Memorial to the Pals Battalions

A new memorial to the brave Liverpool men who formed the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Pals Battalions of the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment

Before World War I, the British Army had relied on professional soldiers to fight for king and country. But from the outset, Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, believed that the way to victory lay in superior manpower. He began a massive recruitment campaign and one of the most successful contributions came from Liverpool. At Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby’s suggestion, men were encouraged to volunteer alongside their friends and work colleagues, their ‘pals’.

Liverpool Pals on St George's Plateau

Liverpool Pals on St George’s Plateau

Liverpool set the example for the rest of the country. Within a few days of Lord Derby’s proposal, thousands of men had enlisted at St George’s Hall alongside friends, colleagues and workmates. The overwhelming response saw the creation of four new battalions: the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th.

The newly formed Pals Battalions swelled the ranks of the King’s Regiment (Liverpool), which itself had a proud history as one of the British Army’s oldest infantry regiments, founded in 1685. In recognition of Lord Derby’s role, the Pals volunteers wore an Eagle and Child cap badge, his family crest, rather than the King’s Regiment’s usual White Horse of Hanover.

Training was tough – equipment was scarce, and much time was spent digging on Lord Derby’s estate in preparation for the trench warfare was to come. In early November 1915, all four Liverpool Pals Battalions were sent to France. They acquitted themselves well, for example playing a significant role in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. But it came at a price. Over 200 Liverpudlians were killed on the first day in the capture of Montauban – one of the very few victories on a day which saw the British Army lose 19,240 soldiers in total. Five hundred more Liverpool Pals died in a subsequent failed attack in the village of Guillemont.

In all, the Liverpool Pals Battalions suffered more than 2,800 casualties during the course of the Great War. However, wherever these men fought, they maintained their reputation for bravery, toughness and camaraderie in the face of the enemy.

The tragedy of Pals Battalions was that, although men served with friends and colleagues, they also died alongside them, leaving home towns and cities decimated and devastated. By January 1916, conscription had been introduced instead; and many Pals Battalions, struck by such heavy losses, were amalgamated into other regiments.

But Liverpool’s brave men were among the last to be stood down at the end of the war, just as they had been among the first to step forward and fight for peace.

To commemorate the day when thousands of Liverpool workers volunteered to fight for the freedom of their fellow men, a 30ft bronze memorial frieze created by Tom Murphy will be unveiled at Lime Street Station on 31 August 2014. The memorial to the Pals Battalions has been commissioned by the Liverpool Pals Memorial Fund. We look forward to seeing this special monument to commemorate some of Liverpool’s bravest and finest sons.

Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.

Captain William Thomas Turner

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the sinking of RMS Lusitania, one of the worst casualties of WWI in which 1,198 people lost their lives.

Capt William Turner

Capt William Turner

Captain William Thomas Turner was her commander when she sank, torpedoed by a German submarine. This was just one incident in a life full of adventure and bravery, but one that haunted him until his death.

Born in Clarence Street, Everton in 1856, Will Turner followed in his father’s footsteps, embarking on a life at sea as a cabin boy at the age of just eight. When the barque he was on was wrecked in a gale off the coast of Ireland, he refused all offers of help and swam to shore himself. Over the coming years, he would escape further disasters, including being swept overboard, shipwrecks and yellow fever, but never lost his boyhood dream of becoming a ship’s captain.

He became known for acts of bravery, putting himself at risk to save others in danger, and won various accolades throughout his career from the Humane Society and the government for his role in the Boer War.

Finally in 1903, he achieved his goal, becoming captain of Cunard’s ship, the Aleppo. While he was loved by the men who served under him, Cunard often didn’t know what to make of him. His bosses respected his ability, but disapproved of his gruff and dismissive way with the passengers. For instance, he often refused to carry out the custom of dining with them at the Captain’s table. Oddly, though, this only seemed to endear him to the travelling public even more and they actively asked to sail with him! He built a reputation for the fastest sailings, with the quickest turnarounds at ports, too.

Will first took command of the Lusitania in 1907, and then after promotions to captaincy of the Mauretania and Aquitania, resumed his command over the doomed vessel in April 1915 after her previous captain had retired due to nervous exhaustion from the constant threat from German U-boats. Less than a month later, RMS Lusitania, with Captain Will Turner at her helm, fell victim to German submarine U-20. A significant factor in her terrifyingly fast sinking was thought to be the substantial cargo of munitions she was secretly carrying in support of the war effort. Another element was the fact that the Admiralty had seen fit to withdraw Lusitania’s escort ship, HMS Juno, despite being aware of the German presence in the area.

Memorial to Capt William Turner, Rake Lane Cemetery, Wallasey

Memorial to Capt William Turner, Rake Lane Cemetery, Wallasey

Reluctant to accept responsibility, the Admiralty openly and loudly blamed Turner, even going so far as to say he was in the pay of the Germans and had sabotaged his own ship. Although he was later cleared of guilt by the Mersey Inquiry and Mayer hearings, and awarded the OBE in 1918 for his war efforts, controversy dogged him even in retirement. Hounded by the press after Churchill repeated the allegations against him in his memoirs, he sadly died almost a recluse, bitter and still living in the shadow of the disaster, in 1933. He is buried in Rake Lane Cemetery in Wallasey.



Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.

First World War Memorial Roll of Honour of Liverpool’s Military War Dead

Hall of Remembrance, Town Hall, Liverpool

Hall of Remembrance, Town Hall, Liverpool

There are many memorials to those who died during the Great War. One of the most notable ones in Liverpool is the First World War Memorial Roll of Honour of Liverpool’s Military War Dead. This is located in the Hall of Remembrance at Liverpool Town Hall in the city centre.

The original list was started during the war itself, when the names of locals who had been killed in combat were posted in a window overlooking Exchange Flags. As relatives were notified of their lost loved ones, they queued to add their names to ensure they were remembered for their sacrifice. Many served as members of The King’s Regiment (Liverpool), although there are also men with local connections who died in service in the armed forces of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and beyond.

The roll now stands at well over 13,000 names, all of which have been added to a searchable database here.

Among the names listed are many of Liverpool’s brave VC winners, such as:

  • Captain Noel Chavasse, the only man to be awarded the VC twice in WWI and who died from wounds sustained on the battlefield while rescuing wounded comrades at Passchendaele;
  • Lieutenant Edward Felix Baxter of the Royal Engineers, The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, a former Isle of Man TT rider who lost his life at Arras, but not before he had won a VC for cutting barbed wire in front of German trenches for two nights running and leading a raiding party on the third; and
  • Sergeant Thomas Neely, who won a posthumous VC for rushing several enemy machine gun positions, single-handedly killing or capturing their operators and silencing their fire. He was killed four days later in the field while advancing on German positions at Rumilly.

Sadly, the list is by no means complete. Because entry onto it depended on relatives making the notification, there are of course many who have been missed, for various reasons However, year on year, people continue to add their ancestors’ names, making it a living memorial to those who died so that we could live in peace. This year alone, at least a further 37 names have been added as keen historians and genealogists discover more about their forefathers and seek to get them recognised for paying the ultimate sacrifice.

You can have the name of your relative added by applying to the Town Hall with evidence of his connection with Liverpool.

Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.

Remembering the Great War (1914 – 1918)

The Sinking of RMS Lusitania, a Disaster for Liverpool

As we arrive at the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War (1914-1918), our blogs for the next few weeks focuses on some of the defining moments for Liverpool during those terrible years.

RMS Lusitania arriving in New York on her maiden voyage

RMS Lusitania arriving in New York on her maiden voyage

With Liverpool’s status as a leading UK port, it’s inevitable that many of her tragedies during war as well as peace-time involve the sea. One such event was the sinking of the steamship RMS Lusitania, a British ocean liner owned and operated by Cunard. At the time of her launch in 1906, Lusitania took the prize as the fastest and most luxurious ship in the world; and she sailed regularly between Liverpool and New York, until the fateful day of 7 May 1915, when she was torpedoed by German submarine U-20 off the coast of Ireland.

Struck in the hull, this magnificent, proud ship sank within just 18 minutes with a massive loss of life. Of the 1,198 people known to have died that day, 785 were civilian passengers and 413 were crew. Poignantly for Liverpool, many of the crew came from close-knit Irish communities living in the north of the city. In fact, recent research has shown that altogether, around 600 people aboard had links with Liverpool, the Wirral and the wider region that is now Merseyside.

Significantly in terms of the course of WWI, 128 of the deceased passengers were US citizens, which had a dramatic effect on America’s view of Germany. Although not a direct result of the Lusitania’s sinking, it was a contributory factor to the United States joining the Allies against Germany in 1917 – which in turn was a decisive moment in the eventual Allied victory over the Central Powers of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Many victims of the disaster were buried in mass graves in the Old Church Cemetery, Queenstown, Ireland, not far from the site of the wreck.  

Among the memorials in Liverpool to those who lost their lives in this impressive ship’s sinking, an annual memorial service takes place each year in front of a salvaged propeller from this tragic ship, held by the Merseyside Maritime Museum on the dockside between the Museum itself and the Museum of Liverpool. Next year, of course, will see the 100th anniversary of the catastrophe. There is also a memorial constructed in glass in St James’ Church, Mill Lane, West Derby in Liverpool.

Louise McTigue is a freelance researcher and writer, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials Liverpool.