The Accrington Pals are one of the best known battalions of Kitchener's 'new army', the units formed from the initial volunteers of 1914 and early 1915. They were the subject of a unit history in the 1980s, and are a classic example of a 'Pals' battalion that suffered grievous losses on the Somme. However the Pals battalion wasn't the only unit to be raised by Accrington. Early in 1915 they were followed by an artillery brigade (later split into two batteries), equipped with howitzers. Jackson's book covers both of these units to give a broader picture of Accrington's contribution to the Great War (as he says this isn't a complete picture as it doesn't include pre-war regular soldiers, territorials who were called up at the start of the war or volunteers and conscripts who fought in other units (or the Navy or air services).
Between them the two units were involved in most of the major battles of 1916-18. The Pals spent a brief period in Egypt before moving to France early in 1916, arriving just after the Howitzers. The Pals suffered very heavy losses on the first day of the Somme, and the battalion had to be rebuilt. It fought in some of the major battles of 1917 (although only the Howitzers took part in the 3rd battle of Ypres), and was hit by the German offensives of 1918 before taking part in the final victorious battles of the war.
The idea of covering both units is a good one, providing as it does two different snapshots of service on the Western Front, although it would have been useful if there had been a note of which unit was being discussed at the start of each chapter. I would also have liked to see the excellent section on the impact of the first day of the Somme in Accrington placed nearer the account of the fighting, rather than as part of the overall conclusion.
One nice touch during the training period are the brief chapters that cover the progress of the war so far (often illustrated by quotes from men serving in other Lancashire battalions). This reminds us that the training wasn't happening in isolation, and that the troops were urgently needed at the front. This section also rather disproves the idea of the war as a 'rich man's fight' being fought by the poor - by early in 1915 every military age relative of the Mayor of Accrington responsible for raising the units was in uniform, and many of the unit's officers were the sons of the area's wealthiest men.
The text is supported by a good selection of contemporary photos, useful maps and well used quotes from eyewitnesses. The result is a useful and readable account of the fate of these two volunteer units and the sacrifices of their men.
1 - A Determination to Make Good
2 - On the Verge of War
3 - Why not Accrington?
4 - Very Badly Shaken
5 - We Want to be There
6 - Not Enough Men Born
7 - Men of the Mechanic Class
8 - A Most Colourful Personality
9 - 'Some' Colonel
10 - Away From All Civilization
11 - No Time for Anything
12 - They Fought Like Heroes
13 - A Devilish Hot Time
14 - The Old Spirit Still There
15 - Ceased to Hope for Anything Better
16 - The Hottest Show
17 - This Gallant Officer
18 - With Our Backs to the Wall
19 - Peaceful Penetration
20 - With Great Enthusiasm
21 - Remembrance
22 - Epilogue
Author: Andrew Jackson
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military