VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Barnsley Pals back on parade for Somme centenary
Brothers in arms Fred, Charles and Ernest Walker went over the top 100-years ago on the first day of the Battle of the Somme and like almost a million others they never came home.
But they will be back on parade with a unique piece of public art,
Glass panels, which will be lit at night, have been individually engraved with the faces of many of the 297 men of the so-called Barnsley Pals brigades who died on the first day of the battle, on July 1, 1916.
The panels, created by artists Neil Musson and Jono Retallick, also featuring medals made by local school children, will be unveiled during a 40-minute memorial service tomorrow, on the centenary itself, outside Barnsley Town Hall at 1pm.
A bronze statue of an infantryman – a “Tommy” – has been standing guard alone on the town's war memorial, since it was built in 1925.
Now his Pals will join him,with the temporary public art exhibition which will run until November, highlighting how the battle raged on for four and a half months and claimed the lives of around 800 of them, aged 17 to 48. In total almost one million lives were lost at the Somme.
There will be a two minutes silence, readings, music and the launch of the art work.
Hundreds of people are expected to gather, to show their respects, as they will at similar services in other parts of Yorkshire and the UK, including families of those who were killed. Barnsley town centre roads will be closed off from 11am.
It is from this same spot the ill-fated men of the 13th and 14th Battalions of the York and Lancaster Regiment went to war
The Pals regiments were so-called because the men came from the same communities - they lived, worked, signed up, fought and in many cases died together in the killing fields of northern France.
The Somme, previously know only as a beautiful winding river, became something entirely different.
It is now forever known as the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of all time, notable for the importance of air power and the first use of the tank. The first day saw the heaviest loss of life in a single day in British Military history.
The two Pals battalions were brigaded with the Sheffield City Battalion (12th Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment) and the Accrington Pals (11th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment) in the 94th Brigade of the 31st Division.
The 31st Division was sent to Egypt to guard the Suez Canal before being shipped to France in March 1916.
At the end of the battle, British and French forces had penetrated just six miles into German-occupied territory.
Among the 19,240 lives lost that day, typifying how families suffered terrible, unimaginable heartbreak, were Barnsley brothers Fred, aged 35, Ernest, 33,and Charles, 31.
Fred is the great grandfather of our own Graham Walker who said: "Three brothers killed on the same day would make national headlines these days. But the tragedy was lost among the carnage, as brigade after brigade was ground to a bloody pulp.
"They were told German posts had been so heavily bombed that they wouldn't face any opposition when they went over the top and to casually walk towards the enemy.
"Nothing could have be further from the truth. They were mown down in lines. Survivors told how they saw fallen comrades strung on barbed wire like washing out to dry."
Both Barnsley Pals' battalions took part in the attack on Serre on the first day of the Somme campaign.
Graham, who with family has visited the site to pay respect, added: "What was hell on Earth is now a well-tended farmer’s field, down a tranquil, idyllic country lane near the tiny village of Serre..
"Fred and Ernest, unlike Charles, do not have graves. Their final resting place remains in that farmer';s field,"
Their names are carved on the nearby Thiepval Memorial, commemorating the 72,085 men who died in the area..
Centenary services are also taking place in the battlefields of Serre, Gommecourt, Hebuterne, Beaumont Hamel, Thiepval, Ovillers, La Boisselle, Fricourt and Mametz.
An inscribed circular bronze plaque – known as a “Death Penny” – and a scroll of honour, along with Fred Walker’s prayer book, cap badges and treasured items loaned by other families, will be part of a Stories From The Somme exhibition at the town's Experience Barnsley musuem, inside the Town Hall, from August 24 to Novemebr 20,
Phillip Spurr, Barnsley Council's Service Director, Culture, Housing & Regulation said: “It is important that we remember those brave soldiers who fell in battle. During the event we will get an insight into the challenges of war and the men who died fighting for their beliefs. The public art celebrates their lives and is a tribute to their brave actions.”
Jemma Conway, Barnlsey Council's Audience Development Officer, said:of the glass panel public art work: "We found as many images as we could of individual Barnsley soldiers who died on the first day of the Somme.
"They will be lit up at the front of the Town Hall until November so in winter months it will be really poignant because when people walk past they will know the battle was still going on.
"The Barnsley Pals were at the forefront of the fight. They went over the top on July 1 and not many of them survived.
"It's a really fantastic way of remembering them.
"We've been getting local school children involved and they have been making medals, which will appear as part of the art work. We had 11 school classes, to represent the amount of Pals who died on the first day."
* A limited edition Somme 100 Poppy Lapel Pin, made from British shell fuses fired during the Battle of the Somme and finely ground earth that was collected from the battle sites, has been made to benefit The Royal British Legion - with one for all 19,240 lives lost on the first day of the battle. It's Poppy Shop is showing the item out of stock after high levels of interest this week but those interested in purchasing one are being asked to leave their email address on the site - full details at www.poppyshop.org.uk