Unique public art will honour Barnsley’s Somme fallen

Jemma Conway,  Barnlsey Council's audience development officer, with one of the glass panels.
Jemma Conway, Barnlsey Council's audience development officer, with one of the glass panels.
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Brothers-in-arms Fred, Charles and Ernest Walker went over the top 100 years ago on the first day of the Battle of the Somme and like almost a million others they never came home.

But they will be back on parade through a unique piece of art.

Private Fred Walker.

Private Fred Walker.

Glass panels, which will be lit at night, have been individually engraved with the faces of many of the 297 men of the so-called Barnsley Pals brigades who died on the first day of the battle on July 1, 1916.

The panels, created by artists Neil Musson and Jono Retallick, also feature medals made by local schoolchildren. They will be unveiled during a 40-minute memorial service tomorrow, on the centenary itself, outside Barnsley Town Hall at 1pm.

A bronze statue of an infantryman – a “Tommy” – has been standing guard alone on the town’s war memorial since 1925.

Now his Pals will join him, with the temporary public art exhibition running until November. It highlights how the battle raged on for four-and-a half-months and claimed the lives of around 800 of them, aged 17 to 48.

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In total almost one million lives were lost at the Somme.

Jemma Conway, Barnsley Council’s audience development officer, said: “The panels will be lit up at the front of the town hall until November. In winter months it will be really poignant because when people walk past they will know the battle was still going on.

“The Barnsley Pals were at the forefront of the fight. They went over the top on July 1 and not many of them survived. It’s a really fantastic way of remembering them.”

There will be a two-minute’s silence, readings, music and the unveiling of the artwork as part of tomorrow’s memorial service.

Hundreds of people are expected to gather to show their respects, as they will at services in other parts of Yorkshire and the UK, including families of those who were killed.

The Pals regiments were so-called because the men came from the same communities – they lived, worked, signed up, fought and, in many cases, died together in northern France.

Among the 19,240 lives lost on the first day of the Somme, typifying how families suffered unimaginable heartbreak, were Barnsley brothers Fred, 35; Ernest, 33, and Charles, 31.

Fred’s great grandson, Graham Walker, said: “Three brothers killed on the same day would make national headlines these days. But the tragedy was lost among the carnage.

“They were told German posts had been so heavily bombed that they wouldn’t face any opposition. Nothing could have been further from the truth.”

An inscribed circular bronze plaque – known as a “Death Penny” – and a scroll of honour, along with Fred Walker’s prayer book, cap badges and treasured items loaned by other families, will be part of a Stories From The Somme exhibition at the Experience Barnsley museum from August 24 to November.

View and download original reports from the Somme as they appeared in The Yorkshire Post in July, 1916