Title - John William Bromley

In the wake of the immensely successful recruitment of a Barnsley Pals battalion of more than 1,000 men in little more than two weeks, the town council voted on 27th November 1914 to make an offer to the War Office to raise a second battalion. The offer was duly accepted, and the 14th Battalion, York & Lancaster Regiment (2nd Barnsley Pals) came into being.

John William Bromley On 21st January 1915, 31-year old John William Bromley enlisted at Barnsley and was posted to B Company of the 14th York & Lancs as a Private with the number 284. Army records describe him as being 5ft 6in (1.68m) in height with a 37in (94cm) chest and tattoo marks on both forearms. At the time of his enlistment, John, a Colliery Fireman by trade, was living with his wife Alice and their 23-month old son James at 35 Garden Cottages in Cudworth, Barnsley.

Having served previously with the Lincolnshire Regiment, John had experience that was sorely needed in a battalion desperately short of N.C.O.'s. As early as 5th February, he was promoted to Acting Sergeant; exactly three months later, his rank of Sergeant was confirmed.

Left: John William Bromley. Photograph courtesy of Sue Burman.

It was early April before recruitment of the 2nd Barnsley Pals was finally completed. The following month, the battalion joined the 12th and 13th York & Lancs (Sheffield City Battalion and 1st Barnsley Pals) and the 11th East Lancs (Accrington Pals) at Penkridge Bank Camp, Cannock Chase to form 94th Infantry Brigade (31st Division). There were further moves to Ripon Camp and to Hurdcott Camp before the Division was deployed to Egypt to reinforce the Suez Canal defences.

York & Lancaster Regiment group

Above: York & Lancaster Regiment group (excepting the School of Musketry Colour Sergeant standing far left), probably at Ripon Camp in August or September 1915. Sgt. John Bromley is kneeling at the left of the front row. Photograph courtesy of Sue Burman.

On 29th December 1915, John was one of more than 2,000 men from the two Barnsley Pals battalions who left Devonport on board H.M.T. Andania, bound for Port Said. In the event, the threat of a Turkish offensive receded and the Division was soon ordered from Egypt to the Western Front to take part in the planned offensive on the Somme. On 10th March 1916, two companies of the 2nd Barnsley Pals left Port Said on board H.M.T. Briton. The following day, two months to the day after disembarking, John was among the remaining two companies of the battalion that joined the 1st Barnsley Pals on board H.M.T. Megantic. After a 5-day voyage, the Megantic docked at Marseilles.

For the attack at Serre on 1st July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, B Company of the 2nd Barnsley Pals fought on the extreme left of the British line. Two platoons followed A Company into the Russian sap that ran across No Man's Land, while the remaining two platoons moved into No Man's Land behind the first two waves of the Sheffield City Battalion. Caught in a storm of artillery and machine gun fire, the two Barnsley companies took heavy casualties even before getting past the British front line. The few that got as far as the German trenches were led by Lt. Harold Forsdike; a letter written by his brother, Lt. Leonard Forsdike, to his father was published in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 19th July:

"As soon as I could get away I sent about to find [Harold], or to get news of him, and in the end rode over to see his colonel. All the news I got was that he was last seen to jump into the German trench. All his men were shot down except one, who landed with Harold at the German line. This man was then wounded, and he saw Harold go into the trench. I hope to God he has not been killed, but whether he is or not, I am proud of him, and I hope you will be, for nobody knows what we all went through, and the magnificent way he led his men over open ground."1

At some point, probably in the 10 minutes following the start of the attack at 7.30am, John Bromley was hit by bullets in the knee and foot. Perhaps he lay in a shell hole throughout the long daylight hours of 1st July, before he was brought in or able to crawl back to his own lines under cover of darkness. We do know that on the following day he was admitted to 19th Casualty Clearing Station at Beauval. On 17th July, John died of his wounds at hospital in Abbeville.

John William Bromley lies buried in Abbeville Communal Cemetery. His effects were forwarded to his wife, who in January 1917 received notice that she had been awarded a pension of 16 shillings (80p) a week for herself and her children.


  1. Lt. Harold Brooke Forsdike is recorded as having been killed in action on 1st July 1916, aged 24. He has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

© Andrew C Jackson 2004

Compiled from the army service record of John William Bromley (TNA document WO363/B62), "Barnsley Pals" by John Cooksey, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 19th July 1916, and with the kind help of John Bromley's great grand-daughter Sue Burman.

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