The British Army's losses on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme - 1 July 1916 - amounted to some 57,000 men killed, wounded or missing. Few units, however, suffered as terribly as the famous 'Pals' battalions, raised from volunteers who had flocked to answer Lord Kitchener's 'Call to Arms'. In the North of England particularly, whole cities and towns went into mourning as news of that awful first day's casualties came through. What is less well-kwn is that some of these battalions were brought up to strength with reinforcements - often from the cities in which they had been raised - and sent back into action again and again This is the story of one such battalion, the Leeds Pals, which by the war's end in 1918, was described as having been 'four times wiped out but fighting to the end'. It is a story which traces, in great and fascinating detail, the raising and training of the battalion in and around Leeds, their service in Egypt before being sent to France in December 1915, their heavy losses in their baptism of fire on the Somme, 1916, in the Battle of Arras a year later, and during the German offensives of March and April 1918.Based upon the accounts of survivors, private diaries, letters and papers, official archives, contemporary newspaper accounts, and a wealth of unpublished photographs, it is a story of patriotism, entusiasm, humour, and great courage. Ultimately, however, it is a tale of great tragedy, for though the Leeds Pals took part in the final advance to victory, their three years in France had cost them 733 men killed, 1,861 wounded and 776 missing or captured.
The Author Laurie Milner was born in London in 1946, although his roots are in Leeds and the North of England. An avid collector of militaria, he joined the staff of the Imperial War Musuem in 1967. In 1984 he joined the Research and Information Office, the Museum 'historical think tank'. In the course of his research into the Leeds Pals, he interviewed surviving members of the battalion, as well as uncovering a mass of unpublished first-hand accounts; he has used this superb material, set against a broader historical background, to provide a narrative of great immediacy and relevance not just to military historians, but also to readers of all ages and background.