Conservation of the Barnsley Pals’ Colours

A DVLP community grant has supported an important project to conserve the Barnsley Pals' Colours - read all about it in Jane's blog below.

MARCH 2017


As those of you who read Barnsley Chronicle will know, our intentions to conserve the King’s Colours of the 13th and 14th (Service) Battalions of the York and Lancaster Regiment (13YLR and 14YLR) – more familiarly known as the First and Second Barnsley Pals have faced some barriers. This has caused disappointment to a number of Barnsley people but I want to reassure everyone that this important project will continue and we have a few options to consider, subject to formal approvals.

A Barnsley Chronicle reporter, who attended the ceremony to deposit the Colours of the First Barnsley Pals in St Mary’s Church on 29 May 1919, explained their significance:

What proud memories filled all hearts during the service in St Mary’s Church, where the King’s Colours were deposited with the customary ceremony. The Colours brought to Barnsley tell their own tale. They are the symbol of victor, of esprit de corps, of fealty, of true and chivalrous comradeship, and of many a hardwon battle honour, for assuredly no troops have had to face greater odds, to undertake more desperate ventures, or to suffer more severe ordeals than the incomparably brave boys of our Barnsley Battalions

Lieutenant Colonel Hughes of the 9th Battalion of the Royal Queensland Regiment, who had served at Gallipoli, explained this more succinctly when their Colours were laid up in St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane in August 2015. He compared the Colours of a Battalion to the heart and soul of a person: “In terms of human life sacrificed, you’re looking at many thousands of lives behind those battle honours on those Colours, and that’s what we really venerate with these Colours.”

Despite my attempts to find any rules for handling Colours – via the internet and by asking a number of key people – nothing came to light so Father Stephen and I assumed that they were the responsibility of St Mary’s PCC and the Church of England (C of E). We had been waiting for a response from the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) to our proposals.

I had quite a shock when I received an email in February from the officer at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) who is now responsible for Standards, Guidons and Colours in response to reading my blog on the DVLP website. He informed me that the Colours are owned by The State and are subject to Queen’s Regulations, which do not allow them to be removed from the Church or to be conserved. When they have disintegrated, all remains, including the pike, must be buried in consecrated ground.

I phoned him to discuss the stage we were at and reassure him that we had not breached the regulations. I found him very approachable, helpful and informative. He agreed that it was fortunate that at least we have some good photographs of the Colours from the inspection visit by the Conservators. Over the past month I have sounded him out about various proposals and we have learnt a lot from each other from our different perspectives.

I felt that I had to ask whether the Queen’s Regulations could be reviewed and explained my reasons for this:

A special case could be made for the ‘Pals’ and similar battalions since they were made up of local communities and other groups (Artists, Sports etc), intended as temporary for the duration of the war, and, therefore, the interest in them goes beyond the military norm. In the case of the Barnsley Pals battalions for example, the men responded to pleas to enlist from Barnsley ‘dignitaries’ and joined en masse with colleagues, friends and brothers. Barnsley residents paid for them before they were accepted into Kitchener’s Army; they provided their uniforms and equipment, they billeted and fed them and carried out initial training – they created Newhall Camp in Silkstone for this purpose. The Barnsley Patriotic Fund raised money to make life more comfortable for serving men overseas and to help their families at home. Barnsley men served together and were killed or injured in incomprehensible numbers on the Somme with a devastating impact on those at home. Barnsley’s collective memory remains strong.

However, despite my best efforts this was refused. “There is no case for amending Queen’s Regulations and any petition/submission to Her Majesty would be referred by Her to us as this is Army business.  As I’ve already said there is no appetite for any change and I would personally reject any attempt to change the status quo for I expect Colours to be laid up and allowed to decay naturally.”

We are allowed to display the Colours in a different way and to relocate them into the War Memorial Chapel, subject to C of E approval. They may be protected by being stitched into nets or laid flat in frames, in their present condition. There is insufficient wall space in the Chapel for large frames so the better option would be to net them and allow them to hang from their pikes, as they are usually displayed in Cathedrals.

As the condition of the 13YLR Colours is poor, we need to decide whether to display with the 14YLR Colours until the latter disintegrates and they are buried together – recognising that both Battalions served together and were combined when the Second Barnsley Pals were disbanded. Alternatively, we could display the 14YLR Colours, which has insignia, and bury the remains of the 13th’s. We would welcome your views on this.

Whatever decisions are made, there will be a plaque to explain the significance of the two King’s Colours as well as a display and leaflet about their history.

Father Stephen is involved in a much bigger project at St Mary’s Church to carry out various improvements to the building, including dealing with the damp problems in the War Memorial Chapel. He recently met with the PCC’s appointed Architect, who is aware of our hope of moving the Colours into the War Memorial Chapel and is drawing up preliminary plans. These will be submitted with an application for funding to the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Grants for Places of Worship scheme and a decision is likely to take six months. If they agree to fund the structural work, detailed plans will be drawn up and submitted to the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) for approval (with any amendments). Spring 2018 is the earliest that work on the building could start.

War Mem Chapel

I will not be able to apply for funding for the Colours Project until formal approval has been given by DAC and we would not relocate them until all of the structural work is completed. In the meantime I am continuing to carry out extensive research into the history of the Barnsley Pals’ Colours and co-ordinating other aspects of this project.

We want to have replicas made and these would have various uses, including (we hope) parading behind them as part of a dedication service when the work in the War Memorial Chapel has been completed and the Colours relocated there. The MoD are happy for us to do this provided that we do not treat them like King’s (or Queen’s) Colours and we do not consecrate them or salute them.

Horizon Community College have agreed to help with the production of a First World War Town Map and Timeline for Barnsley, highlighting the world situation, what was happening at home in Barnsley and the history of the two Barnsley Pals Battalions.

I have heard from a few more relations of men who served in the Barnsley Pals Battalions but I am keen to establish contact with many more. Please contact me at [email protected] or 01226 217195.

Jane Ainsworth