“There were no men left …” Bradford and the Somme

1 July 1916 was the first day of the Somme Offensive, which became known as the most terrible battle of the First World War, the battle of the Somme.

Two battalions of Bradford ‘Pals’ were among the troops of 93 Brigade crossing No-Man’s-Land at Serre, towards barbed wire and machine guns that were not supposed to be there: artillery had been bombarding the German lines for seven days, but in Serre bad weather had hampered efforts.  The advance went ahead anyway: ‘The Corps Commander was extremely optimistic, telling everybody that the wire had been blown away (we could see it standing strong and well), there were no German trenches and all we had to do was walk into Serre.’ Colonel Howard (93 Brigade Major).

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1st Bradford Pals battalion button-hole badge, IWM (full credit below).

The men did not stand a chance: among the shocking casualty figures of that first day alone, the worst day in the history of the British Army, we see that of 2000 Bradford men advancing at Serre, only 223 survived.

The Pals battalions had been set up during the early stages of the war, before conscription was introduced in 1916.  Allowing men to sign up and serve alongside their family, friends, colleagues etc made them more likely to join, and many such battalions formed around the country. The 1st Bradford Pals, (16th (Service) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment), began recruiting in September 1914, enthusiastic patriotism ensuring that the battalion reached full strength within the month.  Recruitment for the 2nd Bradford Pals (18th (Service) Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment), which began in February 2015, was much slower as the first fervour gave way to the reality of industrial stalemate trench warfare.

The story of the Pals is particularly heart-breaking because the losses struck whole communities at once: the men joined together, fought together, and died together, leaving cities in mourning.  We should not forget of course that many other Bradford men served (and died) in other battalions participating in the Somme Offensive and throughout the war.

One such was Jack Priestley, the Bradford lad who would become J.B. the famous author, though he survived the war, escaping the Somme by a lucky chance.  He had joined up soon after war was declared, alone, travelling to Halifax on a tram, to sign up for the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment.  His friends joined Bradford’s Pals battalions en masse a little later on. One beautiful morning in June 1916, he was sorting out rations for his men in a small dugout which was hit by a massive trench mortar.  Jack spent the Somme summer convalescing in a country house in Rutland, not returning to the front line until 1918.

Jack (JB) Priestley with concert party at Hambleton Hall convalescent home, Summer 1916 (ref PRI/2/6)

Priestley (second from left) and concert party at Hambleton Hall convalescent home, 1916 (reference PRI/2/6)

Together with the impact of the war on the German community which had contributed so much to the city’s industrial growth, the loss of a generation of young men seriously diminished Bradford’s economy, culture and society.  Much later Jack Priestley bore witness to what he had seen, and who and what had been lost:

“… I should not be writing this book now if thousands of better men had not been killed; and if they had been alive still, it is certain that I should have been writing, if at all, about another and better England.  I have had playmates, I have had companions, but all, all are gone; and they were killed by greed and muddle and monstrous cross-purposes, by old men gobbling and roaring in clubs, by diplomats working underground like monocled moles, by journalists wanting a good story …”. English Journey.

Sources: these stories are richly documented online and in print, and I have drawn on much sources in writing this short account.

The title is from the report of Sergeant-Major Cussins in the ‘1st Pals’ War Diary of 1 July 1916, quoted on the Bradford Pals website.

Colonel Howard’s quotation is taken from the Western Front Association’s page about Serre.

The information about recruitment is from Bradford: remembering 1914-18 by Kathryn Hughes.

Priestley on the First World War: English Journey, Margin Released, key writings collected in Priestley’s Wars, and in my chapter in Bradford in the First World War (contact me if you can’t get hold of a copy).

Credit: badge copyright IWM, full details on this page.  Shared here under IWM non-commercial licence.

 

Mini Masterpieces

J.B. Priestley was a superlative and prolific essay writer.  Getting started as a professional author after the First World War, he produced hundreds of pieces for newspapers and periodicals.  These were often in a belles-lettristic style which was even then falling out of fashion: “personal in tone but elaborately composed”,  whimsical, mannered, self-deprecating.   But the demands and restrictions of such writing helped Priestley learn his craft.   Gradually he found his natural voice, a style which appears personal, even chatty, but which is really carefully thought out and precise.

By the end of the 1920s, as Susan Cooper observed, Priestley was “writing as well in [essay] form as any man alive and a great many dead”.  His journalism, his broadcasts, and much of his non-fiction – in fact, many of his finest works – have the same mix of precision and personality as his essays.  Priestley wrote in essay form to share what delighted him; to reflect on society, culture and politics; to publicise his opinions – and sometimes to have a good grumble.

NHE Priestley_300pdi_1200px

It is therefore a joy to report that a new collection of Priestley’s essays is about to appear in print, under the excellent title, Grumbling at Large.  The volume should be a Delight to own and to read, as its publisher, Notting Hill Editions, specialises in essays and pays great attention to design, typography etc.  I love their typographic covers!

But how to condense a lifetime of miniature gems into one slim volume?  The editor, Valerie Grove, has had a difficult task.  I’ll be keen to see if my favourites (“Gin and Tonic” and “Quietly Malicious Chairmanship“) have made it in!

Quotations from Margin Released and J.B. Priestley: portrait of an author.

The Time Capsule is Open!

12 April 1991. As part of the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the University of Bradford, a time capsule was sealed into the foyer of Richmond Building.  University staff had been asked to suggest “sensible but imaginative objects” (the winners received bottles of sparkling wine) which were put into the capsule before it was locked by Vice Chancellor David Johns and Chair of Council Roger Suddards.

12 April 2016. As part of the celebrations of the University’s 50th anniversary, the time capsule was opened at a special event for staff and students.  Watch the event, including a “show and tell” by Alison Cullingford the Special Collections Librarian (me!), on this Youtube video:

We were delighted that Professor Peter Excell was able to attend: his talk covered his choice of object (the super-conductor) and his memories of 1991.   A large and lively crowd clearly enjoyed finding out more about the objects and the story of the University: thanks to all involved in organising or participating: it was fun!

You can see photographs of the objects on the Time Capsule’s webpage. The media then (and now) were most interested in those representing University Chancellors.  Our Chancellor at the time, industrialist and TV personality Sir John Harvey-Jones, contributed this huge tie: he often wore such a tie when he visited the University.  Sir Harold Wilson, the first Chancellor (1966-1986), was by then too frail to attend, but sent one of his iconic pipes.  It still has the faintest trace of tobacco.

Other favourites included:

  • Menu from the University refectory, featuring a sponge pudding for 30p;
  • Calculator – which still worked when we switched it on.  Impressive!
  • Score of Jubilate, a piece written by the then Fellow in Music Graham Coatman and performed as part of the celebrations;
  • Disposable surgical retractor, developed by David Sharpe of the Burns Research Unit.  This innovative design was awarded the Prince of Wales award for best invention in 1988;
  • and lots lots more (the capsule was as full as it could be.  Clearly staff then, as now, were inspired by the capsule idea).

The objects are now part of the University Archive in Special Collections; everyone is welcome to arrange a visit to see them.  Colleagues at the University, please contact me (Alison)  if you would like a mini-opening in your own department.

 

Opening the Time Capsule

In 1991 the University of Bradford celebrated its 25th anniversary.  As part of the celebrations a time capsule was locked away in one of our buildings.  For the 50th anniversary, we are going to open the box!

Staff and students of the University are welcome to come along to enjoy this unique event and see what their 90s counterparts thought we might find interesting.  Tuesday 12 April 2016, 1.30 till 2.30 in Richmond Atrium.

I don’t seem to have an image showing the locking of the capsule, so I thought you might like this prospectus which has a very 1991 flavour to it.

Mathematics and statistics undergraduate courses and research prospectus 1991

Mathematics and statistics undergraduate courses and research prospectus 1991

What do you think might be in the capsule?  And what would you put in a 2016 version?

3 February 1966. Bradford’s starter for ten??

Starter question.  What famous jazz musician had the Christian names Ferdinand Joseph de la Menthe?

If you were concerned with Hooke’s Law, would you be more likely to be a student of church history, a statistician, a manufacturer of braces, or a pirate?

From Shakespeare, which character said (and in which play)? “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad”.

Can you guess which quiz show sent these specimen questions to Bradford students?  No conferring!

Yes, it could only be University Challenge, the famously fast-moving and difficult quiz for teams of students, first broadcast in 1962.

UNI X0414. Javelin, 3 Feb.1966. B.I.T. and University Challenge

In 1966, Students’ Union official Roger Iles contacted the programme’s producer, Douglas Terry, and its maker, Granada Television, to ask whether Bradford Institute of Technology (BIT) would be able to take part in the programme.  BIT was after all just about to become a “University”.  His enquiry was welcomed and Bradford was invited to put together a team for the autumn series.  BIT was thus the first College of Advanced Technology turned University to be recognised in this way.

The 3 February 1966 issue of Javelin shared the good news and the call for entries.  The  specimen questions were included to help students decide if they were up to the standard of the competition.  Answers at the bottom of this article  (No googling!).

It took a few years, but Bradford University did eventually become University Challenge Champions.

Other stories from the 3 February issue:

Telly Tales

Five students living in Revis Barber Hall of Residence had jointly hired a television set which was “capable” of receiving a hazy BBC-2: a slightly more “highbrow” channel than the existing BBC and ITV programmes, and with a remit including arts, culture and education.  Assuming the set could in practice receive the channel, the students would have been able to watch Playschool, Horizon, and (the following year) the unmissable Forsyte Saga.

Toilet Wars

Students were asked to stop stealing glasses from the Union Bar and were rebuked for using “vulgar language” in the “conveniences” on Richmond D Floor.  This had upset a member of staff and meant students were banned from the only toilets on the same floor as the Bar – inconvenient!

Ad of the Week

Excel Bowling (Canterbury Avenue).  Ten-pin bowling had become really popular in Britain during the 1960s.  Excel was a large chain of bowling alleys.

UNI X0414. Javelin, 3 Feb.1966. Excel Bowl, Bradford. Bowling advertisement

Your answers:

  • Jelly Roll Morton
  • A manufacturer of braces (i.e. interested in the properties of elastic).
  • Antonio, in the Merchant of Venice.

J.B. Priestley’s Lost City

This Sunday, 31 January 2016, a rare chance to see J.B. Priestley’s Lost City, thanks to the National Media Museum and the J.B. Priestley Society.  Lost City is a 1958 BBC documentary.  It shows the Bradford-born author revisiting his boyhood haunts, many of which were soon to be lost in the 1960s remodelling of the city.  If you’ve never seen the legendary Swan Arcade, Priestley’s teenage workplace, this film is a must!

An afternoon with J.B. Priestley also includes other Priestley rarities, plus an interview with Mavis Dean, who accompanied Priestley in the film.

PRI21_11_8Low Res

 

A piece in our 100 Objects exhibition ponders Lost City as an intriguing glimpse of old Bradford and its insights into Priestley’s complex relationship with his home city:

No 55. Whatever happened to Mr Mothergill: J.B. Priestley’s Lost City.

20 January 1966. Silver Blades and Heart Beat

My favourite story from the 20 January 1966 issue of Javelin is the opening of two beloved Bradford landmarks, the Silver Blades Ice Rink and the Heart Beat discotheque above it.

Heart beat discotheque, Javelin, 20 Jan.1966., p.5

Located in Wardley House on Little Horton Lane, these were handily near the University (as we will see, the University would soon have a presence in the same building).

Silver Blades was rather special when opened:

“… reputed to be “The finest rink in the world”, with coloured lighting in the barriers, sparkling chandeliers over the ice, and a plush bar and restaurant. The resplendently dressed skaters were entertained with organ music. The opening gala at the rink had performances by British skaters who had just returned from the World Championships. They included Sally Anne Stapleford, John Curry and ice dancers Bernard Ford and Diane Towler.” (from the History of Bradford Ice Arena).

But ice rinks are expensive to run!  In the 1970s and 1980s recession and cuts to maintenance meant it became run down, and its owners Mecca Leisure decided to close it in 1991.  The rink was saved thanks to a new company put together by local campaigner Krystyna Rogers.  It is lovely to note that it is still going strong.  Now known as Bradford Ice Arena, the rink is celebrating 50 years of bringing fun and exercise to the people of Bradford.

And the Heart Beat?  It seems to have become  Annabella’s at some point during the 1970s.  I’ll share more info when I come across it.  And of course, memories and images can easily be found on Facebook and other sites – see All About Bradford for instance.