THE LIVERPOOL PALS
Our November 2014 talk - reviewed by Mike Chitty
Tony Wainwright, who came to talk to us on 16th November, is Secretary of the Liverpool Pals Memorial Fund. He began his talk by explaining that on 31st August a memorial to the Pals had been unveiled in Lime Street Station.
The date of the unveiling was significant. Exactly 100 years earlier, Lord Derby had organised a meeting in St George's Hall to encourage men to volunteer for the army. He had earlier met Lord Kitchener, and written to all the major employers in the city asking them to offer men half their salary while away on active service. At a meeting in St Anne's Drill Hall on 28th August - when a 'Battalion of Comrades' was formed - Lord Derby used the word 'Pals' for the first time. The idea was that workmates should go off to war together.
By 10 a.m. on 31st August 1914 the first 1,000 men had been recruited. There had been queues outside St George's Hall since 8 o'clock, and inside all the major shipping lines and other employers - sugar, provisions, cotton, etc. - had staff on hand to offer encouragement and advice. By 7th September over 3,000 men had signed up, forming the 17th-19th Battalions of the King's Liverpool Regiment. They needed training, equipment and somewhere to be billeted.
By January 1915 the 17th Battalion was installed in the former Prescot Watch Factory and the 18th-20th had moved into Knowsley Hall, where the initial training took place. Trenches were by now being dug on the continent, but office workers were not used to digging! There was some discontent among the men that Lord Derby was using them to landscape his grounds: "we dug like hell for a bob a day" wrote one. Unbeknown to the men, Lord Derby had in fact paid £1,000 into a soldiers 'comfort fund', by way of thanks for work that would normally have cost him £600-800.
On 6th-7th November 1915 the Liverpool Pals finally left England, having completed their training near Grantham and on Salisbury Plain. The losses in France were initially 'sporadic', but on 1st July 1916 the Battle of the Somme began. As the fighting continued, the casualties mounted. On 'Liverpool's blackest day', 460 of the Pals were killed. Tony showed us pictures of some of the local men who died: Robert Pendleton (of Vale Road Woolton), Robert Burrows (of Cobden Street Woolton), William Rotherham Harrison (of Grange Lane Gateacre) and John Sefton (of Sandfield Road Gateacre).
On 21st March 1918 the Germans launched the Spring Offensive - and nearly won the war. The instructions to the Pals were to "fight to the last man standing ... you will go to your positions and not retreat". Even after the war ended, the Pals' hardship continued, as the 17th Battalion had been sent to Russia (to prevent stores falling into enemy hands) and found themselves enduring Bolshevik attacks and a Russian winter.
Tony explained that the names of the fallen are inscribed all over Europe - in particular at Montauban in France which has a memorial to the Pals who liberated the village. Now Liverpool at last has its own memorial (by the sculptor Tom Murphy) thanks to the fundraising efforts of Tony and his colleagues. Referring to those who died, Tony said, "Liverpool should be very proud of them". The large attendance was indicative of the interest in the subject, and Tony's talk, illustrated as it was with a selection of photographs, newspaper reports and other material, was very much appreciated.