A series of events to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme are set to get underway across the borough.
A century ago, at 7.30am on July 1, 1916, on that fateful first day of the Battle of the Somme, the 11th Service Battalion, The East Lancashire Regiment Accrington, or as we know them, the Accrington Pals, went ‘over the top’, walking into No Man’s Land under the cover of artillery and mortar fire.
The first day of the battle is known as the worst day in the history of the British Army as nearly 60,000 British men, all volunteers, were killed, wounded or listed as missing.
The Pals suffered severe losses and over 600 casualties, leaving the community back home shattered and hardly anyone untouched, with so many losing husbands, sons, brothers, uncles, friends and neighbours.
Percy Holmes, the brother of an original Pal, recalled: “I remember when the news came through to Accrington that the Pals had been wiped out.
“I don’t think there was a street in Accrington that didn’t have their blinds drawn, and the bell at Christ Church tolled all the day.”
Hyndburn council leader Coun Miles Parkinson, said: “The Pals’ huge bravery and sacrifice and that of their comrades who fought and fell in World War One, must never be forgotten, and so I hope you will join us at the many commemorative events taking place to mark the centenary of the Accrington Pals’ devastating losses and to mark the sacrifice of all those who fell in the Great War.”
Events to mark the occasion are taking place all across the borough, including a roll call of soldiers outside Accrington town hall, services of remembrance and a concert.
Accrington train station will honour the former railway workers who died fighting in the First World War. The station will stage a commemoration led by the railway chaplain, Richard Cook, on Friday, July 1 at 2.30pm to remember the Accrington Pals battalion and also the railway staff who lost their lives in the battle of the Somme.
A service will also be held in the Pals chapel and dignitaries will travel to France for commemorations.
A first World War exhibition will launch this week at Accrington’s Haworth Art Gallery.
‘WW1 – We Shall Remember Them’ commemorates the individuals who took part in the Great War, telling the private and poignant stories of heroism and horror faced by these individuals, the squalor of life in the trenches and the fight for survival.
It includes the story of ‘The Boy Soldier’, Reginald St John Beardsworth Battersby, who lied about his age and joined up at 14.
The exhibition also tells the story of early aviation and its role in battle, and how the individual pilots and planes developed into the Royal Air Force.
It also explores the link between Joseph Briggs, the French Commander, Marshal Joffre and Tiffany glass.
The exhibition will run from Friday, July 1 to September 21 with an official launch on Saturday, July 9 at 11am, open to the public.
Coun Parkinson added: “The commemoration events are the result of a lot of hard work from volunteers and people involved with the Accrington Pals Centenary Commemorations Group, which is made up of members of the community including Pals experts; historians; local craftspeople; people involved in drama; local voluntary groups and the Council, and a huge thank you should go to them.
“The Pals centenary events are for everyone, right across the Borough, to recognise and commemorate the Pals and their sacrifice and their place in the borough’s rich history, so please come along if you can.”
Accrington’s war memorial honouring those who gave their lives has also been upgraded to a Grade II* listed memorial.
The monument in Oak Hill Park is one of 15 across the country that have been listed or upgraded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.
Thursday, June 30
March to the Front from 5pm and Falling 7pm
Community walks from townships in the Borough, meeting at Oakhill Park. This will replicate the march of the Accrington Pals to the front on 30 June 1916. Part of this event is ‘Falling’- a visual art performance which will take place at 7pm in Oakhill Park, featuring local people representing the Accrington Pals. Contact: Gayle Knight, Civic Arts Centre e-mail email@example.com or call 01254 398 319.
All Saints Church and Mercer Park, Clayton-le-Moors - from 7.30pm
- A vigil to mark 100 years from the eve of the Battle of the Somme will be held at All Saints Church. The service will be followed by the laying of a wreath at the War Memorial in Mercer Park at around 8.30pm.
Pals Memorial, Church Street, Accrington – 9pm-10pm
- The Royal British Legion, Accrington, joined by members of Accrington Pipe Band and Royal Artillery Band, will lead a candlelit vigil to remember the Accrington Pals and all those who fell on July 1, 1916.
Friday, July 1
Civic Commemoration, Pals Memorial, Accrington 7.20am
The Civic Commemoration will be a special version of the Annual Pals Memorial Service at the Pals Memorial, Church Street, Accrington, to mark one hundred years since the Pals went ‘over the top’. There will be road closures in place from 7.15-8.15am on Church Street and Warner Street. Church Street closures will take place from the junction with Blackburn Road to the junction of Cannon Street. The Warner Street closure will take place from the junction of Bank Street to the junction with Church Street. A similar service will take place at the Pals memorial in Serre, France at the same time, attended by the Mayor and Mayoress. The Civic Service in France will be streamed back to Accrington afterwards, to be screened in the Pals Room at Accrington Town Hall.
St John The Evangelist Church, Addison Street in Accrington 10.15am
A Battle of the Somme centenary commemoration service with an act of remembrance will be held in the Pals Chapel. The church will remain open after the service until 4pm for anyone wishing to visit for private prayer.
Roll Call for the Accrington Pals, Broadway, Accrington Town Centre from 9am (All timings are approximate)
A to Butler 9.05am to 10am; Butler to Flegg 10am to 11am; Fleming to Howarth 11am to 12noon; Howarth to Moss 12noon to 1pm; Moulding to Short 1pm to 2pm; Shuttleworth to Wildman 2pm to 3pm; Wilken to Youngs 3pm to approximately finish 3.20pm. Contact: Gayle Knight, Civic Arts Centre. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01254 398 319.
Accrington rail station, 2.30pm
A commemoration led by the railway chaplain, Richard Cook, to remember the Accrington Pals battalion and also the railway staff who lost their lives in the Battle of the Somme. There will be readings and dedications, followed by a two-minute silence and the laying of wreaths and the blowing of a final whistle. Contact: email@example.com,uk or call the council on 01254 388111.
Commemorative Concert - Accrington Town Hall 6pm-8pm
- BBC Radio Lancashire’s live Somme Day Centenary concert will take place in Accrington Town Hall. All tickets are now allocated.
Saturday, July 2
Commemoration fair on Barnfield Street in Accrington, 10am to 1pm
- Jointly organised by Benjamin Hargreaves primary school and St Paul’s Church, this event will feature a tombola, bric-a-brac, face painting, bouncy castle and barbecue. Free entry. Donations will be given to Help For Heroes.
Tuesday, July 5, 3pm
The Ballroom, Accrington Town Hall
- Commemorative Film in Memory of the Accrington Pals - £3 per person (Tickets limited to 100). Call the Box Office on 01254 380 293.