12:00pm Tuesday 29th October 2013
SOLDIERS who died on one of the bloodiest days in history are finally to be remembered almost 100 years on.
More than 200 troops from the 1st Essex Regiment, which recruited in Colchester, died or were injured on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Despite their ultimate sacrifice they have never had a memorial at the site where they fought - until now. Dr Ted Bailey’s grandfather was one of those who fought and lived to return to his Copford home.
After researching his family history Dr Bailey was horrified to discover there was no lasting memorial to their actions. He set up a fund and three years on the memorial is about to be laid.
Dr Bailey, 73, said: “This all started when me second son asked me about my grandfather for a remembrance project. “I didn’t know much about him. When I went and visited my great uncle’s grave at Ypes I went to where my grandfather fought. “I was quite outraged there was nothing there for the Essex Regiment. “So I decided to try and raise money for a memorial.”
The 1st Essex Regiment was positioned just outside the village of Beaumont Hamel on the Somme on July 1, 1916. Some 1,000 Essex soldiers went over the top to face no man’s land after a barrage of shells were fired, supposedly to cut the barbed wire waiting for them at the other end. Only hours later 69 were dead and 155 wounded.
The shells which had fallen to help the attack had only hindered it by alerting the Germans waiting at the other end.
They lay in wait and machine gunned the men as they approached.
The sacrifice of Essex soldiers on that day has long been overshadowed by controversy over the failure to synchronise their attack with the neighbouring Newfoundland Regiment, which had 255 men killed and 386 wounded from its original strength of 800 men.
The battlefield has been preserved and stands as a memorial to Canadian troops, with no mention of Essex soldiers’ involvement in the failed attack. Dr Bailey raised just over £1,000 through donations and had the memorial stone made.
It was received by the Mayor of the Commune late last week and will be interred at the church in Hamel. Dr Bailey said: “I’m extremely happy it’s been done although I don’t know how my granfather would have felt, he was a very quiet man. “I don’t want to take any particular credit and would like to thank everyone for their generosity. “I just feel it’s right now there’s something there for these brave Essex men saying ‘we were here’.”
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