100 years ago the newly designated 11th Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment was preparing to leave Accrington for its training depot at Caernarvon.
The town gave this Pals battalion a magnificent send off. The 11th Battalion comprised of men not just from Accrington – but covered Burnley, (Z company) Clayton-le-Moors, Blackburn and Chorley (Y company).
“Pals” battalions were a creation particularly linked to the British Army in World War One. At the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914 the small professional army was sent to France as the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). This comprised of 150,000 troops.
After the first weeks of the war it became clear that many more recruits would be needed to replace “the Old Contemptibles” who had been killed and wounded in the early clashes as well as match the resources of the huge German Army bearing down on the Western Front.
Reluctant to conscript (that is force) young men to join the army Lord Kitchener started a recruitment drive made famous by its iconic poster Your Country Needs You in which it was understood that friends, neighbours and work colleagues who enlisted together would stay together in platoons, companies and battalions.
This programme was particularly successful in the north of England and in of all the 50 towns that had “Pals” battalions and the name of the Accrington Pals seems to have a particular resonance.
In part this is due to the musicality of the phrase. In part it is because of Peter Whelan’s play of the same title.
But more than anything it is because what occurred on 1st day of the Battle of the Somme. The 11th was under orders to capture a village called Serre. Weeks of artillery bombardment were have meant to weakened the German defences, so much so, that the men were told that all they had to do was to stroll across no man’s land to capture the enemy trenches.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth: as the Accrington Pals emerged from their lines they were met with withering machine gun fire. It was at this instance the great flaw in recruitment drive became obvious - neighbours and workmates who joined up in great numbers – died in great numbers.
In 20 murderous minutes of the 700 men taking part in the attack 235 were killed and 350 were wounded. The effect on the town – at that time the smallest county borough in the country – was devastating.
This walk visits the Cenotaph built to honour the war dead of Accrington in Oakhill Park. In this time of commemoration – 100 years since the events of World War One - we need to remind ourselves of the great sacrifices people in our country made for our freedoms.
Haworth Art Gallery is one of the best of its kind in Lancashire with a superb collection of Tiffany glass. (The largest in Europe) Check www.hyndburnbc.gov.uk for opening times.
From the car park turn right onto Hollins Lane and follow it to its junction with Royds Lane. Turn right into Oakhill Park.
The Memorial to the war dead of Accrington is in front of you. From the Memorial bear left taking a broad path downhill to the main gates on Manchester Road. There now follows a brief interlude in the town centre.
Turn left on Manchester Road . After 50yds bear left crossing Timber Street into Grange Lane passing the distinctive Toll House Building on the left. Keep ahead to the next junction and turn left into Spring Gardens. As this road bends to the right turn leading onto Wellington Streer turn left into Nuttall Street. 200yds along at the end of a terrace turn left onto the Hyndburn Greenway. (National Cycle Route 6).
This runs through Woodvale Local Nature Reserve. It will become instantly obvious you are on the course of an old railway line. Keep on the cycleway a little over 800yds then cross under a bridge and take a flight of steps on the left to reach a track. Turn right.
After passing playing fields on the left the route arrives on Royds Lane. Turn right then left into Hollins Lane.
Keep left at the end of the road to return to Haworth Park.