The Bradford Pals 100 Years On

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Remembering ordinary Bradfordians who lived, and died, in extraordinary times

By David Pendleton

It’s the morning of 1 July 1916. At Serre near the River Somme in France, nearly fourteen hundred Bradfordians are packed into assault trenches awaiting the whistle that would call them into action. The vast majority of those waiting for the shrill blast were ordinary men: mill hands, tram conductors, warehousemen. Among them was one man who was used to hearing a whistle blown in very different circumstances: Bradford City’s England international winger Dickie Bond.

He was, as usual, part of a team, but instead of eleven football players running out to the adulation of thousands of fans, Bond was part of a three man Lewis machine gun team. His performance that morning would not be judged by the number of goals scored, but by life and death itself.

Waiting in the same trenches as Bond was Manningham born Arthur Greenwood. He had a collection of six postcards of Bradford City teams, including one featuring the FA Cup winning squad of 1911, which, of course, included Dickie Bond. In normal life Arthur was a barber, a keen swimmer and treasurer of the Bradford ‘Water Rats’ Swimming Club. At exactly 07.30am the officers’ whistles blew and Arthur went over the top with his best mate Charlie Lee. In a subsequent letter to Arthur’s parents Charlie described the attack:

“We left the trench at 7.30 on Saturday morning, after waiting all night. As soon as we got out our corporal was killed. Then Arthur and I took the lead. We kept together until we got just behind the front line. There we found we were the only two left. We got into a shell hole. There were a lot of killed and wounded in the hole, our captain being amongst them. It was here that Arthur got hit with shrapnel. He said as I was leaving, for I had to go on, ‘Well good luck Charlie lad, I shall creep out alright’. That was all he said and I heard nothing more until late at night, when I was told he had been found where I left him. Another shell had burst and killed him before he could get out of the shell hole. I have lost a true pal.”

In the chaos in the wake of the battle it is impossible to know the exact casualty figures. However, the best estimate is that of the 1,394 Bradford Pals who left the trenches, 1,060 were killed or wounded. Dickie Bond survived the carnage but was later taken prisoner and spent several years in a POW camp. Bond was so well-known that his German captors recognised him and placed a sign in No Man’s Land informing the Bradford Pals ‘The famous Dickie Bond – we’ve got him’.

The fate of the Pals had an enormous impact on the city of Bradford. J.B. Priestley captured the sense of loss eloquently when he wrote:

“There are many gaps in my acquaintance now; and I find it difficult to swap reminiscences of boyhood. The men who were boys when I was a boy are dead. Indeed they never even grew to be men. They were slaughtered in youth; and the parents of them have grown lonely, the girls they would have married have grown grey in sisterhood, and the work they have done has remained undone.”

Of course, not all Bradfordians served in the Pals and indeed not all of the Pals were Bradfordians. However, the decimation of the Pals within the space of a single morning has come to epitomise the horror of the Great War. Thus the sale of badges at Valley Parade on 21 March is not a celebration of war, it is a sober remembrance of the thousands of ordinary Bradfordians who left their home town and would never walk the cobbled streets or hear the chimes of the Town Hall clock again.

The historical links between the Bradford Pals and Bradford City AFC are particularly close. Matches at Valley Parade, and indeed at Park Avenue, were used as platforms to boost recruitment with speeches and collections. The recruitment at matches hit a peak in the spring of 1915 when the second battalion of the Bradford Pals was being raised.

That is the reason the Bradford Pals badges are being sold on 21 March prior to the Fleetwood match. It is to acknowledge the centenary of the recruitment of supporters at Valley Parade into the Bradford Pals. The badges are being sold with a suggested donation of £1 and the proceeds will be donated to the Telegraph & Argus’ ‘Honour the Pals’ appeal which is seeking to erect a memorial to the Pals at Serre in France and towards the erection of a plaque at Valley Parade which will remember the twelve Bradford City players who died in the two world wars.

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5 replies

  1. If anyone is able to assist with the bucket collection before tomorrow’s game please meet in the OneinaMillion café at 1pm. We also produced a limited edition commission of enamel badges in the same design – there are three pairs of these remaining (£15) which had been ordered but not collected. These are available on a first come basis. email to badges at paraders dot co dot uk

  2. David,John

    Last year my son and I walked the very same area where those trenches were dug and walked over the fields that was no mans land towards the village of Serre. Like on that fateful day the weather was beautiful and the birds were singing .Its hard to imagine what carnage happened then.
    We paid our respects in the 4 war graves where most of the Bradford Pals are buried

    Is it possible that with the backing of the club organise a group of CIty supporters to re trace the steps of the Pals from where they were billeted the night before to the battlefield on 1st July 2016 I’m memory of those brave lads of 100 yrs ago.

  3. Thats a fantastic idea. If the club can’t organise such a trip can we the supporters do so?

  4. David, this is a great piece of writing, very sobering. I cannot begin to imagine the thoughts of those brave men in 1916. Let’s hope all City supporters buy a badge and support this cause. We should never forget.

  5. I went with Dave and a party of around twenty City supporters to the area about four years ago. It was a life changing experience for me and my wife Julie, so much so that we have not gone back on subsequent trips.
    At Serre we too walked from the main road up the climbing track to where the Bradford Pals started their journey towards likely death that morning.
    It was a sobering and humbling experience.
    We looked towards the distant horizon, higher ground, which would have given the Germans a tremendous advantage, and its impossible to imagine the thoughts of our fellow Bradfordians that morning.
    They must have known that they faced the loss of close friends, serious injury, and almost certain death.
    The effects on Bradford cannot be imagined either and one wonders of they shaped the very phycology of our City, and had an effect which manifests itself in many ways even today.

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