"The time spent at Colsterdale was for most, the best time of their lives."
The patriotism shown by the people of Leeds at the outbreak of war with Germany was reflected in the city councils approach to, and involvement in the raising of the 1st Leeds Battalion. Quite a few family members of the raising committee were already serving or would later serve as officers with the ‘Pals’. Its first Colonel was Walter Stead a prominent local solicitor and Council member who had made the original application to Lord Kitchener for permission to raise the Leeds Battalion. This had been seconded in a telegram sent to Kitchener by Edward Brotherton the Lord Mayor of Leeds who personally bore the cost of raising and outfitting the Battalion. He also placed his personal fortune in the hands of the council as a guarantee against the costs Leeds might incur in the War.
Alderman Charles Wilson JP became the Quartermaster. Alderman and Solicitor Arthur Willey’s son Tom and James Wardles son James were commissioned into the ‘Pals’ as Lieutenants, along with Maurice Bickersteth son of the Vicar of Leeds. The zeal and patriotism of the council was then applied to finding a site large enough to accommodate upwards of a thousand men, at a pace unheard of today, land at Breary Banks in Colsterdale owned by the waterworks department and being used for the building of a new reservoir was placed, after council resolutions at the battalion’s disposal. That such of the Corporation lands in the Ure Valley (Colsterdale) as may be required for training purposes be set aside for the use of the War Office in connection with the Leeds City Battalion.
That such of the huts and dwellings as can be reasonably spared at the Breary Bank village be set aside for their use, having regard to requirements for the construction of the Leighton Reservoir.
That the waterworks committee be instructed to proceed at once with the construction either by contract or direct labour, of all the necessary buildings and works in accordance with the requirements of the War Office.
This included the few huts used by the workmen and a small bungalow used by the waterworks officials later to be used as officer accommodation. The water supply to the site was so inadequate that for some time the men would have to wash and shave in a small stream which ran 200 yards below the camp inappropriately named the "river" Burn. The tents required to house the rest of the men would be erected by the advance party. Arthur Meeson a council employee was one of them.
They left Leeds September 22nd with prominent council and raising committee members. The rest of the Battalion arrived on September 25th after a rousing send off at Leeds City station where it was estimated that crowds of 20,000 gathered. The rail journey to Masham was followed by a brisk 5 to 6 mile march to Breary Bank, their baggage and personal goods were sent via the light railway which had been built in 1901 to service the nearby Roundhill Reservoir. After parading and a welcoming speech by Colonel Stead and members of the Council, settling in was the order of the day. This was to be their home for the next 9 months.
Life under canvas would not be permanent, huts would soon be built, with latrines, bath houses and all the necessary accommodation that would enable the battalion to live as comfortable as possible up in the dale.
The time spent at Colsterdale was for most, the best time of their lives. Carefree days with good food, good accommodation and good company, their civilian skills were soon being put to military use. When material started arriving for the construction of more solid accommodation, recruits with the necessary backgrounds were employed on hut building, men with country backgrounds were soon catching the rabbits that were so abundant around Colsterdale enabling the battalion cooks to serve up regular meals of rabbit stew, so regular that one "Pal", Walter Astle on returning home after the war refused to eat rabbit for the rest of his life.
Late June 1915 the "Pals" moved to North camp at Ripon along with the 1st and 2nd Bradford Pals and the 18th DLI for Brigade training, then down to Fovant, overseas to Egypt and later to France and The Somme.