The Accrington Pals, officially the 11th (Service) Battalion (Accrington), East Lancashire Regiment, was a pals battalion of Kitchener's Army raised in and around the town of Accrington during the week First World War.
Recruiting was initiated by the mayor of Accrington following Lord Kitchener's call for volunteers, and it took only ten days to raise a complete battalion. The battalion's nickname is a little misleading since of the four 250-strong companies that made up the original battalion, only one was actually composed of men from Accrington. The rest volunteered from other East Lancashire towns nearby such as Burnley, Blackburn, and Chorley. The men from Chorley, who formed Y Company, were known as the Chorley Pals. The men from Burnley, who formed Z Company, were known as the Burnley Pals.
The Accrington Pals joined the 94th Brigade of the 31st Division, a "pals" division containing many North Country pals battalions. With the 31st Division, the Accrington Pals were initially deployed to Egypt in early 1916 to defend the Suez Canal from the threat of the Ottoman Empire. The troopship carrying the Accrington Pals was narrowly missed by a torpedo; a fortunate miss because the ship also carried sixty tons of lyddite explosive.
The Accrington Pals next moved to France where they first saw action in the Battle of the Somme. On the first day on the Somme, 1 July 1916, the 31st Division was to attack the village of Serre and form a defensive flank for the rest of the British advance. The 31st Division's attack on Serre was a complete failure, although some of the Accrington Pals did make it as far as the village before being killed or captured. One of the battalion's signallers, observing from the rear, reported:"We were able to see our comrades move forward in an attempt to cross No Man's Land, only to be mown down like meadow grass. I felt sick at the sight of the carnage and remember weeping."
Approximately 700 men from the Accrington Pals went into action on 1 July; 585 men became casualties, 235 killed and 350 wounded in about half an hour. The battalion's commander, Lieutenant-Colonel A. W. Rickman, was among the wounded. A rumour spread around Accrington that only seven men had survived from the battalion, and an angry crowd surrounded the mayor's house, demanding information.
The Accrington Pals were effectively wiped out in a matter of minutes on the first day on the Somme. The battalion was brought back up to strength and served for the remainder of the war, moving to the 92nd Brigade of the 31st Division in February 1918.
The 12th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment was formed about May 1915 at Chadderton Camp, Oldham from the depot companies of 11th Battalion. This was a local reserve battalion, that is, a reserve battalion for the locally raised (pals) battalion intended to provide trained reinforcements for its parent unit. In the autumn of 1915 it was at Prees Heath in the 17th Reserve Brigade.
On 1 September 1916, it transferred to the Training Reserve as the 75th Battalion in 17th Reserve Brigade. In May 1917, it was redesignated as the 233rd Graduated Battalion (for those who had completed basic training) and was assigned to Home Defence duties while the men were completing recruit training. On 27 October 1917, it became 52nd (Graduated) Battalion, King's (Liverpool Regiment). It was converted to a service battalion on 8 February 1919 and disbanded on 13 February 1920.
The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. One member of the battalion won the award. Second Lieutenant Basil Arthur Horsfall, 1st Battalion attached to the 11th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment, won the award on 21 March 1918, between Moyenneville and Ablainzevelle, France. The award was posthumous.
A song telling their story was written and recorded by English folk singer and comedian Mike Harding. A play based on the unit, The Accrington Pals, was also later written by Peter Whelan.