Hundreds of brave South Yorkshire men who gave the ultimate sacrifice almost 100 years ago have been honoured during a royal visit to the region.
HRH Prince Edward, The Earl of Wessex, officially opened the Barnsley Pals Centenary Square – new gardens and play-area fountains next to the Town Hall.
It will be a focal point, near the war memorial, to remind future generations of the brave Barnsley men who lived, worked, joined up, fought and died side-by-side in the First World War.
The Barnsley Pals were two battalions, the 13th, 1st Barnsley Pals and 14th, 2nd Barnsley Pals, of the York and Lancaster Regiment.
On the first day of the Battle of The Somme – on July 1, 1916 – 545 of them died in the trenches, as they took part in an attack on Serre.
The Prince unveiled a plaque in the Square, on the former Town Hall car park, where there are plans to site a further memorial to the Pals, which is expected to be commissioned next year.
He told a crowd of dignitaries, families, servicemen and cadets who gathered around the plaque: “This is a memorial to the Barnsley Pals and, as we head to the anniversary of the start of the First World War, it is a very timely moment to do this - in their memory.
“Thank you everybody for coming along today and inviting me to come along and do this.
“And congratulations to the council here who have done a fantastic job in remodelling this particular area - a dramatic improvement on the car park that was here before. And, presumably, much more popular.”
His visit also included a look around the new Experience Barnsley museum, inside the Town Hall itself - with a guided tour of The Romans Are Coming exhibition by curator and BBC TV historian Joann Fletcher.
He also met Duke of Edinburgh Award representatives, including the Ozone youth group and pupils from Kirk Balk Community College, Hoyland.
Then he experienced a new Sensory Pod, which is being used in schools to give students virtual experiences, from visiting mountain tops to the bottom of the sea. It is also used as a refuge for special needs youngsters.
Sir Steve Houghton, Barnsley Council leader, said: “We’ve had over 40,000 visitors to Experience Barnsley as a museum. Lots of those are spending time around the fountains, garden and the Square. It’s become a major tourist attraction in its own right. It’s been a big boost to the town centre economy. Another piece in the jigsaw to make sure we have a town centre fit for the future but once that also recognises its history.”
Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis, himself a former soldier, said of the Barnsley Pals tribute:
“The important t thing for people to understand is that on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on Huly 1, 1916, the 1st battalion Barnsley Pals lost 275 men and the 2nd Barnsley Pals lost 270.
“On that one day hundreds of young men from Barnsley lost their lives.
“That’s why it’s really important that we name it the Barnsley Pals Centenary Square, because it gives us a focal point , along with the war memorial, to reflect and remember the sacrifice in service that those men gave.
“The were groups of mates who decided they wanted to serve together. They went off, did their training, went to war and many of them never came back.
“It’s actually a very sensible investment. It was brilliant to see kids with their parents and grandparents over the summer enjoying themselves and having a good time.
“To be honest, in my view, that’s money well spent.
The Prince earlier got a guided tour of an umbrella factory and met staff at Booth Brothers, in Bullhouse Mill, near Penistone
Booth Brothers, which employs 50 people at its South Yorkshire headquarters and a further 50 in their second manufacturing facility in the Fujian province of China, supply promotional umbrellas to around 1,000 distributors across the UK and Ireland.
Joint owner Charles Booth said: “We were delighted and honoured that His Royal Highness visited to meet our skilled umbrella manufacturing and printing staff.”
The Earl of Wessex also attended the Tata Steel site in Stocksbridge to meet with new apprentices and hear first-hand why they have decided to pursue a career in engineering.
He toured the facility with senior Tata Steel managers as well as the High Sheriff of South Yorkshire, the Master Cutler of Hallamshire, the Mayor of Stockbridge and Angela Smith MP.
* See The Star on Monday for an exclusive look at The Romans Are Coming exhibition with Prof Joann Fletcher.