert White to raise a battalion of men who worked in the City.

Six days later, this Stockbrokers’ Battalion had 1,600 men. Lord Edward Derby did the same in Liverpool and 1,500 men signed up in one day. Lord Derby was the man who coined the term “battalion of pals.” Lord Kitchener decided to encourage towns and villages all over Britain to organise recruitment campaigns based on the promise that men could serve with their friends, neighbours and colleagues.

This innovation certainly increased the number of volunteers, who joined up in a heady atmosphere of naïve, optimistic patriotism and comradeship.

Units were raised by local authorities, industrialists or committees of private citizens. By the end of September 1914, over 50 towns in Britain had formed Pals battalions.

The larger towns and cities were able to form more than one battalion.

Manchester and Hull formed four battalions. Liverpool, Birmingham and Glasgow had three and many more were able to raise at least two battalions.

Harrogate and Leeds raised Pals battalions.

The Harrogate Herald reported that a group of Pals left Harrogate on the Tuesday, October 6, 1914. They left Harrogate station by train for York. The problem was that whole groups of friends and relatives in these Pals battalions sustained heavy casualties and fatalities.

This was devastating for the communities back home where nearly everyone had a relative or friend who had been wounded or killed.

After training, many of the Pals battalions saw their first major action in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Approximately 750 out of the 900 Leeds Pals involved in the Battle of the Somme were killed.

The Pals joined together, served together and died together.

After the war this close-knit experiment was not repeated again.

Share your stories

Have you any old photographs, letters or cuttings from 1914-1918? We will be sharing stories throughout this year, and always welcome reader help and input.

Email: or write to us at 1 Cardale Park, Harrogate HG3 1RZ

Read more:

Read more First World War stories at the Great War section of our website