Remarkable tales of Chorley teens who lied their way into war

The Allsup brothers, from Chorley, all served during the First World War.'From left are  Percy, Arthur, Charles and James; Percy and James served in the Chorley Pals Company.'With thanks to Chorley Remembers for the photo.

The Allsup brothers, from Chorley, all served during the First World War.'From left are Percy, Arthur, Charles and James; Percy and James served in the Chorley Pals Company.'With thanks to Chorley Remembers for the photo.

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The accounts of two Chorley solders who lied about their age to fight on the front line during the Great War have been unearthed.

The accounts of two Chorley solders who lied about their age to fight on the front line during the Great War have been unearthed.

Chorley Pal, Lance Corporal 15349 James Snailham'With thanks to Chorley Remembers for the photo

Chorley Pal, Lance Corporal 15349 James Snailham'With thanks to Chorley Remembers for the photo

Percy Allsup tells how he waited anxiously for news of his brother James as they both experienced the horrors of the Battle of the Somme.

Percy himself had been injured, and witnessed men returning to camp in a ‘terrible state’.

Meanwhile, James Snailham, who only signed up because his football team-mates were enlisting, describes how he got shrapnel stuck in his leg after a shell burst near him, and how he lost friends during the Somme.

It was the early morning of July 1, 1916, when the British launched its infantry attack on the German front lines.

“Waiting anxiously for reports of our men, most of all my brother. Heard he had been wounded in shoulder at 9am, men dribbling in one by one in terrible state”

Sergeant Percy Allsup

By the afternoon the British army had suffered the greatest disaster in its history.

In addition to the 20,000 soldiers who were killed, 37,646 were reported wounded or missing.

Few regiments obtained their objectives and the army’s artillery had failed to cut through German barbed wire defences.

The Battle of the Somme would continue for five months, with a total of 600,000 Allied casualties and an estimated 500,000 German casualties.

Ahead of next year’s centenary of the dreadful battle, Imperial War Museum wishes to commemorate each individual allied
solider on its permanent digital memorial, ‘Lives of the First World War’, and is appealing for help from the public.

Diane Lees, Imperial War Museum’s director general, explains: “The Battle of the Somme was a defining moment in the First World War, and affected millions in Britain and across the Commonwealth.

“Sons, brothers and fathers risked their lives to undertake one the bloodiest battles in this world-altering conflict, whilst women and millions at home worked to supply the frontline with the much-needed ammunition and supplies.

“Ahead of the 2016 centenary, we would like everyone to think about the ordinary men who went over the top on July 1, and to help complete their stories on ‘Lives of the First World War’.”

The website, www.livesofthefirstworldwar.org, has more than seven million life stories waiting to be updated, including those of Sergeant Percy Allsup and Private James Snailham.

Percy Allsup was born on July 28, 1897 in Clayton Green, Clayton-le-Woods, to James and Susannah Allsup.

Percy had three brothers; James, Arthur and Charles, and a sister named Edith.

Before the war, Percy worked as a reacher in Swansey Textile Mill. Both he and his older brother James joined the 11th Service Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment, known as the Accrington Pals.

It is believed that Percy lied about his age in order to join up.

Percy kept a diary from December 1915 until he was wounded in 1917.

He recorded his experiences during the first day of the Battle of the Somme: “July 1 1916: In trenches ready [for] advance. Myself put on reinforcements. Advance starts 7.30am.

“On fatigue work in afternoon carrying bombs.

“Went to reinforce our chaps at 8PM, bombardment very heavy.

“I was hit on shoulder blade with a piece of our own shell 11.30pm, returned to party still feeling dizzy.

“Officer ordered me back to camp, got back 3am.

“July 2 1916: Waiting anxiously for reports of our men, most of all my brother. Heard he had been wounded in shoulder at 9am, men dribbling in one by one in terrible state in No 4 Camp Buss Wood [Bus Wood].

“Weather medium, rest through day. No blankets nor Great Coats to sleep on at night. Walking up and down the wood to keep ourselves warm at night.”

As Percy mentions, his brother James was wounded during the attack at Serre and invalided home.

After recovering, James trained to become an officer and served with the Machine Gun Corps.

Percy was injured during a gas attack in 1917, and after recovering gained the rank of Sergeant and returned to the Western Front.

Percy’s younger brothers Arthur and Charles also served in the war.

After the war, Percy was employed as a Police Constable in Blackburn. In January 1922 he married Annie Weaver, and in the same month the couple emigrated to the United States, where his brothers were already living.

Percy died in September 1966 in Rhode Island, USA.

James Snailham was born in Chorley in 1898.

Before the war he worked at Swansey Mill in Whittle-le-Woods and lived with his mother, Ellen Nelson.

James too lied about his age to join the army: “I wanted to be with my lads I played at football with, you see.

“And when they said as we were changing, after the match, they said ‘Jimmy, we’re going enlisting on Monday – are you coming, are you coming with us?’

“So away we go from our village, three miles to Chorley. And eventually came my turn.

“‘Well’ [the doctor] said, ‘My lad, what are you doing here?’

“He could see I were only young. ‘Well’ I says ‘Sir, they’re joining and I play with them every Saturday and I wanted to go with them.’

“He said ‘Go home and come back after dinner and I’ll pass you.’ And I came back and he passed me A1, straight away. And that were how I came to join the Chorley Pals.”

James enlisted in 11th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, and underwent training in Caernarvon in North Wales.

His unit spent three months in Egypt at the start of 1916, before moving to France in preparation for the Battle of the Somme in July of that year.

James and his comrades went into action at Serre on July 1, 1916, and he later recalled what he experienced there.

“Men were lying all over the damn show. I hadn’t run far before a shell burst above me and I got shrapnel, a six inch piece of shrapnel sticking through that leg there.

“And lads that had gone over were lying all over the place shouting for help. Nobody could get to them at all, nobody.

“The only thing I got to know about my friends – they were dead.

“My best friends were gone because we were all running together, you see, when this shell burst came.”

James was treated for his injuries and the shrapnel was removed from his leg. After further treatment in Manchester, he was sent to Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) where he suffered from dysentery and malaria.

James was demobilized on December 19, 1919 and returned to Swansey Mill before going into insurance. He married Mary Ellen Livesey in Whittle-le-Woods during 1924, setting up home in the village.

James owned and ran a grocery shop until he retired in 1963. His first wife died and he re-married, moving to Yorkshire where he died in October 1991.