Pals Battalions

Lord Kitchener was appointed Secretary for War in August 1914. His main task was to persuade men to join the British Army. At a meeting on the 19th August it was suggested by Sir Henry Rawlinson 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 composed of men who worked in the City. White opened a recruiting office in Throgmorton Street and in the first two hours, 210 City workers joined the army. Six days later, the Stockbrokers' Battalion, as it became known, had 1,600 men.

When Lord Edward Derby heard about Robert White's success he decided to form a battalion in Liverpool. Derby opened the recruitment office on 28th August 1914 and by the end of the day had signed up 1,500 men. It was Derby who first used the term a "battalion of pals" to describe men who had been recruited locally.

When Lord Kitchener heard about Derby's success in Liverpool he decided to encourage towns and villages all over Britain to organise recruitment campaigns based on the promise that the men could serve with friends, neighbours and workmates. These units were raised by local authorities, industrialists or committees of private citizens. By the end of September over fifty towns in Britain had formed pals battalions. The larger towns and cities were able to form more than one battalion. Manchester and Hull had four, Liverpool, Birmingham and Glasgow had three and many more were able to raise at least two battalions. In Gasgow one battalion was drawn from the drivers, conductors, mechanics and labourers of the city's Tramways Department.

In August 1914 several young men who had attended Winteringham Secondary School in Grimsby suggested to the former headmaster that he should form a battalion from his former pupils. He agreed and by the end of October he had recruited over 1,000 members into what they called the 'Grimsby Chums'. Other schools, including five of Britain's leading public schools, also formed battalions.

West Ham United supporters also formed their own Pals Battalion. The 13th (Service) Battalion (West Ham Battalion) were part of the Essex Regiment. In his book War Hammers: The Story of West Ham United During the First World War (2006), Brian Belton argues that the battle cry of the West Ham Pals was "Up the Hammers" and "Up the Irons." They saw action at the Somme, Vimy Ridge and Cambrai. The war took a terrible toll on these men. Elliott Taylor, the author of Up The Hammers!: the West Ham Battalion in the Great War, has argued "Roughly one quarter of the original battalion volunteers were killed and nearly half were returned to UK with severe injuries."

In September Mrs. E. Cunliffe-Owen gained permission from Lord Kitchener to raise a sportsman's battalion. This battalion included two famous cricketers and the lightweight boxing champion of England. Later, a group of friends formed a footballers' battalion.

Pals battalions made up a significant proportion of Kitchener's army. Between September 1914 and June 1916, a total of 351 infantry battalions were raised by the War Office through the traditional channels whereas 643 battalions were raised locally.

Primary Sources

(1) Sir Henry Rawlinson, letter to Robert White (19th August, 1914)

I understand that there are many City employees who would be willing to enlist if they were assured that they would serve with their friends, and I suggest that you collect names and addresses of those who would be willing to serve in the Service Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers in Lord Kitchener's new Army.

(2) Sermon given by Rev. W. Youard at St. Swithun's Church, East Grinstead (30th August, 1914).

I would say to every able-bodied young man in East Grinstead to offer yourself without delay in the service of your country. The Welsh Rugby Union Committee has passed a resolution declaring it the duty of all football players to join immediately. Blackheath Rugby Football Club has cancelled all its matches for the same reason. That is the right spirit. I hope it will be imitated by our own clubs. Go straight to the recruiting officer and offer yourself. That is the plain duty of every able-bodied young man today.

(3) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, recruiting speech made on 6th September, 1914.

There was a time for all things in the world. There was a time for games, there was a time for business, there was a time for domestic life. There was a time for everything, but there is only time for one thing now, and that thing is war. If the cricketer had a straight eye let him look along the barrel of a rifle. If a footballer had strength of limb let them serve and march in the field of battle.

(4) The East Grinstead Observer (19th August, 1916)

Casualties among East Grinstead men reported this week includes Lance Corporal A. J. Tyler of the Middlesex Regiment (Footballers' Battalion) has been wounded in the leg and shoulder. He is widely known as the one of our best local football players and very many will join in the sincere wish for his speedy and complete recovery.

(5) The East Grinstead Observer (20th April, 1918)

Private A. E. Joseph has been killed in action. He was the son of Rev. F. and Mrs. Joseph of Dormandsland. He was the third son they have lost in the war. Private Joseph was formerly in the employ of Young & Sons, 43-49 High Street, East Grinstead, and was the captain of the football team. He was a young fellow who had many friends, and his sad end has caused a general feeling of reject.

(6) The East Grinstead Observer (11th May, 1918)

Private A. Ellis, formerly one of our best known football players, is now at the Royal Pavillion Hospital at Brighton. He has lost both legs and has been in Roehampton and fitted with artificial limbs.