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The First World War

Recruitment and Training

Sheffield formed its own "Pals" battalion in the early weeks of the First World War. On 10 September 1914 recruitment began at the Corn Exchange for the Sheffield City Battalion, the 12th (Service) Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment, with between 900 and 1,000 men joining in two days. Among the Sheffield men who joined the City Battalion was the youngest member of John E Bingham LOL 844.
For the Sheffield Pals, initial training took place at Bramhall Lane, the home of Sheffield United. On Saturday 5th December the battalion of 1,131 officers and men left for Redmires Camp, a few miles west of the city, where they trained for just over 5 months. Further training took place at Penkridge Bank Camp near Rugeley, Ripon and Hurdcott Camp near Salisbury. Lt. Col. J. A. Crosthwaite became battalion commander on 28 September.
The December 1915 meeting of John E Bingham LOL 844 was attended by the youngest member of the lodge, who had enlisted in the Sheffield Pals. He was on short leave before embarkation, and the lodge assured him of ‘the affectionate regard and prayerful interest of the brethren who trust that by God’s blessing he will return victorious, safe and well. Extremely proud and gratified that so many brethren thus go forward in defence of our liberties and those principles for which the Order stands. We will do all in our power for comfort and well-being of our soldier brethren’.

At the Front
On 20 December 1915, the battalion embarked on HMT Nestor for Alexandria. The 31st Division had been sent to Egypt to defend the Suez Canal against the threat of a Turkish attack. When the threat of attack evaporated, the 31st Division was sent to the Somme. On 10 March 1916, the Sheffield battalion embarked on HMT Briton at Port Said for the 5-day voyage to France, where the battalion took over a stretch of the front line opposite the fortified hill-top village of Serre.
The battalion suffered its first casualty on 4 April when Pte. Alexander McKenzie was killed by a rifle grenade. On 15/16 May, 15 were killed and 45 wounded as the Germans mounted a trench raid under cover of an artillery bombardment. Preparations for the offensive continued and by early June the battalion was practising the attack on Serre. The Sheffield City Battalion would be on the extreme left of the 15-mile British offensive front that stretched south from Serre to Maricourt.

Battle of the Somme
On Saturday 24 June, the British artillery opened a bombardment that over a 5-day period was intended to completely destroy the German defences. On 28 June the attack was postponed for two days because of poor weather. The time for the start of the offensive was 7.30am on Saturday 1 July. At 3.45am on 1 July, the battalion was in position in the assembly trenches. With the appearance of daylight at 4.05am, the German artillery began to shell the British front line.
At 7.20am the first wave of the battalion moved 100yds into No Man's Land and lay flat on the ground as the brigade mortar battery and divisional artillery placed a final hurricane bombardment over the German front line. A few minutes later, with the British front line coming under an intense counter-barrage, the second wave took up position 30yds behind the first.
At 7.30am the bombardment lifted from the German front line. All four waves rose and advanced steadily towards the German lines into a hail of machine gun bullets and shellfire. The third and fourth waves were reduced to half strength before even reaching No Man's Land. Only on the right of the attack were a few men able to force their way into the German trenches.
On the right of the Sheffield City Battalion, the Accrington Pals made greater advances into the German trenches but were unable to hold on to their gains. The battle for Serre was lost.
The remnants of the battalion were taken out of the line in the evening of 3rd July, having lost 513 officers and men killed, wounded or missing; a further 75 were slightly wounded.

Sheffield’s Orange Heroes
The July 1917 edition of the ‘Orange Standard’ carried the following report: ‘Congratulations to Bro G Longden, a member of ‘John E Bingham’ LOL 844, Sheffield, who has won distinction on the field of battle, and added honour to the Institution of which he is proud to be a member. Bro Longden was presented with the Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry by bringing in a wounded man from the distance of 150 yards under cross machine gun and sniping fire at Arras. He is only twenty-one years of age. We believe there is a great future for our young Bro., and we trust that he will ‘do and dare’ against England’s bitterest enemy, Rome, when the European War is over and he returns to his old Lodge in the old land’. Sergeant G Longden was serving with the 8th East Yorks.
In 1917 the brethren of Sir John E Bingham LOL 844 were informed that the son of their member, Bro Patterson had been awarded the military medal and that the younger brother of Brother Sergeant G Longden MM had also won the military medal, he was aged 19.
The August 1917 edition of the ‘Orange Standard’ reported on the visit of Brother Longden to his lodge: ‘The first ‘active service’ leave of Brother Sergeant G Longdon, 8th East Yorks (Military Medal) was signalled by a joint meeting of welcome of the ‘John E Bingham’ 844 and ‘Grace’ Female 121 LOLs. Brother the Rev W Sykes WM welcomed the young Brother in terms of Christian cordiality, and spoke of his consistency in observing two great Orange principles of dependence upon God and love and duty towards King and Country and his fellow man. Brother W A Croft WS expressed pride in the military career of the young Brother, a career in which he had distinctly ‘made good’ as a loyal Orangeman, and had fulfilled the confident expectation of all who knew him. Brother Guest remarked that most of what they knew of Brother Longden’s exploits was what they learned from his comrades in arms, and not from himself. The testimony was always the same, viz., that ‘he was a credit to the regiment and liked by everybody’. Every Brother and Sister present had a word of praise, congratulation or encouragement to offer. Brother Longden responded with thanks for the many kind things which had been said, and being prompted thereto, gave a most interesting and informative account of his experiences and of opinions of future possibilities. It was good to be at the lodge. Thanks to the brethren and sisters for so arranging to meet him. He was proud to be an Orangeman, and the many Australian members he met in Egypt were a credit. He met less than he would have liked in France, except in the Ulster Division – a division to be proud of. Whenever you met a member of that division you could assume that there was a man who had ‘done something’. He had learned from association with Ulstermen that they were not the mere noisy demonstrators which some would have us believe, but they were men of profound convictions. It was well to be associated with people of definite convictions; there were so few who suffered that way nowadays. He had always, and still had, the conviction that God would bring him through although he had been in some tight corners. An excellent pair of razors was presented on behalf of Bro Wills – unavoidably absent. Several absent brethren sent expressions of deep regret at being unable to attend. A remarkable evening was closed in the usual manner’.

The end of the Sheffield Pals
Following the Battle of the Somme, although the Sheffield City battalion was gradually returned to strength, the "Pals" character was lost. During the harsh winters of 1916-17, 887 officers and men were evacuated to hospital. In May 1917 at Arras, the battalion defended the vital Windmill spur in the Gavrelle sector, suffering 143 casualties, before playing a successful part in the attack at Oppy-Gavrelle on 28 June. They suffered in German gas attacks at Vimy Ridge in August and September 1917. Finally, in the early 1918, the depleted battalion was forced to disband.
John E Bingham LOL heard in November 1918, that Bro Temporary Lieutenant G Longden MM had been injured by an explosive bullet, one of his vertebrae had been fractured, although he was said to be recovering well. In May 1919 it was reported that Brother Pepper of LOL 844 had distinguished himself by gaining a captaincy and the military cross.

We will remember them
At its July 1920 meeting, John E Bingham LOL 844 passed the following resolution: ‘the lodge desires to place on record its grateful memory of the sacrifice of Sheffield’s and Ulster’s brave sons of July 1st 1916’.
After the war, Sheffield placed a memorial in the village of Serre to the men of the City Battalion who had fallen in the attack of 1st July 1916, and in 1936, the Sheffield Memorial Park was opened on the site of the British lines below Serre. The Orange Institution erected a memorial to all its members who had fought in the war in the grounds of the Ulster Tower.

Many Thanks to Brother Jack Greenald for this research