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How a young man from Norfolk met his tragic end on the Somme battlefield

Blog by ITV News Anglia's Malcolm Robertson

What a remarkable family the Baileys from Pockthorpe in West Norfolk were.

William and Louise Bailey had 13 children; nine boys and four girls.

Of the nine boys, six volunteered to fight in the first World War.

One can only imagine the worries and fears of their parents as those boys went off to fight. Would they ever see them again?

Robert Bailey's mum and dad, William and Louise. Credit: The Bailey family

Over the past few months, I've been trying to build up a picture of one of them: Robert Bailey, who was in the machine gun section of the 8th battalion, the Norfolk Regiment.

He was our designated Somme Soldier. With the build up to the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, we tracked his movements to France.

He'd sailed from Folkestone to Boulogne in July 1915 and then spent the next year in an around the town of Albert as the training intensified ahead of what was the longest battle in the Great War.

ITV News Anglia's Malcolm Robertson pays his respects. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Two of his brothers, George and Ernest, were also in the 8th battalion. Given that the British Army suffered catastrophic losses on the first day, it's hardly surprising that our story has a tragic ending.

The Battle of the Somme lasted 141 days, but sadly Robert almost certainly died within the first half hour.

I have military historian Dr John Greenacre to thank for this information.

He was with the ITV News Anglia team in France and was able to glean from war graves records that Private Bailey had been killed as the Norfolk's attacked a German line between the villages of Carnoy and Montauban-de-Picardie.

He was buried there but years later his body was transferred to the nearby Dantzig Alley cemetery at Mametz where more than 2,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers lie.

You can hardly fail to be moved by the sheer number of military cemeteries in the Somme area.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission does a wonderful job in ensuring their upkeep and has recently developed an app that'll enable anyone to track down the final resting place, or memorial, for the fallen.

Robert Bailey died on this day 100 years ago. Credit: ITV News Anglia

I felt quite emotional seeing the white headstone signifying where Robert Bailey is, just a few hundred yards from where he met his death but hundreds of miles from the farm in West Norfolk he worked on before volunteering to fight the Germans.

What must it have been like for his parents, receiving news he'd been killed? But not just Robert.

Another of their sons, George, died in that same offensive within minutes of the Battle of the Somme starting at 07.30am on Saturday July 1st 1916.

They had another son in the Norfolk Regiment, Ernest Bailey. He'd just turned 21 and on July 19th, he too was killed. What an unbearable loss. Two more of their boys died from wounds after being brought back to England.

With no known graves, the names of Ernest and George are etched on the wall at Thiepval, the largest war memorial in the world. Alongside them there are 72,000 other names.

Julie, Brian and Robert Bailey. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Back in West Norfolk, the war memorial at East and Rudham is rather more modest but no less important to those who come to pay their respects.

The names of the three Bailey boys - Ernest, George and Robert - head the list of victims from the local area who died in the First World War.

I'm joined there by their niece and nephews, Julie, Brian and Robert. It is with a mixture of pride and sadness that they gaze at the names of family members they never knew but who helped shape their futures.

Robert Bailey was one of almost 60,000 British soldiers killed on that horrific first day of the Battle of the Somme.

He never knew the war with Germany was eventually won. Thankfully, I've been able to see for myself - in France and England - that his contribution will never be overlooked.

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