On 1st April 1908, Britain set up a Territorial Force (TF), an army of volunteers to supplement dwindling army numbers. In the 19th century, Britain was an established empire requiring a standing army sufficient to maintain order (look after British interests) abroad, in India, the near and Far East and Africa. But the Boer war in South Africa showed Britain didn't have enough soldiers for a conflict of this length, so brought together three part-time volunteer institutions, the militia, the Volunteer Force and the yeomanry, which kept order on home shores, into the Territorial Force (later to become the Territorial Army in 1921).
Recruits to the Territorial Force had to be aged between 17 and 35. They enlisted for a four-year term which could be extended by an obligatory year in times of crisis. Members could terminate their enlistment on three months' notice and payment of a fine; were required to attend a minimum of 40 drill periods in their first year and 20 per year thereafter, and all were required to attend between eight and fifteen days of annual camp. The force was liable to serve anywhere in the UK. Members were not required to serve overseas but could volunteer to do so. Each 'Territorial' battalion was attached to a regular army regiment. The 5th Battalion, King's Regiment (Liverpool) (5th King's) was a volunteer unit of the King's Regiment (Liverpool). Originally the 1st Lancashire Rifle Volunteer Corps (1859), then the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the regiment, before transferring to the new Territorial Force.
Alec was a special reserve with this battalion, but when war broke out, Alec's service 'time' had already expired, meaning he had completed his four-year term at least one year prior to 1914. It is likely, therefore, that he volunteered in 1908 (his seventeenth birthday was in October 1907) soon after the TF was formed, and left sometime in 1912, before his marriage to Alice in March 1913.
Sadly, as we know, events in Europe came to a head in the summer of 1914. On 27 August 1914, the Liverpool Echo printed a notice headed 'City Soldiers' which invited 'all men interested to report to the headquarters of the 5th Battalion, in St Anne Street, Liverpool on 28 August'. Hundreds of men turned up to hear Lord Derby ask them to enlist in the new Liverpool Regiment and join him, the following Monday, for attestation.
By 8 am on the morning of 31 August, thousands of Liverpool men, and some from The Wirral, were in place outside St George's Hall. By 10 am one thousand men had been recruited. These first recruits formed the 17th Battalion, Liverpool Pals Regiment. Everyone else was asked to return the next day. By Wednesday 2 September 1914, at the age of twenty-three years and ten months, Private Palmer A F, Service Number 18/16326 had joined the 18th Battalion, Kings Liverpool City Regiment.
While the 17th Battalion were billeted in an old watch factory in Prescot, the 18th were sent to a temporary camp at Hooton Racecourse. Here they were encouraged to run around the course every morning to build their strength and stamina. By December both battalions, along with the 19th and 20th - over 3000 men - were housed in newly constructed wooden huts on Lord Derby's estate at Knowsley where training began in earnest.
On 30 April 1915 the four Liverpool Pals Battalions, transferred to Belton Park, Grantham, moving to Larkhill Camp on Salisbury Plain four months later.
On 27 October 1915 the War Office took over the Battalions. The Pals were now considered ready for active duty and would be sent abroad as soon as arrangements could be made. On 31 October they prepared to leave for France. Alec's young son was 22 months old and Alice was pregnant again.
On 7 November, the 17th and 18th Battalions travelled on special troop trains to Folkestone; the 17th boarded the SS Princess Victoria, and the 18th the SS Invicta, bound for Boulogne in France.
On arrival, they spent the night at Ostrehove Rest Camp, before returning to the town for transportation by train to their new billets. The 18th Battalion went to Monflieres, near Abbeville, where they remained for approximately ten days, sorting out kit and beginning battle training before moving nearer the front line at Amiens, within the sound of gunfire from the front line.
Alec was granted 10 days' home leave that Christmas. It would be the last time he saw his family until his discharge from service in 1917.
The Liverpool Pals, along with other volunteer and regular army regiments, took their turn in the trenches, alternating with other work and rest periods behind the lines. The town of Albert was close by and bars, cafes and even people's homes catered to British soldiers looking for a hot meal, a glass of beer and a warm, dry place to sleep, safe from guns and shells.
News would have reached France of the death of Lord Kitchener on 05 June 1916. Preparations were underway for the coming offensive and all leave was cancelled. It was a time of waiting and Alec, along with his mate, would have spent the time in silent contemplation of what was to come.
The Battle of the Somme started on 01 July 1916. Both the Liverpool and Manchester Pals Battalions were involved in heavy fighting in the village of Montauban, which was liberated by the end of that day. Today an obelisk memorial is dedicated to them. Neatly bordered with low box hedging and surrounded by poppy wreaths, it stands on the side of the road through the village.
On the morning of 08 July 1916, the order was given for the allies to move forward. The objective was to capture Bernafay Wood, then Trones Wood and Caterpillar Wood. The 18th Battalion, including Alec, were there to support and supply the 17th Liverpool and the 19th Manchester Pals Battalions.
As the men awaited their allotted hour of 08.30 a rolling barrage of artillery fire crept forward towards the village of Montauban as the 19th Manchesters and the 17th Liverpool Regiment prepared the way.
Finally, on 09 July, with the Manchester's in position south of Bernafay Wood and at Bronfay Farm, the advance began again. The German guns commenced firing and Alec ran out of luck. Struck by shrapnel from an exploding shell, for now, his war was over.
Alec was admitted to 26th General Hospital at Etaples, on 11th July with a gunshot wound to the back, then sent to a convalescent camp, also at Etaples. In September 1916, he was transferred to the 15th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers (part of the 32nd Division - which gives us his second service number of 39685 Lancashire fusiliers), back on the Somme.
In November 1916 when he transferred to the 96th Company Machine Gun Corps; with another change of service number to 70310 MGC. He continued to serve on the Somme during the winter of 1916/17 then, in early 1917, took part in the advance to the Hindenburg Line, south of St Quentin. On 15th April, near the village of Fayet, Alec was wounded again - this time a severe gunshot to the right arm - and sent to No 6 General Hospital at Rouen. He returned to England on 03 May 1917, and was admitted to the Military Clearing Hospital at Eastleigh (near Southampton) on 04 May.
Later records show that Alec was discharged from Western General Hospital, Whitworth Street, Manchester as “permanently unfit and sent home on warrant with orders to await instructions as to his final discharge”. He was given £1 advance on pay and “a suit of plain clothes”. His official discharge took effect on 1 October 1917.
For his service, Alec was awarded the 1914/15 Star, British War, and Victory Medals. He also received the King's Silver Medal.
Life After the War
Alec eventually returned to his clerk post at the Liverpool Echo although he spent a brief period away from Liverpool. Family records show that by 1919 the family is resident in Llandudno, North Wales, where Alice was running the Islwyn Boarding House, Mostyn Avenue, Craig-y-Don, and Alec was working at the newspaper's sub-office. This would have been a period of recuperation from his injuries.
While living there, a further two children were born. Mabel and Beryl. Before long they returned to Liverpool and by January 1923 were living at 18 Ferguson Road, West Derby. With the birth of Enid in 1925 and Joyce (my mother) in December 1928, the family was complete. The family lived through the Liverpool Blitz and were bombed out at least three times, ending up in a prefab.
After a prolonged period of illness, including some time in hospital, Alec passed away on 14 March 1947 from lung cancer - a combination of smoking and the effects of gas attacks during the war. He was cremated at Anfield Crematorium and his ashes interred in the Memorial Wall behind a small white marble plaque. At a later date the ashes were removed and scattered in the Rose Garden. Enquiries in 2014 revealed that the marble plaque is in storage at the crematorium, among some 3,000 others.