In 1914, Jim Marshall was a coal miner working at Gawber Colliery near Barnsley.
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he signed up with four of his friends and joined the Barnsley Pals Battalion. The group of young friends, known as ‘The Dirty Five’, travelled to Redcar for training and were photographed outside the washrooms.
The Dirty Five in Redcar, 1914 (Jim sat left, top row)
Over 100 years on from the photo being taken, Jim’s great-grandson, Sam Jefferson, was inspired to write a song paying tribute to his great-grandfather and his friends in the Barnsley Pals.
Listen to ‘The Dirty Five’ at: https://samjefferson.bandcamp.com/track/the-dirty-five
A message from history
Sam first came across the photo in an old album kept by his Mum, however, the significance of it wasn’t immediately clear to him.
"My mum is great at preserving these bits of family history,” Sam explains.
“She was showing me all these photos, and she hadn’t noticed this pencil message.
"Around the edges Jim had written ‘Yours sincerely, The Dirty Five’"
“I must admit at first glance I didn’t see it either. It was only when I was leafing through it a few days later that I saw it.
“Around the edges Jim had written ‘Yours sincerely, The Dirty Five’.
“Reading that it really felt like receiving a message from history.“
Through research Sam discovered that his great-grandfather and his friends had fought on the front line in France at The Battle of the Somme.
“Everything I could find indicated they stuck together” he said.
Jim (middle row, third from left) along side other soldiers in his battalion
“I found an account from Jim, which relates that after being called back from the line they were hit by a German mortar strike while they were packing up the Vickers Gun.
“It killed one of the young men instantly, and left two never to be found.
“Jim and another of the five were the only ones who returned home.”
Writing ‘The Dirty Five’
Sam had previously written songs based on Jim’s time as a miner, however, ‘The Dirty Five’ is the first song written inspired by his great-grandfather’s experience at The Somme.
“I really wanted to try and tell about the fun and adventure the group shared, as well as the horrors they faced” said Sam.
“They were five young working class Barnsley lads, keeping each other’s spirits up with their jaunty songs and jokes, right up to the end.
“I really wanted to try and tell about the fun and adventure the group shared"
“The first time I played it was at the Broadstairs Folk Festival in August 2016 and the reaction was really moving.
“I had a couple of people come up afterwards and they showed me some of their family wartime photographs. It clearly connected with people.”
Following in Jim’s footsteps
After the war, Jim married Edith Maud and went back to working in the punishing environment of the mines.
However, with the help of his wife he eventually managed to follow one of his, and Sam’s, true passions – music.
“Edith saved his life in a sense” explains Sam.
Jim and his wife Edith Maud
“She could see the mining was killing him and began to save coins up in a tea caddy.
“One day Jim came home exhausted from work and she set the tea caddy down on the table and said: ‘You don’t go down that pit no more’.
“The money helped him become a professional musician and he lived a pretty long and happy life.“