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A story of wartime bravery uncovered in the Yorkshire Dales

Old Camp Site, Breary Banks This rough pastureland shows evidence of a WW1 army camp which once stood here, with humps, bumps and level areas where huts once stood. This image is copyright Gordon Hatton:

Archaeology students are working in a remote corner of the Yorkshire Dales to uncover the remains of a First World War training camp where a legendary ‘band of brothers’ from Leeds prepared for the frontline.

Breary Banks camp in Colsterdale opened in 1903 as a camp for itinerant workers constructing major new reservoirs to serve Leeds and West Yorkshire.  At its peak, the camp was home to over 700 workers and their families housed in rows of huts organised into streets with schools, piped water and electricity.

Leeds Pals

But in 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, the camp became home for recruits to the newly formed 15th Battalion (1st Leeds) West Yorkshire Regiment, also known as the Leeds Pals.

The Pals lived and trained at Colsterdale before deployment to France and the Somme. On 1 July 1916, over 750 Pals scrambled over the top, many straight into the sights of the German gun positions.  Hundreds lost their lives or were injured, captured or missing in a battle that came to symbolise the horrors of modern warfare.

Leeds Pals memorial on Breary Banks. This photograph (c) David Johnston:


The bravery of the Leeds Pals is marked today by a simple stone cairn which dominates the landscape at Breary Banks where our students, led by Dr Jonathan Finch, are now working.

Dr Finch said: “Breary Banks is important because it helped forge the identity of the Leeds Pals – indeed of Leeds as a modern city – and it provides a focus and tangible link to terrible events which still resonate today.”

Read more about the Breary Banks project in the latest edition of our magazine