They signed up to defend their country together – and went as a band of brothers to the terrible battlefields of France in the First World War.
Three ‘Pals’ battalions were raised in Birmingham, as young men flocked to sign up in 1914 during the fervour to serve king and country.
They had been promised they could serve alongside their friends and colleagues in the trenches.
Tragically, many were cut down during the disastrous battle of the Somme, when the Pals were first pitched into the frontline.
Birmingham provided thousands of men who joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, forming the 14th, 15th and 16th Battalions.
Now website findmypast.co.uk has released details including information from medal index cards, service records and other contemporary sources to provide what it claims is the most complete picture of the Pals battalions to date.
In many cases, large numbers of young men all working for the same company joined up and fought together. They would later be slaughtered in their thousands, most infamously on the Somme – but they would also go on to have a proud and brave record, taking part in some well fought engagements.
Paul Nixon, military historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: “Having such an extensive set of records available online is a huge benefit for anyone wanting to discover if their grandfather or great-grandfather volunteered alongside colleagues and neighbours during the First World War, especially after the terrible casualties that many of the Pals battalions suffered.”
Pals battalions were raised early on in the war, when it became clear the professional but comparatively small British Army was massively outnumbered.
They were the men who were inspired by the famous Lord Kitchener “Your Country Needs You” campaign.
In Birmingham, the young men were inspired by the then deputy mayor, Alderman William H. Bowater, who responded to Lord Kitchener’s appeal by proposing raising and equipping a battalion of ‘young businessmen’ to fight the Kaiser.
In just one September week of 1914, the appeal attracted 4,500 names – many friends, relatives and office colleagues – registered on a list promoted by the Birmingham Daily Post.
Among the volunteers were 160 sets of brothers, one a family of four, actors, a handful of Warwickshire cricketers and administrators like Alec Hastilow, who years later became the club chairman. Blues player, and later director, Harry Morris signed up and in the ranks of the 3rd Birmingham Pals was Villa half back JW Windmill, who was in the Cup winning team of 1905 and won the Military Cross.
They received training in the city, but it was when they reached the Western Front the true horrors of war became apparent.
Between July and October 1916 combined Pals losses among the 14th and 15th were almost 800, 178 from the 16th Birmingham.
In their first year in action, nearly 1,000 died across the three city battalions, a total to reach 2,334 by Armistice Day on November 11, 1918.
Between them, the three Pals battalions shared 400 awards for bravery, of which the 16th received 168.
Examples of actions fought by the city units include the 16th RWR suffering 25 killed in four days of bombardment in May 1916 as part of the Battle of Arras.
In June, with light casualties for once, the 16th was fighting so effectively in an attack on Orpy Wood that divisional orders named the main German trench they had captured as ‘Birmingham Street’ and the nearby communication trench ‘Brum Street’.
At Ypres and Passchendaele in autumn 1917, in extreme conditions of weather, mud and man-engulfing shell craters, more than 400 died, a large proportion from the 16th, who lost 94 killed and 200 wounded in a week during an unavailing attempt to take a ruined chateau.
The 16th was there right at the end, and during the final British offensive of the war, the battalion stormed and took a railway embankment defended by 23 enemy machine gun nests.
It was an advance described by the divisional commander as ‘especially brilliant.’ The 16th took 350 prisoners, captured 29 field and machine guns while suffering 11 dead and 54 wounded.
For more information, visit the website at www.findmypast.com.