I knew that many of the men I researched for my book, Great Sacrifice: The Old Boys of Barnsley Holgate Grammar School in the First World War, had served on the Somme in 1916 from the 30 names in cemeteries or on memorials in that area. Ten Old Boys were killed in action on 1 July 1916. In autumn 2015, I decided that I wanted to pay special tribute to them and others for the centenary of the Somme Offensive (no civic event was planned at that time but many Barnsley dignitaries were going to the Somme for the anniversary). I discussed this with one of the relations and the seeds for my commemoration were planted!
I had visited the outdoor chapel at Silverwood Scout Camp in Silkstone in 2013 while researching war memorials for the project I founded to create a Barnsley Roll of Honour. As the site was originally called Newhall Camp, where the Barnsley Pals were billetted and trained, this seemed the ideal venue because of their involvement on the Somme. I booked it for the afternoon of 1 July 2016.
Although I wanted to remember all of the men who served in the two battalions of the Barnsley Pals (13th and 14th York and Lancaster Regiment), I did not want to limit my commemoration in any way as I was aware of the many different regiments that local people had served in. In my publicity, I invited anyone in Barnsley or the surrounding area to attend and to nominate relations (wherever they lived) whom they would like to have remembered at this event – as follows:
‘The aim is to remember ALL those who participated in the Somme Battles of 1916, throughout 1916 and in whatever capacity.
‘We will pay special tribute to the massive number of troops who were killed in preparations for the ‘Big Push’, on the First Day of the Somme and the 140 days afterwards in many different regiments, battalions and other services.
‘However, we will not forget that many more men were wounded; some died later in the war and others survived, but all involved suffered psychological trauma from their experience’.
I wanted to keep control over the commemoration by organising it on my own and co-ordinating invaluable support from others. However, this meant that I was not in a position to seek any funding. I am, therefore, extremely grateful to Paul Unsworth and his team of Scouting volunteers for allowing me to use the site free of charge as well as for their practical help. I am fortunate that the Scouts erected a new building with kitchen facilities this spring, so I am also able to use the Billingham Centre for displays and refreshments.
The event is taking place from 1pm to 3pm. There will be displays about the history of the site (including a survey carried out by Elmet Archaeological Services and photographs of occupation by the Barnsley Pals), background to the Somme Battles and details of men to be remembered. (These include 41 Old Boys and nine brothers as I subsequently researched which battles they fought in. There could be more but I have not had access to Service Records to ascertain when they enlisted and whether they transferred battalions or regiments). I will be showing a DVD of the original film footage of 1916 and re-enactments by Silkstone Primary School. Any proceeds from sales of my book on the day will be donated towards the upkeep of this special site, together with money from the collection I will be holding.
The secular Remembrance Service will be in the outdoor chapel (whatever the weather) at 2pm and the stories of some of the men will be read by their relations or students from Horizon Community College. (Horizon opened in 2012 having amalgamated the Holgate and another secondary school in Barnsley).
Twin brothers from Horizon will sound the Last Post after a two-minute silence. Class 5 from Silkstone Primary School are going to sing two songs popular in the First World War and there will be a couple of surprises for those attending.
It has been an enormous amount of ‘work’ but very satisfying on a personal level. I wish we could have carried out a full rehearsal but the most important thing is that we all remember those involved. I’d like to express my thanks to the Barnsley Chronicle who have given the event a lot of publicity.