100 years ago tomorrow, the colours of the 13th and 14th battalions, York and Lancaster Regiment were placed for all time in St Mary’s Parish Church, in the final act of the story of the Barnsley Pals. It was seen as a moment of triumph, thankgiving and a prayer of remembrance, hopefully that War would never come to Barnsley again.
The parade and ceremony that took place that morning has long faded from memory, only the photos and the order of service that was printed in the local press remain. The Treaty of Versailles was then still a month away, and an occupation force held German territory west of the Rhine as part of the Armistice terms.
The parade was a very symbolic one, touching areas of town that had special links to the Pals as they had departed for Egypt and France in May 1915 and December 1915. The drill hall on Eastgate, where so many men had enlisted with such enthusiasm and hope in 1914, kept the colours overnight in a final farewell, as the Cadre was accomodated in the building.
The Cadre, now reduced to 4 officers and 36 other ranked men had arrived in Southampton just a week before from Dunkirk. A telegram was sent and the authorities made swift preparations for the Civic reception, the schools of Barnsley were padlocked. Allowing Children, many of whom had lost their Fathers and older Brothers a chance to say a final farewell.
The two former commanders of the Battalions, Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Hewitt and Honorary Colonel William Emsley Raley would have their say in the days proceedings as well.
Colonel Hewitt who had raised the 13th Battalion, lost his son Captain George at the Battle of Cambrai on November 27th 1917. George, who was part of the 2/5th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, was never found and is commemorated on the Cambrai memorial at Louverval. He is also remembered on the Hewitt family plot in Barnsley Cemetery.
Colonel Raley, who was now Mayor of the town, had lost two of his sons within a space of a month, and also lost a Nephew on the Somme. Walter Hugh, who was his youngest son, was killed at Fleurbaix on the 14th May 1915, he was part of the 5th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment and is buried at Y Farm cemetery. I had the privilege of visiting his grave earlier this year in March.
his older brother William Henry, who was part of the 3rd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, attached to the 2nd Battalion was killed at Givenchy on 15th June 1915, his remains were never found and his name is enscribed on the Le Touret Memorial in Artois, just a few miles from where he lost his life, I visited the memorial last year with my father, sadly I didnt know that his name was there.
His Father stepped down from command from the 2nd Barnsley Pals on the news of the death of his second son. Both of his sons are also commemorated on the Raley Family grave plot at St Thomas Church Worsborough.
What emotions must both of those men have felt as the Cadre arrived up Market Hill with the Colours, The cadre had began the parade at the Queens Ground, which is now part of the training facilities at Barnsley Football Club. It was where back in 1914, the men of Barnsley began their training and drill instructions. 900 men, some with no limbs, some men seriously wounded, those fortunate ones who had escaped unscathed followed behind, many of their comrades left behind in France. As they approached Market Hill in the company of massive crowds and buildings adorned with Union Jacks, the 2 battalion groups split in to their respective formations.
Colonel Hewitt and Mayor Raley inspected the remnants of their respective Battalions on Market Hill, smashed on the Somme and at respective areas of Artois, Arras, Gavrelle and Oppy Wood where the 2 battalions recieved their solitary battle honour in late June 1917.
The two men walked through the ranks, occasionally stopping to speak to their former soldiers, some of whom had won medals for bravery. Then Mayor Raley began the Civic proceedings with this speech.
“Officers and men of the two Barnsley Service Battalions, we welcome you on this occasion when we are going to say “Goodbye to the Colours” which were given to the 1st Barnsley Battalion in France. You know very well on the 13th May, 4 years ago, the two battalions left this Market Hill for the purpose of training with Colonel Hewitt. You went first to Egypt, then to France. You lads went to these countries and did well until the two Battalions were absorbed in France, you then did well at Bullecourt until your ranks had been reduced to 200 and after that the Battalion became composed of men from all over the country.”
He concluded his speech,
“I hope when we deposit these Colours in the Parish Church today we shall say goodbye to War!!!!! We are looking forward to peace, we hope we shall have peace abroad, but let us have peace at home, and after we have deposited these Colours let us make up our minds that after all this War has not been fought in vain, but that it has brought us nearer together.”
The Cadre proudly approched St Marys and the Church was filled to maximum capacity, the service consisted of the National Anthem, the Last Post and the handing over of the Colours on the Altar Rail. The service was concluded and the surviving veterans were treated to a civic reception at Queens Ground, where refreshments were served, mostly Sandwiches and local ale.
Then the crowds and veterans melted away, trying to get away from the past, having to face a very different future. The Colours still remain in St Marys, sadly in a very sorry condition in a glass cabinet underneath the bell tower.
St Marys has an area dedicated to the men of the York and Lancaster Regiment who were killed in 4 years of war, their names encribed on a beautiful memorial in one of the Eastern Chapels of the Church.
In a way the journey had turned full circle, Hewitt and Raley within 10 years would be dead, and then the veterans, having survived another World War slowly faded and melted away into the annals of history. A few in later years would recall and document their memories of a very different, almost Innocent time.
Tomorrow I will walk past the Church close to the time where a century ago, a group of men stepped away from the khaki and rifle and began the rebuilding of their own lives and futures. Yet still scarred with the memory of the friends and comrades in arms that they had lost. Yet having walked over their footsteps on the Somme and at Arras myself, I feel a overwhelming debt of gratitude to them, to Major Guest, Captain Normansell, Frank Bakel, Captain De Ville Smith, Harry Scargill and many others, they gave me their lives and futures so that i can share it to future generations, ensuring their sacrifice was not in vain. I will be certainly remembering the final Chapter of the Story, 100 years where they finally said farewell.
And the Earth abideth Forever