Passchendaele tragedy remembered 100 years on

The Russian destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov as seen from HMS Somerset in the Moray Firth

Royal Navy ship shadows a Russian destroyer

THEY were the men who made the ultimate sacrifice, and for that, they will never be forgotten.

People gathered in Guildhall Square on Monday to commemorate the plight of the Pompey Pals – the 14th, 15th and 16th battalions of the Hampshire regiment.

Cllr Frank Jonas and Organiser Bob Beech laying the wreath
Picture:  Habibur Rahman

Cllr Frank Jonas and Organiser Bob Beech laying the wreath Picture: Habibur Rahman

The 14th and 15th battalions were called into action on July 31, 1917, in the Third Ypres phase of the First World War, known as Passchendaele.

The conflict saw 224 casualties on the first day, with 63 men being killed.

Portsmouth soldiers were caught up in the intense action throughout August and September, suffering heavy casualties.

Marking the centenary of the battle, the Pompey Pals Project Charity laid a wreath at the monument in Guildhall Square.

A wreath at the city war memorial in Guildhall Square to mark the centenary of the opening phase of Third Ypres more commonly known as Passchendaele

A wreath at the city war memorial in Guildhall Square to mark the centenary of the opening phase of Third Ypres more commonly known as Passchendaele

Bob Beech from the charity said the day held special significance. He said: ‘We remember people from Portsmouth every day, but it is poignant on days like today.

‘There were people lost from our city, not just in the Portsmouth battalions but in regiments right across the spectrum.

‘These battalions fought in every major battle in the First World War from 1916 onwards.

‘They served on the Somme, Passchendaele, Messines – and most of these people were ordinary Joes.

Present at the wrewath-laying ceremony were, from left: .
JJ Marshallsay, Gareth Lewis, Cllr Frank Jonas, Organiser Bob Beech and Chris Pennycook Pictures: Habibur Rahman

Present at the wrewath-laying ceremony were, from left: . JJ Marshallsay, Gareth Lewis, Cllr Frank Jonas, Organiser Bob Beech and Chris Pennycook Pictures: Habibur Rahman

‘They weren’t professional soldiers, but they fought like professional soldiers.’

Frank Jonas, Portsmouth city councillor for Hilsea, said that the sacrifice of the Pompey Pals was something that would probably never be repeated.

He said: ‘I am here for quite a few reasons – I’m the armed forces champion for Portsmouth City Council and a keen amateur historian.

‘I think that what the Pompey Pals did for us is something that really puts life into perspective.

‘The Pompey Pals, all three battalions, were volunteers, who went off to war. Many never came back. I think that even though it wasn’t the war to end all wars – like people said at the time – it was the last war of its kind to take place.

‘The human loss over a stretch of 8km, 250,000 on each side with the worst rain for 75 years – what chance did they really have?’

A special remembrance service will take place at Guildhall Square on September 9.