The Pals battalions were made up of men from the same community joining up together and were part of the early recruitment drive by Lord Kitchener.
The young men of Bradford answered the call in September 1914 in large numbers, often joining in the spirit of the Pals battalions as groups of friends. Despite being an industrial manufacturing city with the majority of the population working as manual labourers, the men of the First Bradford Pals were overwhelmingly white collar rather than blue collar. They were generally of a higher social class, taller and in better health, as well as more articulate and better educated than the general population of Bradford. Orders at the camp were posted on a notice board rather than announced as it was assumed that everyone was literate (Recollection from interview with George Grunwell from ‘Bradford Pals’ by David Raw, p. 43).
The new recruits came from a wide variety of backgrounds and included a number of professional musicians, entertainers and sportsmen, as well as future Nobel Prize winner Edward Appleton. Having recently graduated from Cambridge University with a First in Physics and Natural Sciences, Appleton was soon transferred to the Royal Engineers where he was to specialize in Radio Communications including developing eavesdropping methods to penetrate German wire communications.
Amongst the professional sportsmen was boxer Will Blakeborough who was the North of England Featherweight Champion. A boxing tournament against the West Riding Regiment was arranged on 4 February to provide light relief for the new recruits, and Joe Linford, a former professional footballer turned reporter for the Bradford Daily Telegraph, described Will’s fight:
He knows how to use his feet; it was a real treat to watch his nimble feints and tricky footwork. And when he hit home I was glad I wasn’t his opponent. Long before the tenth round it was evident Bill’s experience and superior art would mean victory
Sadly, it was to be Will Blackeborough’s last proper fight. He died of pneumonia at the camp on 13 May shortly before the battalion’s departure for Ripon. Large crowds lined the streets for his funeral which received full military honours from the Pals.