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Raymond Percival: A shoe maker's battle at the Somme

Blog: Sarah Cooper @SarahCooperITV

Even on a beautiful, sunny day - High Wood, in Northern France, has an eerie feel about it. A hundred years ago, this was one of the most fiercely contested positions on the front line and this is where Private Raymond Percival, from Rushden in Northamptonshire, found himself in 1916.

High Wood: John, the historian, helping us bring the battle to life Credit: ITV News Anglia

We hear a lot about the first day of the Battle of the Somme, when there were thousands of casualties, but the fighting went on for months. By September 1916, the Germans had managed to hold on to High Wood, despite various attacks by the Allies.

High Wood through the mist Credit: ITV News Anglia

As its name suggests, High Wood is on high ground, with panoramic views and it's not hard to see why it was so difficult to attack successfully. But, on the afternoon of September 9th, 1916, Raymond and the rest of 1st Battalion, The Northamptonshire Regiment, started their attempt.

"A crater has been blown in the German front line and a few of them manage to get to the lip of the crater. But, by the end of the day, the attack has failed to take the wood and the fields would've been littered with the dead and wounded men from Northamptonshire."

– Dr John Greenacre, Military historian
140
men from Northamptonshire killed or injured that night

"I know a few people who, especially in the dark, in the evening, they don't want to pass High Wood, because, there's still about 7,000 Allied soldiers and German soldiers still lying in the woods, because after the war it was so dangerous to go inside, they just put a fence around it."

– Alain Perridon, The Somme 1916 Museum

During the attack, Raymond was shot in the leg and taken to hospital in Southampton, where he later died. He was 20. His body was brought back to his home town of Rushden and buried in the town's cemetery.

Back home: Some of Ray's family lay flowers at his grave in Rushden Credit: ITV News Anglia

Less than a year after they married, Raymond's new wife Rebecca, became a widow.

Rushden Echo: A newspaper report about Raymond's funeral Credit: ITV News Anglia

But, the person who sent me the picture below, is proof that Rebecca wasn't the only person Raymond left behind...

A young couple: Raymond and Rebecca pictured together in 1915 Credit: Carol Lloyd

Watch ITV News Anglia at 6pm tonight to follow Ray's final moments on the front line and find out why some of his family are in for a surprise... Or, check back here after the programme, to watch the final piece in our Somme Soldier series.

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