THE First of July 1916 dawned as a bright sunny day.
At 7.30am over 700 Accrington Pals advanced from their trenches before the fortified village of Serre in Northern France.
Seven days of British artillery fire was supposed to have obliterated the enemy German defences.
But as they advanced slowly across the 300-yard No Man's Land, the German troops popped up from deep dugouts untouched by the shelling and swept the defenceless Pals with machine gun and rifle fire.
In less than 20 minutes 235 Pals were dead and 350 wounded. Not one man wavered or turned back.
The debacle was part of the Battle of the Somme in which over 100,000 British troops advanced on a 15-mile front and suffered almost 60,000 casualties in men killed, wounded or missing.
It was the blackest day in the history of the British Army and led to the famous description of the soldiers as "lions led by donkeys".
The effects on Accrington were catastrophic. It was said that everyone in the town knew someone killed or injured in the battle.
The Pals were withdrawn from the battlefield and re-formed with fresh troops. They went on to serve with honour in other battles in 1917 and 1918, again suffering heavy casualties.
The tragic story had begun shortly after the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 when it quickly became clear that Britain needed to increase its fighting strength.
Lord Derby suggested to Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, that men would enlist more willingly if they could serve with their friends, neighbours and workmates.
Lord Kitchener immediately sanctioned the raising of Pals Battalions and early in September that year the then-Mayor of Accrington, Councillor John Harwood, offered to raise a full battalion of 1,000 men to serve with the East Lancashire Regiment.
Recruitment offices were opened in Accrington, Burnley and Chorley and the smaller townships of Church, Clayton-le-Moors, Great Harwood, Oswaldtwistle and Rishton.
Within 10 days 36 officers and 1,076 men had been enlisted.
Their formal name was the 11th (Service) Battalion (Accrington) East Lancashire Regiment but they became known to everybody as the Accrington Pals.
For five months they trained daily on Ellison's Tenement, drilling and marching before the approving gaze of large crowds.
At first dressed in their own civilian clothes and later, because of a shortage of khaki cloth, in a blue melton uniform, their cheerfulness and enthusiasm quickly endeared them to all.
They truly represented their home towns, including a cross-section of the population from professional men to unskilled labourers, from company directors to apprentice engineers.
On 23 February 1915, after a farewell service at St John's Church in Accrington, they left for Caernarfon, North Wales, with 16,000 people lining the streets to see them march to the railway station. Shops, offices and factories closed for the day.
After training at Caernarfon, Rugeley in Staffordshire, Ripon in Yorkshire and Salisbury Plain, the Pals set sail for Egypt in December 1915.
For over two months they guarded the Suez Canal until early in 1916 they went to France to take part in the "Big Push" and their date with destiny.
The battalion was finally disbanded in October 1919 - five years and one month after its formation.
At least 850 Accrington Pals died in the service of their country. Some 530 are buried at cemeteries in France and Belgium and 24 at cemeteries in England and Wales. Many others have no known grave but are commemorated on seven memorials.
Foremost Pals historian Bill Turner of Accrington said: "The Pals represent all those who, in the innocence of youthful ideals of patriotism, comradeship and service, left their homes and families to fight for their country.
"They represent those whose ideals - and their youth - were so savagely destroyed on the Somme and other battlefields of the 1914-18 war.
"We must always remember them."