Belfast Telegraph

Artist's haunting tribute as she draws portraits of soldiers who lost lives in Troubles

Artist Sam Bailey
Artist Sam Bailey
Images of murdered service personnel
Images of murdered service personnel
Captain Robert Niarac
Images of murdered service personnel
Images of murdered service personnel
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

A school teacher from England has taken on the huge task of documenting in art all military personnel who lost their lives in Operation Banner.

Sam Bailey (48), who is also a professional fine artist, spent nine months and over £10,000 to produce 'Never Gone', a 300-page book of portraits of soldiers and, in some cases, their families, who lost their lives in the Troubles.

She worked closely with the families of those who died and said the project was a 'hugely emotional task'.

"Back in 2016 I drew all the fallen from Afghanistan and turned it into a book for the Royal British Legion," Sam, from Northampton, said.

"Before that no one had drawn the lost of an entire conflict and turned it into a book.

"I drew the 456 men in 12 weeks. I don't just do portraits, I do backgrounds also, their stories. I learned so much from doing that.

"This year I decided to do the same for Operation Banner and called it Never Gone."

Images of murdered service personnel

Sam explained her aim was to ensure those who died were not forgotten.

She added: "Through conversations with the families I saw that when a person in service passes away, they are making front page news for around two weeks and they slowly disappear, their name fades away from everyone except those who love them and they become just a number. So if you talk about Afghanistan, people will say we lost 456 troops but will struggle to remember one name.

"Families gave me colour photos, black and white photos, blurred photos and clear ones. "And by drawing them all it makes everyone the same and have the same validity.

"There is something about a drawing that is more emotive than a photograph.

"I drew or wrote about 1,441 soldiers. I wasn't able to locate photos for every single person but I wrote about them all. I wanted it to be reflected as an historical document.

"I have also included family members who were killed alongside the soldiers and they are also in the end chapter called the civilian chapter.

"I included ex-soldiers and ex-UDR who were killed who weren't on the military list but are equally as valid."

Images of murdered service personnel

Sam referred to one story, the death of Alice Purvis, a 47-year-old Catholic, in May 1983.

Mrs Purvis met her soldier husband Brian in Londonderry, where he was serving. She was attempting to protect her husband when the IRA shot her at her mother's home.

Her husband was a sergeant in the Pioneer Corps and was wounded in the attack. The IRA said the killing of Mrs Purvis was an accident.

Sam added: "I think of military wife Alice Purvis who was shot in the back by the IRA as she tried to protect her soldier husband Brian, among many others."

She said her work was completed over a period of nine months at a personal cost to her of £10,000.

She found it a hugely challenging task.

Images of murdered service personnel

"I found myself absorbed in the world of the person I was drawing," she added.

"When I was doing it I would draw the person first and then read their story and learn about them, because I could connect them with the drawing.

"I find it so emotional reading what happened to them as I looked at their lovely smiling face staring up at me.

"I've never found it sad, but I have found it quite challenging when I have read the harrowing stories of how they were targeted."

Captain Robert Niarac

Sam is flying into Belfast to take part in the parade in Lisburn marking the 50th anniversary of Operation Banner.

Her book will be available through her Facebook page The Regimental Art Co or can be ordered via email on

All profits from the book will go to the charity Rock 2 recovery, which helps servicemen and women.

Belfast Telegraph


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