Liverpool Pals: 100 years on from the Battle of the Somme

Mark Austin

Former ITV News presenter

Along a corridor deep inside Liverpool Town Hall is a room that everyone in that great city should try to see.

It is a grand room, with wood paneling and hand painted crests. But, most significantly, it is a room adorned with the names of around 14,000 men and women who have died in war.

You can see the name, rank, unit and the date they died.

The date that recurs more often than any other is July 1st, 1916. And the unit that reappears time and time again is the 'Liverpool Pals'.

When, in 1914, General Henry Rawlinson suggested that men would be more likely to volunteer if they could serve with mates and colleagues, Liverpool was among the first to test that plan.

Within days, enough men had joined up for four battalions and the Pals Battalions were born.

You could pick any name on the walls of that room and the chances are there would be a story of untold bravery and sacrifice attached to it.

Liverpool Town Hall. Credit: ITV News

The name we chose was Arthur Seanor, a private in the Pals who joined up with friends who all worked at the same timber merchants in Bootle.

We set off across Liverpool to speak to his nephew, Peter Massen, about Arthur's story.

Through letters home and diaries he has established that his uncle was one of the first over the top at around 7.30am on July 1st. His mission was apparently to hurl grenades towards the enemy trenches so he had to be out front.

Private Arthur Seanor. Credit: ITV News

He tells me that Arthur apparently made it about 200 yards before he was mown down by a German machine gunner.

"200 yards", says Peter," Two years training, weeks waiting in the trenches in awful conditions and then 200 yards of fighting. It is terrible. I can't bear to think about it."

He shows me the letters Arthur sent to his mother and his fiancee a few days before the start of battle. In the letter to his mum he writes of how it was "only now and far too late that I realise all you did for me". How many such letters were written home on the eve of battle?

Peter Massen speaks to Mark Austin about his uncle, Private Arthur Seanor. Credit: ITV News

Arthur's body was never recovered . His is one of 72,000 names on the Thiepval memorial here to honour the missing and where the commemorations are taking place today.

Today there are thoughts of the folly of so many men being led to their slaughter, of the decisions that contributed to it and of the Generals and the politicians who made them.

But most of all one thinks of the utter bravery, the unquestioned courage and the sacrifice of so many young men who died for their country here 100 years ago.

It is, above all, unremittingly sad.