Sheffield FridayNightRide

we have nothing to lose but our chains

2014/09/12 The Sheffield Pals

Sheffield FNR The Sheffield Pals
​Ride report
A really fine ride. It was dry and mild, with clearish skies, everybody was ‘up’ for the first ride of a new season and looking forward to exploring our culture.
Thanks to everyone for getting to the start on time so we could get way just after 6.30 and thanks to Ian Joustra for being tail-end Charlie. ​And another set of thanks to everybody for the collective effort and concentration to get all of us up to Quarry Hill at Redmires in just on an hour – with no casualties or mishaps.​ Approx 45 of us covered 7 miles from urban to rural with about 1000ft of climbing​ – so a sterling effort for a social riding group.
We’re getting good at this malarkey.

It was tranquil at Redmires as we got there at sunset. Which gave us just enough time to lock up the bikes and leg it up the hill to use the fading light to be able to pick out the indentations of back-filled practice trenches NB Most of of the practice was in the digging of trenches – it is unlikely that they were ready to do attack and defend exercises early on in the war. There was a bit of an explanation and chat about who the Pals were, what they did and what they endured and then a walk in the dark back to the bikes and on to The Sportsman where many of us enjoyed a pint of Thornbridge Brewery’s Sheffield Pals Ale.

As we came out to get our bikes Chris lead us in the singing of Ivor Novello’s “Keep the Home Fires Burning”, the most popular WWI song. I thought that was lovely. Then some went home, some went elsewhere and the rest cracked along past Lodge Moor and Sandygate, into Crosspool before swooping down through Broomhill to Weston Park where we admired the memorial to the 8814 Sheffield men killed in WWI in the York and Lancaster Regiment and chatted about the semiotics of it all. It could do with some night lighting. Then our final push was past the Somme Barracks on West St and across to Barkers Pool to admire City Hall, which is Sheffield’s WWI memorial with the cenotaph and flag pole outside
and we had a good chat about war, combatants and all sorts really. By that time it was 10.30 so we skipped the Norfolk barracks and Bramall Lane and the last handful of thirsty ones of us went to the Sheffield Tap for the last one or two

​Chris Rust sings a really interesting War Songs Documentary with accompanying slides with songs from wars from WWI to the present day.
He is part of Break a Leg, with Karen Hisom, and their fb page is here. ​Next up in November 2014.

​The cenotaph in Barkers Pool was restored in the late 80s and some of its details are here

​And I was in Waterstones at the weekend and they have copies of the 1961 book​ “Covenant with Death” which is a “fictionary” of the Sheffield Pals. It has just been reprinted by Sphere as a ppbk and costs £8.99. The author, John Harris (1916 – 1991), lived and worked in Sheffield and based the book on accounts of the Pals he collected by talking with surviving members but his characters are fictions so social themes at the time of WWI could be explored. It got, and still gets, tremendous reviews and I morbidly enjoyed reading it. Its very well structured, the evocation of the camarderie, formation and destruction of the battalion is very good. Redmires has become Blackmires, Sidepool is Crosspool, they drink in the Four Merry Lads – and where is Nethersedge?(!) – so the disguises are thin if you know Sheffield and it makes it more interesting as you (easily) work out the locations.

​and Mark ​Hudson ​took this photo of us up there​, which is now the cover photo on our website – all good stuff​​
SFNR Sheffield Pals
I noted in the Shf Telegraph week before last; the remains of the trenches up at Redmires are to be designated an ancient monument and this will afford them some measure of protection and possible funding for further research
I also bothered to read Robert Graves’ biography ‘Goodbye to All That’ that is mostly about his experience as a front line officer from 1914 to 1917 when he was invalided out of active service.
A couple of local Sheffield Radio clips about the Pals below
Formation of the Sheffield Pals
Interview with the leader of the 1999 dig of the practice trenches at Redmires
with all the stuff above and below that is probably as much as one needs to know about the Sheffield Pals unless you’re a historian!

Next Sheffield FNR
Fri 12 Sep 2014
The Sheffield Pals
Start: University Concourse nr SUSU building
6.30 pm SHARP

Heads up! We will be going sharpish – sunset is 7.30 pm.  The ride is about 15.5 miles and about 1000 ft of up and down.  We go up through the Porter Valley which is unpaved but relatively firm so road bikes with real skinny tyres may not be suitable.  I’ve been up to check again some roads being resurfaced TAKE CARE – and some reyt rough roads at Redmires – TAKE CARE  It will be gloomy when we are there and some of the potholes are wheel size TAKE CARE. Bring lights, locks, a spare tube and have your toughest tyres fitted.  We come back down the roads to visit POI in town. TAKE CARE Pit stop at  The Sportsman at Redmires and then finish at Sheffield Tap.  DEFINITELY bring lights and locks.

Theme: The 12th Service Battalion of the Yorks and Lancaster Regiment, the Sheffield Pals,  started enrolment of volunteers on 10 Sep 1914.  By the 12 Sep 1914 a 1000 men had volunteered and were of sufficient strength to start training.  A 100 yrs later we can commemorate this event by riding up to Redmires where they went to live and train at the end of 1914  (Originally they lived at their Sheffield residences and trained at the barracks on Clough St and drilled at Bramall Lane.)  Their sad story can be found at this website,

They were one of the Pals battallions that formed the northern end of the Somme offensive at Serre les Plusieux.  On the morning of 1 July 1916 they assaulted the German trenches.  In the first 20-30 minutes the defending Germans killed or seriously injured approx 500 of the approx 750 of the Sheffield Pals involved in the first 20-30 minutes of the assault.  The Accrington Pals were on their southern flank and the Barnsley Pals attacked in support, and both suffered similar losses.  Some soldiers did reach the objective of Serre but their numbers were so low they were wiped out.  This story and a blow by blow of the assault can be found on the same website (

The website has link to a PDF report on a dig that explored the trenches they dug as practice up at Redmires.  If you use satellite view on Google you can see their outlines.  It will be darkish by the time we get up there so somewhere for you to explore in detail another time

The ride map picks out the points in Sheffield.

 Maps: Google map with all POI is here

View The Sheffield Pals in a larger map

Map with elevation profile here



Commemorating, generations, soldiers and TV channels

We were coming back through Northern France this August and detoured to visit the location of the battlefield.  It brings on reflections and commemorations.  I wasn’t there in 1916; I can’t fully imagine the ground, the noise and voices, the sights, the smells, the emotions of those men but I can try and, perhaps, this is what it means to commemorate; to try and imagine and share what you can of the experiences and memories of these men and those who survived.  Some of the battlefield was given to Sheffield and there is a small wooded memorial park where the land has not been tilled.  You can see remains of the front line assault trenches and a plaque explains where each side’s forces were and you can try and imagine what it would be like to walk or crawl up a slope across flat muddy ground pockmarked by shells, mortar bombs and grenades into a hail of bullets to meet uncut rolls of wire – and know all is lost; another balls-up.  Grim.

You can still see shell holes but the park is tended and the ground is grassed and dotted with memorials to Pals battalions.  There are plaques with maps and descriptions of the battle and where the forces were located around you.  It was sunny and dry when we there, nobody else around.  It was v quiet as it was a Sunday so the tractors were not in the fields.  There is a v good guide on this website with guides and maps to what is there now, photographs of the present scenes, and a guide to the battle and significant events.   A good panorama of the overall aspect is on this site  As we left more people were arriving and we passed on our website print-outs.

There are two small war cemeteries close to the park, most headstones have no name and if the burial parties after the war could not identify name they tried to at least identify rank and/or regiment.  Some dead were from works volunteer battallions, eg Post Office batallions.  Some graves have two bodies and some are mass graves.  Some of the Pals killed on 1 July are in these cemeteries.  WWI changed attitudes to death and how it is perceived; so many dead with no identifiable body or remains in a faraway field.  Often soldiers’ status was posted to families as missing and at the time families would post small notices in English papers with pictures of the missing appealing for any information about them.  We saw one grave where the soldier’s descendants had left a copy of the ‘missing’ notice resting on the his headstone.  He had been found.  At the memorial park there is a cross close to the front line assault trench where a Sheffield soldier’s body was only discovered in the 1930s.

Headstones have regiment name and number with a carved regimental badge (when possible), and a cross for all except a Star of David if the soldier could be identified as Jewish.  Each family was allowed to have a particular inscription at the bottom of the white Portland stone marker for their dead relative.  We saw one where the Sheffield family had put a quote from one of their son’s letters, “The French are a grand nation, worth fighting for.”

However this part of the Somme was on the front line or fought over all through WWI (even Wilfred Owen did a stint here) so the cemeteries have representation from a wide range of regiments and companies; it’s not all Pals.  And there is a cemetery with about 6000 graves just on the edge of Serre.  There has been a recent history/biography of the founding and development of the War Graves Commision. See  Sheffield has war graves tended by the Ward Graves Commission; many WWI soldiers were sent home and died of their injuries here. I have found a war grave in Burngreave for a soldier who served in a Cyclists’ Battalion so more research to do here and another ride during this 4 yrs of commemoration.  Anoher ride will be in 2016 where we follow the path of the 1916 Zeppelin air raid on Sheffield.

It made me think of my connection to and ‘place’ in history. When I was born WWI veterans were aged 50+.  My grandparents’ generation experienced the war in military service or on the home front.  My mum and dad were born during or just before WW1. He served in the army and she worked in a home-front factory during WWII.  I grew up in the shadow of WWII.  My boys’ culture was dominated by war games, (guns, Dinky toy tanks, Airfix planes, war comics), call up for conscription lasted until 1960, so I missed that but I was taught by many men and women who did it, some of whom were ‘emergency trained’ after WWII. I  have also worked with many men who were conscripted but didn’t see active service.  They had some droll stories to tell.  It makes me think that armies in developed countries are now mainly professional armies; in the UK they are men and women who have volunteered to be paid to serve, swear an oath to the Queen, and train, amongst other things, to kill people and to accept that they may be killed.  I don’t think we could have a World War like the last ones.  The USA could not sustain the Vietnam War with the draft and a conscripted army.  If conscription was introduced then I feel nobody would comply; people would just not turn up.  It would be mass non-compliance and therefore unpunishable.

BUT if armies were conscripts then I think politicians would be much more careful or unable to go to war.   Blair could order (as the Queen’s proxy) a professional army into Iraq, but he (and Bush Jnr) couldn’t have done it with conscript armies.  The general public would not let their relatives be ‘used’ in this way – the stakes for our own security would have to be a lot higher for a conscript army to be an effective fighting unit, eg defending one’s home not attacking somebody else’s.

We got a telly for the 1953 Coronation.  Our house was the first one on the street to get ITV in 1955 and in 1964 a new third(!) channel, BBC2, started transmission.  They broadcast a massive documentary series called the Great War ( – to be broadcast again on BBC4 this year) It was able to use eye witness testimony and was a landmark series in terms of its scope and the pattern it set for future broadcasts (cf ITV’s 1970s The World at War – available on-line) I remember watching this black and white documentary series with (morbid?) fascination and intrigued as to how grim it was.  But this was also the time of Joan Littlewood’s “Oh What a Lovely War!” (,_What_a_Lovely_War!)with its satirical yet moving theatre staging of the emotions and events of WW1.  This was a theatrical event in the spirit of the 60s – critical, anti-establishment and to some irreverent. (It was also a 1969 film, directed by Richard Attenborough, and filmed in Brighton just before I moved there).  The 1990s Black Adder Goes Forth was in the same tradition and was also criticised in a similar way.

And most of these thoughts went through my mind as I wandered around Flander Fields with the last one being that if I make it (we all make it?) I will be 89 for the start of the centenary commemorations of WWII.

oh, Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile,
While you’ve a lucifer to light your fag,
Smile, boys, that’s the style.
What’s the use of worrying?
It never was worth while,
so, pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile.