Military history and the Preston Pals

The 20th century saw two world wars claim the lives of thousands of our ancestors – many dying unnamed on foreign fields.

But there are ways for amateur genealogists to find their ancestors' records through the armed forces, as reporter Josie Hill discovers...

Though few living war heroes remain from World War Two and even fewer from the First World War, most Britons alive today will have ancestors who fought in one or both wars.

At first glance it appears there is a wealth of information among the military records and museums but there are still grey areas when it comes to certain groups of soldiers.

Dave Huggonson, a history student from Fulwood studying in Leeds, has been trying to fill one of those gaps in his research of the Preston Pals.

The Preston Pals

The 22-year-old historian "first ran into the Pals" on a work placement at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery.

Dave says one of the reasons he decided to research the group was that, despite the Pals being a widespread movement, so little was known about the Preston Pals.

The company was formed in 1914 after the Minister for War Earl Kitchener called for a volunteer army.

The idea was to encourage groups of friends or 'pals' to sign up and go to war together.

Many Pals companies sprung up in northern industrial towns, the most famous being the Accrington Pals.

So keen

Joe Hodgson, a volunteer at the Queen's Lancashire Regiment Museum in Fulwood, said men "were sleeping outside on the floor they were so keen to join up". An advert for the Pals was published in the Lancashire Daily Post on August 31, 1914, and ran for four days.

It read: "Will those who would like to join apply here any afternoon or evening this week – the earlier the better. Cyril Cartmell, Town Hall, Preston."

Consequently the Preston Pals became known as Cartmell's company. It was a quick way of getting men to enlist and after three days enough men had been recruited.

The Preston Pals then became 'D' company, 7th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. They were medically examined and took their allegiance to the King and paraded on on the Flag Market before being sent off to train at Tidworth in the Pennines.

Little known

Jim Tomlison is another Prestonian and Preston Pals historian who is trying to piece together their story.

Sadly, little is known about the Preston Pals. Although they were part of the 7th Battalion, they were not actually documented as a Pals battalion in the official Regimental histories.

Also, there is no war memorial dedicated to the Pals and only some are listed on the Harris Museum's roll of honour.

And following the Battle of Bazentin-le-Petit in 1916 200 out of the 250 in the battalion were killed and the surviving Pals were then further reduced in number through a mixture of promotion and redistribution to other battalions.

By the end of 1917 the Pals had lost their unique identity.

And, leaving still more holes in the story, fires during the Blitz of World War Two destroyed 60% of the Ministry of Defence service records.

Dave Huggonson is writing a book on the Preston Pals and wants to hear from anyone who thinks they are related to a former Pal. You can contact him by e-mail on prestonpals@hotmail.co.uk

Find more images of days gone by in Lancashire by visiting the Lancashire Image Archive online on lanternimages.lancashire.gov.uk

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