Patriotism of the Pals Battalions

03 January 2014

Area Studies | History | War and Conflict

It’s always fascinating when you come across old photographs of your local area. Not only can you see how a place has been completely modernised, but they also serve as a captivating snapshot of the past, particularly if they show a particular event or people in motion.
I’ve recently been looking through a collection of photographs of the Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, also known as ‘Bristol’s Own’, as part of our forthcoming resource The First World War: Propaganda and Recruitment. The outbreak of war in 1914 created a surge of optimism, enthusiasm and community spirit. There was a remarkable and immediate response to army enlistment, revealing both the high tide of patriotism and the strong reaction to various tales of German atrocities. Consequently, men began to join up in their thousands. Prior to the initial waves of recruitment, Lord Kitchener supported the idea that men were more likely to enlist if they were given the opportunity to fight alongside members of their own community; whether it was with friends, work colleagues, or fellow members of a sports club or band. Putting this strategy into practice, local battalions were established, one of which was ‘Bristol’s Own’.

This photograph shows Park Street, a large street in the heart of Bristol. It’s a fascinating picture that shows one of the many regiments leaving Bristol to train and prepare for the battlefields that lay ahead of them. Seeing soldiers lined up and marching in their masses, one can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness knowing that so many of the local battalions never returned to their home communities; as a result, many households and families within that same area were torn apart.

The very nature of the Pals Battalions changed as enthusiasm and optimism were severely affected by the increasing number of casualties on the front line, particularly with the huge British losses at the Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916. That same year, conscription was introduced, with the need to enforce a military strategy as part of the recruitment process. The battalions themselves existed for the duration of the war, but replacements came from anywhere in the country, so the original local battalion was lost forever.

Many more photographs of the Bristol and Gloucestershire battalions are featured in our upcoming digital resource The First World War: Propaganda and Recruitment, publishing October 2013.

About the Author

Sarah Mellowes

I am an Editor at Adam Matthew Digital, an academic digital publisher of primary source collections for the arts and humanities. Since joining in October 2012, I have primarily worked on our First World War portal, featuring items sourced from leading libraries and archives around the world.