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Sports, leisure & the Arts Somme 100 - Heaton Park in World War One

Manchester Regiments 'Pals' Battalions at Heaton Park

On 4 August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany. Throughout what became known as the First World War (1914 to 1918) Heaton Park played a significant role. It became the training camp for the Manchester Regiments 'Pals' Battalions. These battalions comprised recruits who enlisted with friends, neighbours and work colleagues. The response was overwhelming. Many of these were local men from the boroughs surrounding the park.

By early 1914 these volunteers became part of the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th “City” Battalions. Originally Heaton Park was a tented camp (later replaced by hutments). Each battalion occupied their own section of the park. As training intensified in the vast open spaces, the men were dressed in blue uniforms due to the absence of Khaki Service Dress. This unusual attire earned them the nickname of 'tram guards'.

On 21 April 1915 a crowd of 20,000 attended a full sports day featuring boxing matches. Though not normally allowed at these events, many families of the serving men were present.

On 24 April 1915 the last 'City' Battalion (19th) left Heaton Park, marched to Manchester and entrained at London Road Station, Piccadilly. Following further training at Belton Park, Lincolnshire and later at Salisbury Plain, they crossed the Channel enroute for the Western Front.

On 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Manchester 'Pals' went into action as part of 90th Brigade of 30th Division. Within a few hours there were 57,470 casualties including 19,240 killed. The battle lasted for 141 days with over one million casualties from all sides either killed, wounded or captured.

In 1915 Heaton Hall and park became a convalescent centre. This response was to alleviate the serious manpower shortage apparent on the Western Front. Centres like this, both large and small, received servicemen following hospital treatment for wounds sustained in action. It became the most efficient method to achieve 'frontline' fitness. Heaton was commanded by Major R. Tait Mackenzie, whose innovative methods such as physiotherapy and hydrotherapy helped to fulfil this urgent need.

On 7 September 1993, a Memorial Plaque was unveiled at Grand Lodge. There were three veterans in attendance: Albert Hurst, 17th. Manchester’s; 'Joe' Fitzpatrick, 2nd/6th Manchester’s and Albert Birtwistle, East Lancashire Regiment.

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