The “HULL PALS”
The ‘Hull Pals’ battalions consisted of five Infantry Regiments, three Heavy Artillery Batteries and a Divisional Ammunition Column. They were unusual in that they were all raised in Hull and formed a complete (Hull) Brigade in the 31st Division. After a short spell in Egypt, they served on the Western Front from 1916 until the end of the war, as did the 2nd and 3rd Hull heavy batteries. The 11th (1st Hull) Heavy Battery had been intended for 11th (Northern Division), but was left behind for training when that formation was rushed out to Gallipoli in 1915. Instead, the battery was equipped with obsolescent howitzers and sent to Tanzania, East Africa, where it fought in a hard campaign in 1916–17. Hull also equipped two Volunteer battalions made up of local Golfers, for Coastal Defence, raised its own Army Service Corp in 1915 (the only City to do so) and created Britain’s first Anti -Aircraft Unit, which was raised in Hull, within 14 days.
By the time voluntary enlistment ended at the end of 1915, Lord Nunburnholme and the East Riding Territorial Association had been responsible for raising not only the Second and Third Line Territorial units in the county, but the following New Army units:
- 11th (1st Hull) Heavy Battery and Ammunition Column, RGA
- 124th (2nd Hull) Heavy Battery and Ammunition Column, RGA
- 146th (3rd Hull) Heavy Battery and Ammunition Column, RGA
- 31st (Hull) Divisional Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery
- 10th (Service) Bn, East Yorkshire Regiment (1st Hull)
- 11th (Service) Bn, East Yorkshire Regiment (2nd Hull)
- 12th (Service) Bn, East Yorkshire Regiment (3rd Hull)
- 13th (Service) Bn, East Yorkshire Regiment (4th Hull)
- 14th (Reserve) Bn, East Yorkshire Regiment (5th Hull)
Recruiting the Hull Pals
Before the declaration of war on the 4th August 1914, the local Territorial battalions, the 4th and 5th East Yorkshires, and the Territorial Royal Field Artillery were mobilized and reservists received their call up papers.
The Hull Daily Mail recorded that about 100 naval reservists left Hull for the South of England on the 5.05am train to London. The sudden loss of men affected the ability to bring in the harvest and hit the fishing fleet and merchant navy very hard.
Hull was the major recruitment centre for the East Yorkshire Regiment, but as it was also a major port, a large percentage of the population was already recruited by the Merchant Navy, the fishing Fleet, the Royal Navy and the Humber Estuary and Coastal Defences.
As well as the demands of the sea, there were other units in existence which further drained the supply of Hull men. In the East Riding there was a Yeomanry regiment, two territorial battalions, a Royal Garrison Artillery battery, a Field Ambulance of the Royal Army Medical Corps and a Field Company of the Royal Engineers.
With the onset of war, each of these (except the 5th Battalion) recruited, firstly up to full strength and then recruited a second line unit to replace the first when it went on active service. The 4th Battalion actually raised a third line battalion. Competition was particularly fierce to join the Hull cyclists, who with their ‘knee britches and black bugle buttons’ were seen as a rather noticeable unit to belong to. Army life meant regular pay (one shilling a day for privates) as well as proper food and clothing, not to mention barracks that compared favourably with the living conditions experienced by many at the time. Even with an establishment of keen recruits, many would-be volunteers were rejected on medical grounds, suffering from the cumulative effects of poor diet, medicine and housing.
Within the first six month of the war, over 20,000 men from Hull had enlisted, and by the end of the war some 70,000 had served in His Majesty’s Services. The women of Hull also proved indispensable, serving in the factories, farms and transport, as well as maintaining the families at home and supporting their men away at war. They all served for a variety of reasons – some out of a sense of duty and patriotism, some for a change and adventure, others for money. However, all answered the call to do a practical job with little idea of what lay before them.
The Pal Battalions
On 6 August, 1914, Parliament sanctioned an increase in Army strength of 500,000 men; day’s later Lord Kitchener, The Minister of War, issued his first “Call to Arms”. This was for 100,000 volunteers, aged between 19 and 30, at least 1.6m (5’3″) tall and with a chest size, greater than 86cm (34 inches).
Recruitment was boosted further by the decision to form the units that became known as “Pals” Battalions.
General Henry Rawlinson initially suggested that men would be more willing to join up if they could serve with people they already knew. Lord Derby was the first to test the idea when he announced in late August that he would try to raise a battalion in Liverpool, comprised solely of local men. Within days, Liverpool had enlisted enough men to form four battalions, each a 1,000 strong.
‘Pals Battalions’ proved popular elsewhere. Stockbrokers, Miners, Railway workers, sportsmen and artists all formed their own battalions. In the first two years of the war, over 3 million men in the UK joined and from the 1,000 new battalions created, over two thirds of the men were locally raised Pal battalions. The 1916 Military Service Act would conscript a further 3.5 million over the next two years.
More than 50 Cities and towns raised their own ‘Pal Battalions’. Hull with a relatively small population raised four Hull Pal battalions, known as the “Hull Commercials”, “Tradesmen”, “Sportsmen”, and “T’Others.” They became the newly formed, 10th, 11th, 12th ,13th and 14th East Yorkshire Battalions. This was the same number of Pal battalions as Liverpool, and more than Birmingham and Glasgow which had three. Manchester had seven. Newcastle had two, but had an additional four called the Tyneside Scottish Brigade and another four called the Tyneside Irish Brigade. The bonds of friendship were a major strength in building an effective fighting unit. However, the tragic consequences of this were that heavy casualties could decimate all of the men from the same street, team, or workplace. It was mostly at the City Hall, that Hull formed its own four ‘Pal’ Battalions, known as the 10th, 11th, 12th & 13th Service Battalions of the East Yorkshire Regiment. These formed part of the 92nd Infantry Brigade, in the 31st Army Division. Recruitment began at 10 am on the 1st September, 1914. Each Battalion contained 1,050 men. Some of these battalions such as 11th East Yorkshires were raised within 3 days. Hull also raised a 5th ‘Bantam’ Battalion made up of ‘small men, with big hearts’ and this became know as Lord Robert’s, or ‘Bobs Battalion’ These 5 Battalions were more than many other Cities, which had larger population and reflected Hull’s Patriotism.
With the onset of war, each of these (except the 5th Battalion) recruited, firstly up to full strength and then recruited a second line unit to replace the first when it went on active service. The 4th Battalion actually raised a third line battalion. Competition was particularly fierce to join the Hull cyclists, who with their ‘knee britches and black bugle buttons’ were seen as a rather noticeable unit to belong to.
Army life meant regular pay (one shilling a day for privates) as well as proper food and clothing, not to mention barracks that compared favourably with the living conditions experienced by many at the time. Even with an establishment of keen recruits, many would-be volunteers were rejected on medical grounds, suffering from the cumulative effects of poor diet, medicine and housing.
The 10th ‘Hull Commercials’ Battalion were initially recruited at the Army Office at 22 Pryme Street, Hull. However, this became inadequate to cope with the large numbers of volunteers enlisting. Recruitment was therefore moved to Hull City Hall on the 6th September 1914.
Hull City Hall was a larger, more central location and could provide all the administration associated with recruitment. Between 400 & 500 voluntary clerks attended the City Hall continuously. This included one hundred School Mistresses and lady teachers who on the 15th August 1915 dealt with over 12,000 recruits. The Tramways Committee based at the Hall provided free cars for recruitment and war advertising. For example, the Hull Corporation tram, on route H, along Holderness Road, was bedecked with recruiting adverts. Volunteers were asked to jump on, for a free ride to enlist at Hull City Hall.
Hull Pals Training and Service
The Hull Pals were initially trained in Hull and Beverley from 6th October 1914 to 16th February, 1915. They moved onto the Dalton Holme Camp from 16th February 1915 to 16th June 1916. This was a large estate owned by Lord Hotham, situated 5 miles, North West of Beverley. They then trained at Ripon Army camp, North Yorkshire, between 18th June 1915 to 28th October 1915 and then at Salisbury Plains, Wiltshire, from 29th October 1915 to 12th December 1915. The Hull Pals Battalions proceeded to Egypt, around the December 11th 1914, to defend the Suez Canal. They travelled by train to Devonport, Plymouth, and embarked on HMT Ausonia, sailing at 12.30pm on December 16th 1915. The Hull Pals then received orders to transfer to France. They arrived in Port Said, Egypt, by train on 29th February 1916 and embarked for France on the HT Simla. They sailed at 6.00am on March 1st, arriving in Marseilles at 11.50pm on March 8th after an ‘uneventful voyage’. Disembarking the following day they left Marseilles by train, on March 10th, bound for Pont Remy, which is 7 miles south east of Abbeville in the Somme region of Northern France. They arrived early in the morning of March 12th. The battalion then undertook a series of route marches to arrive at Colincamps, on the Somme, arriving on 6th April 1916. The battalions then settled into a routine of a few days in the trenches, including repairing them followed by a few days in billets were they trained in ‘bombing, signalling, (barbed) wiring and lewis gun work’. Between April and June the battalion moved between Colincamps, Courcelles-Aux-Bois and Bus-Les-Artois. They came under heavy bombardment on several occasions during this period. The Hull Pals were lined up in support, for the initial attack at the Somme on 1st July 1916. Their assault was fortunately postponed due to other heavy losses earlier in the day and they escaped with relatively few losses on the 1st July 1916. However, on 13th November 1916, the Hull Pals attacked as a combined force, at the village of Serre, near Beaumont Hamel on the Somme. They suffered severe losses on this day, earning Hull’s first Victoria Cross. After resting and regrouping , the Hull Pals were heavily involved in the fighting around Arras, and on the 3rd May 1917, attacked again in force,at the Village of Oppy Wood. It was a largely a diversionary action, but the Germans were heavily defended in the woods and inflicted severe losses on the Hull Pals. After this decimation, the Hull Pals were merged and amalgamated with recruits from other regiments. The original spirit of the Hull Pals was largely diluted, but the the East Yorkshire Service Regiments continued in action and played an important role in delaying the German Spring Offensive in 1918.
After the Armistice with Germany came into force on 11 November 1918, Hull’s artillery and New Army units were progressively demobilised and sent home. From 17 November to the end of January 1919, Lady Nunburnholme (Lady Marjorie Wynn-Carrington) and her Peel House VAD workers welcomed home the shiploads of returning British Prisoners of war at Riverside Quay, Hull. Lord Nunburnholme, (Charles Wilson, 2nd Baron Nunburnholme), was back in Hull in time to officiate for the Lord Mayor, on 30 April 1919, to welcome home the cadre of the 7th (Service) Bn, East Yorkshires, before they marched to Beverley to disband. The cadres of the remaining battalions of the Hull Pals arrived at Hull Paragon Station, on 26 May 1919 and after being inspected by Nunburnholme they marched through the city to the Guildhall and officially disbanded..