THEY were teenagers and teachers, fathers and husbands – but as soldiers they were fearless warriors.
And today Portsmouth will unite to mark the courage of all the fallen heroes from the area killed as they fought in the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago.
This was definitely the darkest day in the 900-year history of the city of PortsmouthBob Beech, Pompey Pals
A special ceremony will be held in Guildhall Square this morning to commemorate the hundreds of soldiers from the Pompey Pals battalions who gave their all in the war.
The event is being set up by the Pompey Pals organisation and will see wreaths being laid in the city centre in tribute to the 757 men killed or wounded in the 141-day First World War conflict.
Bob Beech is from the group and is now calling on people in Portsmouth to join the event and pay their respects.
Speaking of the Battle of the Somme, Mr Beech said: ‘Without a shadow of a doubt this was definitely the darkest day in the 900-year history of the city of Portsmouth.
‘This city was purpose-built for war and was used to dark times.
‘But this period was something totally different. Suddenly there was bad news coming day after day after day.
‘People were chasing telegraph boys away and blocking up their letter boxes because they didn’t want to hear the bad news. It was frightening.’
During the war, thousands of men from the city and neighbouring towns volunteered to fight in ‘Pals’ regiments.
Portsmouth had two pals battalions that served on the Western Front.
The 1st Pompey Pals, 14th Battalion Hampshire Regiment, was the first to ‘go over the top’.
They led a brutal assault on German positions on September 3, 1916, just north of Hamel on the River Ancre, France. Of the 570 men who went into action that morning 457 became casualties – a vast majority of these being fatalities.
Then just days later, with the city still grieving the losses, the 2nd Pals charged the Germans on September 15, 1916.
The assault was the first time tanks were used in battle and was equally as bloody – with the death toll hitting 302 from the Pals.
Councillor Donna Jones, Portsmouth City Council leader, said: ‘The heroism of these soldiers is something we can never forget.
‘They are the pride of Portsmouth and it’s right we honour their sacrifice.’
Today’s commemoration will begin at 10am. There will be a pop-up museum with a display organised by the charity and also music from the Hampshire Constabulary Band and the Portsmouth Military Wives’ Choir.
At 10.50am the Royal British Legion and various armed forces associations will march into the square with a wreath-laying ceremony at 11am.
Mr Beech added: ‘It’s our duty to remember everyone who served in the First World War but as a city it’s now right to remember what those guys did and the sacrifices they made.’
The Somme offensive began on July 1, 1916 and ended on November 18, 1916.
Over the battle, 127,751 British soldiers were killed, at an average of 893 per day.