IT has taken countless hours of painstaking research and a chunk of heritage lottery funding. But the result of telling the full story behind the 'St Helens Pals' has been worth every inch of effort, say researchers, because it chronicles in print a major chapter in the town's history.
The tale of the pals - the lads from neighbourhoods such as Thatto Heath and Parr who signed up First World War volunteers - will be revealed in a book launched in early September.
The work is the culmination of four years’ research and outlines the story of men from the town who volunteered for service in the 11th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment – also known as the ‘St Helens Pals’ - which included about 3,000 local men.
Research into the project has been led by military historians Richard Waring and Dave Risley, both of whom have family connections to the Pals themselves.
Robert and George Waring, cousins of Richard’s grandfather, served in the ‘A’ Company while Richard gained an interest in the War as a child following his father’s stories from his time as a Sergeant in the Cheshire Regiment.
Meanwhile, both of Dave’s maternal great-grandfathers were in the Pals. Lance Corporal William Atherton of ‘D’ Company was killed during the same action in which John Davies won the Victoria Cross while Sergeant John Henry Sharratt of ‘B’ Company survived the war only to die in 1920 due to the after-effects of being gassed in 1917.
However, the book could not have been completed without the input of locals, which has unearthed much of the material.
Relatives of Pals and other interested parties were invited to a series of events to relate family stories and bring photos, many of which appear in the book.
The project has also seen the addition of details from the divisional and battalion War Diaries as well as material from local newspapers and other documents.
In addition, the information has helped researchers create a comprehensive database of all the men known to have served with the battalion, with the eventual aim to make this database publicly available.
A website has already been created that will eventually be the ‘gateway’ to all the information unearthed by the project. It already includes the battalion War Diary, the transcribed Medal Rolls, and a Nominal Roll of men who served with the battalion.
Project manager Peter Harvey said: “This is a hugely significant chapter in the town’s history – and Dave and Richard have gone to great lengths to record in as much detail as possible the contribution made by the St Helens Pals.
“They have produced a database of about 3,000 men, augmented by around 2,000 Census records, 800 entries from the Absent Voters List, hundreds of entries from Soldiers Died in the Great War and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database, as well as over 1,000 Registrar’s records. They’ve also managed to unearth photos for nearly 250 of the men.”
St Helens Pals will be launched at 10.15am on Saturday, September 6 at the Volunteer Hall, in Mill Street and free copies will be available to those who attend.