Join the Barnsley Pals

The Mayor and Council back home in Barnsley, heard how over in Liverpool they’d raised their own battalion and called it a ‘pals battalion’. The idea being, that if you joined it then you could stay with your mates. So, Mayor and Council back home said, “Right, well whatever they can do in Liverpool we can do here”. So they hung this huge banner across the street saying, “Join the Barnsley pals” and they had great meetings at football matches and the like. Had this great meeting down at public hall for instance. I went to that one. Largest meeting I’ve ever been to, because the public hall was filled. So many people that they couldn’t fit ‘em all in, they were actually out in Peel Square in front and all. Amazing! Lots of fellas wanted to join the pals you see.

Now I’m wondering about it and I think it has a lot to do with, well, you see a lot of us lads who work in Barnsley, work down pit. You know I’ve been a miner since the age of thirteen myself and you know it’s a very dangerous job, it’s a very cramped job, you face death on every day basis, so perhaps some of the fellas was thinking this soldiering would be a bit of a break. Always out in the open air, three square meals a day and anyway they told us it would soon be over, over be Christmas and all that, but er, aye lots of fellas wanted to join up at that time. You know I remember one fella they brought up, cos they brought all sorts of people up to speak and tried to get you recruited and that. They had one fella come up from London, aye it was admiral, I think, old fella. Comes up in his big car and he stands in the back of his big car in the middle of this field where all us miners were having a break and he was talking about how he’d come to the finest sporting county in England to look for recruits. Well, you can hardly turn the man down can you? He obviously knows quality when he sees it. Aye, lots of us lads joined up then.

But not me, not straight away. You see I’m a little older than your average recruit and also I’ve got responsibilities. I mean I’m not married or anything like that, but me Mum and Dad rely on me to put food on table for them. Also I was thinking to meself looking about this is a young mans war really. I mean most of the fellas joining up was under twenty. In fact some of them was under age. Not that that seemed to bother the recruiters mind. I mean for instance, erm, lad behind me on sentry duty that’s Harry Hall. Now when Harry went to be recruited he was seventeen, under age, so he goes into recruiting office they say how old are you son and he says I am seventeen sir. Then the recruiting man says, “well why don’t you walk round that table young man and see if you’re not eighteen by the time you come back”, and there’s me at the time I’m pushing twenty-eight, so I thought ‘well I’ll leave ‘em to it’.

But as time went on, it became more difficult not to go. I mean there’s all these pressures on you, you know articles in newspapers, news from the front, you know, tales of horror and you know sort of crimes carried out by the enemy and all sorts of advertisements in newspapers, in the kinema encouraging people to join up, wives, sweethearts, ‘tell your men to go’ and all that sort of thing. And I remember it were in, erm, March, aye it were the 1st of March, there we are, 1st of March 1915. I were going down for me usual shift down the Silkstone pit, only they’d been a cave in and er just couldn’t get down there to do us work, so we was hanging about at pit head. Now Big Ozzie Burgess is one of the lads in our shift. Now he’s “can’t be having this”, he stands up and he says “I’m not having this” he says, “I’m going to enlist”.  We sort of got caught up in it and said, ‘right, if you’re going to enlist so are we’ and before I knew it there I were. I were down at public hall, I had the Bible in one hand, king’s shilling in my pocket and there we are. I joined up.