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Shoe maker turned soldier, heads to France to fight

When I started researching the story of our "Somme Soldier", Raymond Percival, I had one single photo of him in his uniform...

Private Raymond Percival from Rushden in Northamptonshire Credit: Rushden Hearts & Soles

Fast forward a few weeks...and I'm flicking through multiple photos with three generations of his family. It's fair to say, quite a lot has happened since my last blog post!

Looking back at Percival family photographs Credit: ITV News Anglia

After the first piece in our series was broadcast, I had an email from Raymond's great, great niece, Alice. Alice is in the middle of the photo above, wearing a white and maroon scarf. A member of her family had seen our report and they all wanted to find out more.

"We always watch Anglia at night and they said, we're going to do this series on the Somme and we're taking a boy from Rushden and you think "Oh, that's nice!" Then, when they said Raymond Percival, I nearly fell off my chair!"

– Jean Charles, Raymond Percival's great niece

And I was equally surprised when I found out that, after a hundred years, lots of Raymond's family are still living in his home town of Rushden in Northamptonshire and were happy to share some of their photos and memories with us.

The men of the Percival family: Raymond is second in on the left Credit: Alice Kettle

Once Raymond had finished his training at the Northampton barracks in early 1916, we think he travelled down to Southampton docks and crossed the Channel to Northern France.

Thousands of British soldiers passed through the town of Albert Credit: ITV News Anglia

War diaries suggest that Raymond's battalion spent time in the French town of Albert at the start of 1916. These days, Albert is a tranquil town and it looked beautiful in the sunshine during our filming, but, a hundred years ago, it was where thousands of British soldiers came to fight in the Battle of the Somme.

The Golden Virgin on top of the Basilica was a familiar landmark Credit: ITV News Anglia

"The statue on the top was damaged by shells and ended up leaning at a very dangerous angle - about 90 degrees - and the soldiers began to build up a superstition, that when the statue fell from the top, that it would signal the end of the war."

– Dr John Greenacre, University Campus Suffolk
The statue on the Basilica was hit by shells in 1915 Credit: ITV News Anglia

We also filmed in a network of 13th century tunnels that run underneath Albert.

250
metres of tunnels run underneath the town of Albert

During the Battle of the Somme, these tunnels were used to store ammunition and reserve soldiers.

Some of the tunnels underneath Albert now house the Somme Museum Credit: ITV News Anglia

On tonight's ITV News Anglia, I'll be reporting from Albert in France - finding out what life was like for Private Raymond Percival when he arrived here, ready to fight, a century ago.

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