Leeds Pals Returning Home

Coming back from the ‘war to end all wars’ sadly for many, was not the experience of relief that they had hoped for and expected whilst away on the battlefields of Egypt and France. Many found it extremely difficult to readjust to life back home and found it even more difficult to be accepted back.

Many men had suffered grave physical mental, as well as physical scars from their time on the front line. ‘Shellshock’ blighted the lives of thousands of men who returned home and ostracised them from society in some cases. However, there was a disparity between how the military viewed the condition and how doctors back home. New hospitals (such as Abram Peel, Leeds General Infirmary and Killingbeck Military Hospital) were specially set up in order to care for such men and came to there defence when facing criticism from members of the public and the army.


Hundreds of returning soldiers in Leeds found themselves out of work and therefore were forced to live off their army pensions which when combined with the cost of caring for their wives and their children, was extremely difficult. Such hardships however did not go unnoticed by others living in Leeds and the Yorkshire Evening Post often received letters from members of the local community wishing to help these men through such difficult times.

J. Hazelip, among others, pleaded for soldiers to get in contact so that he could help return them to work wrote with ideas for possible labour organisations; offering work for handymen and unskilled laborers, in order that discharged soldiers could subsidize their living costs and thus cushion their landing upon returning back to Leeds. Much was often made of the debt that the community owed such men and the need to remember the sacrifices that they had made.


Such were the horrors and traumas of service on the battlefields during the First World War and the brutality that is often depicted in the narrative of the conflict, it is often forgotten that for many the war did not end in France or in Egypt it continued when they returned home as well. Charities like the Flag Day Committees suffered from war apathy, the real victims being the returning ‘Tommy’ who counted on them for care and support. This was a sad fact of warfare and continues to the present day.

The experiences of war changed these men forever and altered the course of their lives; injured and scarred, each soldier had his own story of battle, each as harrowing as the one before. What comes from the stories of Leeds however, is a real effort to support those who returned and duty to commemorate those who did not.



Why is it still important to think about WW1?

The overwhelming feeling of pride that we are now experiencing at the end of our project, emanates from being able to open up the history of World War One to a younger generation. Over the last two weeks we have shared our research with year 5 and 6 students at Spring Bank Primary, Kerr Mackie School and Brodeskty Jewish Primary: each different, but equally exciting!

It was fascinating to see how our research engaged the children, and unbelievably rewarding when we saw we had been successful. By focusing on their city’s involvement and by exploring issues that they could relate to (missing sweets for example!) we brought home the continuing significance of The Great War from a fresh perspective.


For our first activity we gave the children boxes full of the items sent out to Leeds soldiers during the war. Of course, there were a few modern equivalents! There was even the smell of sardines! The children were encouraged to think about the soldiers’ experiences of war through these objects… The Yorkshire Post, for example, showing their boredom and their desire to be connected with their home county. We followed this up by giving the children extracts from newspapers and soldiers’ letters to relate to the objects.

Oh, and we threw in a rat for good measure!


This was followed by hot seating, which the children absolutely loved, asking insightful and interesting questions. It made me want to be a child again, with that amazing imagination! Once they were in the mind-set of a Leeds Pal, we got them to write postcards home, detailing their experiences at war and what they personally would miss about home.


And finally, we asked them that all-important question… Why is it still important to think about WW1?


Here we are in Year 6 at Spring Bank Primary, looking proud!

For those of you who might want to carry out a similar workshop, here is our workshop lesson plan, resource pack, and PowerPoint presentations…

Lesson PlanResource Packintroduction and conclusionActivities Presentation


All photos: Tony Glossop,University of Leeds.



Our man Harry!

Captain Harry Oldham of the Leeds Pals.

Captain Harry Oldham of the Leeds Pals.

Yorkshireman. Brother. Soldier. Husband. Spy?

Captain Harry Oldham was a soldier in the West Yorkshire Regiment (the Leeds Pals). We stumbled across his amazing story whilst searching the archives at Leeds University’s Special Collections and couldn’t help but take an interest in this amazing man. Consequently he became our main case study in our research and so it is only right to share his journey with you all.

Captain Oldham fought on the Western Front for the Leeds Pals from 1916. His experiences during the war were constantly masked during his letters home to his parents and brother Fred. He always made sure to stay positive, never talking about the atrocities of the war.

Harry and Fred

Harry and Fred

He often asked for items from home such as a slice of his mothers cake, and note pads to right on and so demonstrate a perfect example of a soldier missing home.

Sadly Harry was shot going over the top during his time on the front line. His wound meant that he was forced to hide in a shell crater for up to 30 hours! Eventually when found, it was by the Germans. Coming from a German speaking background he managed to get himself out of the situation and was sent back to York hospital in England… Lucky man! Whilst there he was overheard muttering German in his sleep and was reported as a German spy by the hospital nurse. Responsibly the surgeon took no notice and operated to save his life. Eventually Harry regainsed consciousness and managed to prove his identity to the hospital and to the red faced nurse… Who he later married! They both later moved to Vancouver to happily live out their lives in peace together.

Harry’s thrilling story is captivating. We are proud to have stumbled upon it and can only say thank you to the Special Collections team at the University of Leeds for all their help during our research.


Missing home: The Leeds Pals in World War One

As you may already know, for the last year we, a group of second and third year history students, have been exploring the expectations and realities of the Leeds soldiers who travelled abroad in the First World War. Looking largely at the role of the Leeds Flag Day Committee in sending out ‘little luxuries’ to the soldiers, we have been fascinated to discover how much Yorkshire meant to those fighting from our city. This week, as one of our project’s outputs, a short film of ours will be showing on the big screen in Millennium Square: a glimpse into the work we’ve been doing. It would be absolutely fantastic for you to wander down, take a look (it’s only three minutes!) and let us know what you think. We believe that the idea of missing home, to which all of us can relate, highlights the continuing relevance of the First World War as we honor its centenary.

And just in case you don’t get the chance to see it up and running… here it is!

Leeds Flag Day Committee

Six unopened boxes. That is what I was faced with at the Leeds City Library back in November-time. An untouched part of the Leeds history, so integral to their legacy during World War One. And within these boxes I discovered the forgotten Leeds Flag Day Committee. On discovering about the Committee, their work has become a crucial part of our research and the ways in which we have taught schoolchildren about the war during workshops which have taken place this week.

The Flag Day Committee was set up in order to provide home comforts to the Leeds Pals and Leeds Rifles whilst they were battling in the trenches of France or the desert of Egypt. The aim of the Flag Day Fund was to maintain a connection with the Leeds community and the local soldiers whilst they were abroad and to send them home comforts and luxuries to remind them of Leeds. They initiated many fundraising activities such as street collecting by Leeds school children in order to send out ‘luxury items.’ These projects were initially very successful and the school children alone raised £33,000 (a considerable amount in days gone by!)



1. Leeds City Library, The Report on the Flag Day Committee, War Charities Act Files

Could you take a guess at what the Leeds soldiers missed the most?

Astonishingly, the most popular item was in fact a tin of sardines and hundreds and thousands of cans were sent to the front line! Interestingly, the items that were considered as luxuries and home comforts are not a far cry from what current soldiers miss today. A very popular request universally is definitely sweets! Whether it was Yorkshire Fruit Pastilles 100 years ago or a packet of Haribo today. Other similarities include a wholesome cup of Yorkshire Tea, notepads and soap. All of these connections with home and Yorkshire are strongly evident and give us an insight into the challenges of being abroad for the first or a considerable period of time.


2. Leeds City Library, Flag Day Files

Our research into the Flag Day Committee has encouraged us to extend the breadth of our knowledge and read soldiers’ letters to their families to reveal more home comforts they asked for. The most popular is certainly ‘mother’s cake’!






3. Letter, 29.12.1916, Harry Oldham

Unfortunately, as the war continued far longer than expected, the amount of money raised for the soldiers depleted considerably and fewer items could be sent out to the trenches by the Flag Days. However, the gratitude that the soldiers’ felt towards their loving city cannot be undermined. It has been a privilege to research the ever-present connection between a city and their young men even during times of hardship and war.


4. Leeds City Library, Yorkshire Post Archives, April 27th, 1918


Meeting Terry Grayshon

A few weeks ago, on a very rainy day, I ventured to the Carlton Barracks in Leeds to meet Terry Grayshon, chairman of the SSAFA in West Yorkshire and ex Mayor of Morley. I wanted to discover how the experience of current soldiers compares to that of soldiers during The Great War…

Terry and I chatted for about an hour and it was absolutely fascinating! As Mayor of Morley he had arranged for ‘comfort boxes’ to be sent out to Afghanistan in 2008, much like the Leeds Flag Day Committee during World War One. He got out a whole folder of thank you letters from the soldiers and let me just flick through them… I hit the jackpot! Understandably, but still to my amazement, the letters from the current soldiers were ridiculously similar to those of the World War One soldiers. They were all grateful for sweets and hygiene related items that livened up their diet and solved the issue of local loo roll that ‘isn’t much cop’. Mainly though, they too were thankful for the thought that the boxes represented. One of the soldiers even referred to himself as a ‘Leeds lad’. Yorkshire is just as important in the 21st Century!

To me, these similarities highlight why it is vital to think about the past. Soldiers’ experiences in World War One are relevant to the experiences of soldiers today and, therefore, to our society.



Biscuits were among the things both sets of soldiers were thankful for.


Read an article from the Morley Observer on the ‘comfort boxes’ here: http://www.morleyobserver.co.uk/news/local/troops-in-afghanistan-send-their-thanks-to-morley-1-1450550

The Leeds Pals in France

At 6:30am on 1st March 1916 the Leeds Pals embarked on the HMT ‘Ascania’ and set off for Marseilles. Private Morris Fleming recalled that ‘we were all sure we were going on to Berlin’.[1] To push back the Germans was, of course, the job they had enlisted to do. Expectations were undoubtedly high. Still, Private Pearson remembered that ‘the first French word as we tied up at the docks was ‘doughnuts’, which sounded English enough to me’.[2] It is interesting to note that, despite high expectations, soldiers continued to relish in reminders of home.

France was unquestionably more similar to England than Egypt. We can assume that the soldiers initially felt more at ease there. Some even gave their French a whirl. One soldier mistakenly said to a shop assistant ‘Je sus un oeuf s’il vous plait’… I am an egg, not have you got an egg![3]

Yet, whilst France was geographically and culturally closer to home, emotionally it was much further.

To go from Egypt to France was exciting, but a tough transition. One of the key differences was the weather, which we all know can dampen a good mood! They may have been at a loose end in Africa, but to go from that to serious and heavy involvement in the war cannot have been enjoyable. As Lieutenant Bickersteth noted ‘12 miles in full packs, when we have done no marching for at least three months, is a fairly large order’.[4]

On 29th March 1916 the Leeds Pals spent their first day in the trenches. Almost a month later, on 26th April, they suffered their first casualty from enemy action, Sergeant Clifford Brooke. It becomes clear that the reality of France was drastically harder than the reality of Egypt.

Private George Cosby recorded his experience in a diary:

’22 May 1916 – A terrible night. Front trenches shelled for over an hour… bat. suffers greatest loss so far – about 50 casualties… An unforgettable experience.’

‘3 June 1916 – Very drab outlook at this period. Nothing to look forward to except a possible ‘Blighty.’[5] 

The soldiers’ high expectations were no doubt shattered. It must be remembered that the Pals battalions consisted of men who had volunteered with their friends, their family and their colleagues. They had previously been accustomed to constant reminders of home, but gradually these disappeared, making them miss Leeds even more. Corporal W. Arthur Hollings wrote mournfully to his father ‘nearly all the men about me are new as very few of the old lot are left’.[6]

Once in France, missing home became a much more difficult reality.

[1] Private Morris Fleming cited in Laurie Milner, Leeds Pals: a history of the 15th (Service) Battalion (1st Leeds) The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) 1914-1918 (London: Leo Cooper, 1991), p. 112.

[2] Private Arthur Pearson cited in Milner, p. 112.

[3] Clifford Hollingworth cited in Milner, p. 116.

[4] Lieutenant S. Morris Bickersteth cited in Milner, p. 116.

[5] Private George Cosby cited in Milner, p. 127 and p. 132.

[6] Corporal W. Arthur Hollings cited in Milner, p. 172.

Leeds University UGRE event 2014

On Wednesday 19th February we were lucky enough to be able to take part in the Undergraduate Research Showcase at Leeds University.

This was a great opportunity to present our research, learn more about other undergraduates’ research, and even enjoy some UGRE themed snacks!


We compiled some our favorite material, quotes and case studies at our stall, and even recreated a flag day box with examples of items that soldiers had asked for during the First World War.


The modern versions of these items gave our box a pretty different look to one that the soldiers would have received, although we did recreate an authentic bottle of Yorkshire relish:


Later on in the day we gave a workshop in which we passed the box and certain articles and quotes around for discussion. This was very interesting and we obtained some great suggestions about our research, such as the possibility of comparing soldiers’ requests from different parts of the country.Image

Overall it was a fascinating day! Thanks to everyone who participated in our workshop, and thanks UGRE!


Expectations and Realities

So, we’ve had a bit of a break from blog writing – Christmas and exams have taken over these last couple of months – but now, we’re back!

The last post was all about our visit to Leeds Central Library: a visit that has heavily influenced how our project has progressed. The little luxuries sent to Leeds soldiers by the Flag Day Committee show how, whilst many soldiers were eager to go abroad, they needed slices of home to sustain them. This evidence has inspired us to include a comparative study at the centre of our research, as we will look at expectations of, and realities for, Leeds soldiers during the Great War.

Here’s a very brief examination of the Leeds Pals experience in Egypt:

On the 7th December 1915, the Leeds Pals set sail for Egypt, full of anticipation, to defend against the threat of invasion along the Suez Canal. For many, it was their first time travelling abroad.

 ‘What a pandemonium broke out as we moved slowly from our moorings.’[1]

Egypt was undoubtedly different to Yorkshire! It is likely that the soldiers didn’t know what to expect once they got there.

 ‘Don’t you know a scorpion, you silly bugger, when you see one!’ I said, ‘no, never seen a scorpion!’[2]

They were both curious and fearful of the unknown.

 ‘You weren’t allowed to go into Arabtown, that was out of bounds, but of course I went in… You felt as if they’d started watching you then… we just put our hands on our bayonets like that.’[3]

One article, that I stumbled upon while sifting through the reams of wartime newspaper clippings in the Library, captures how being in such a different country could exceed expectations, yet, at the same time, foster a longing for home.


Leeds Central Library, Leeds and the European War News cuttings, Vol. 3, 1915-1916, p. 156.  

To summarise in a sentence, the article details the ‘wonderful sights’ of Egypt, but also how the soldiers were ‘miles from civilization’.  Yes, Egypt was the hot country of sea and sand that we envisage today, and yes, the Pals were involved in only minor encounters. It must not be forgotten however that these soldiers were still at war, thousands of miles away from Yorkshire. Water was scarce, the ‘daily ration… was one mess tin per man’ for everything, and they were often ‘troubled by visitors’.[4] ‘The only notable complaint’ mentioned in the article‘ is the delivery of mails’, demonstrating how difficulties combined to make the soldiers crave word from home.[5]

On the 1st March 1916, the Leeds Pals set sail for France: geographically closer to home, but emotionally much further. Look out for the next post for the next stage in their journey!


[1] Private Arthur Pearson cited in Laurie Milner, Leeds Pals: a history of the 15th (Service) Battalion (1st Leeds) The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) 1914-1918 (London: Leo Cooper, 1991), p. 90.

[2] Private Arthur Dalby cited in Milner, p. 95.

[3] Private Clifford Hollingworth cited in Milner, p. 94.

[4] Private Arthur Pearson cited in Milner, p. 101 and Leeds Central Library (CL), Leeds and the European War News cuttings, Vol. 3, 1915-1916, p. 157.

[5] Leeds CL, News Cuttings, p. 157.

Anyone for sardines?

Today was field trip day!

We took a trip to Leeds Central Library to take a look at their incredible collection.  Louise, a local and family history librarian, introduced us to some absolutely fascinating resources.


Leeds Central Library: an amazing building if any of you get the chance to visit!

Something that has intrigued us, as we’ve explored the experiences of Leeds soldiers abroad, is the Flag Day Committee that was set up in the city during the war. The Committee, and the ‘Flag Days’ they organised, were dedicated to providing Leeds soldiers with little luxuries and reminders of home, encouraging individuals and businesses alike to donate all manner of items. The packages they sent are a brilliant example of how soldiers remained connected to their hometown even when fighting abroad.

The library has eight boxes full of letters and reports detailing what the soldiers wanted and what was sent to them. You can only imagine our excitement as history students as we sifted through them!


Alex, Noga, Briony and Dom engrossed in the material provided!

Would you believe that over the course of the war some 10,504 bottles of Yorkshire Relish were sent to the Leeds battalions! Other things both sent and requested were chocolate, cigarettes, chewing gum, footballs and whistles. The abundance of thank you letters received by the Committee demonstrates how such small gifts meant so much to the soldiers. From reading just a fraction of the letters we were able to gain great insight into the soldiers’ experience of being in a foreign country. Good food, entertainment, cleanliness and, of course, Yorkshire itself were clearly missed!

The amount of soldiers requesting sardines however, did surprise us: four thousand tins were sent to them overall, so they must have been pretty chuffed!



As well as the Flag Day Committee boxes, Louise also presented us with three huge volumes of newspaper cuttings from Leeds during the war, a soldiers diary, the absent voters list, the electoral register and the 1911 census. These should allow us to piece together the lives of specific soldiers – where they lived, their families and their personal experiences of war – giving our project that depth, which will make it all the more interesting. Whilst we were unable to study everything today, given the sheer volume of it all, having a flick through showed us that we will not be short of information.

So, what would you miss if you were fighting abroad? Would it be sardines? Or, as I suspect, would it be something else?