The onset on the First World War brought a rush of patriotism when young men eagerly enlisted to fight for their country. At this time enlistment was voluntary but it soon became evident that the number of troops needed was to be greater than first thought. An idea was introduced to encourage volunteers from work, clubs, sporting teams and villages to join up together with the promise that they would be able to serve alongside their friends. The Pals battalions became popular and Portsmouth was one of the first to raise two battalions, the 14th and 15th Battalion Hampshire Regiment in 1914 and 1915, locally known as the Pompey Pals. A third reserve battalion was later raised. Football grounds were the centre of the war effort where they were encouraged to raise funds and used the facilities for drill and training. Fratton Park was used to enlist many of the Pompey Pals as they passed through its gates and in 2015 a memorial was erected to remember these young men.
Chris Pennycook, Mike Hill and J JMarsahallsay from the Pompey Pals Project gave an interesting talk to Cowplain WI, bringing along paintings of local heroes and military artefacts. Mike began the talk with a general insight of events at the time and he said,”Two horrendous events happened in 1916 that affected Portsmouth as it was a military and naval centre area”. “Firstly the Battle of Jutland when 6,095 sailors and 14 ships were lost”. “The second was the Somme where the Pompey Pals fought and on 3rd September, 587 of the 14th Battalion went over the top and at the end of the day there were only 140 left”. Altogether 6,500 enlisted from the Portsmouth area, including Havant, Emsworth, Gosport, Fareham and Alton and 1,425 men died. A limited commemorative Portsmouth Football Club shirt was produced in 2014 containing all 1,425 names.
Chris Pennycook then talked about Ypres and described the area the battalions were fighting in and likened it to a bowl with the British at the bottom and the Germans along the rim. He spoke of local men and women who were awarded for their bravery such as 24 year old Frank Goldsmith from Blendworth who was awarded a VC at the Somme when he bravely captured a pill box and some Germans. He recalled those who contributed in different ways such as Daisy Dobbs, a Portsmouth nurse who received the Military medal after being injured at Salonika and Marion Wylie, who went to and fro across the Channel with vital medical supplies and Mrs L C Paxton who ran a hospital from Langstone Towers and treated 1,430 patients until its closure in 1919.
It was estimated that by the end of 1914, a million Pals had enlisted and proved to be vital to the war effort as Britain at that time had only 80,000 professional soldiers. They came from all walks of life from stock brokers, public schoolboys, sportsmen, artists as well as the ordinary working man. The Pals battalions across the country suffered heavy casualties which made a huge impact on towns, villages and communities until in 1916 conscription was introduced and no further Pals battalions were set up. They were friends and neighbours who went to war supporting each other, making life a bit more tolerable knowing they would watch out for each other. A poem written anonymously sums up the pride of Portsmouth for these brave young men.
“God bless the lads of Pompey The boys in red and blue
Who, one and all rose to the call To see old England through We’re proud of every Briton From near and far away
But we’re extra proud of the little crowd Of Pompey boys today.
A memorial ceremony for the Pompey Pals is planned at Guildhall Square on 9th September 2017.