Thursday, 30 June 2016

The day Sussex died

A hundred years ago, on 1st July 1916, British forces in north-western France launched the battle of the Somme.  This major offensive was to last until November that year, but the first day has been recorded as the blackest day in the history of the British Army.  That day it suffered 58,000 casualties, one third of them killed.

But it was the preceding day, 30th June, that was later to be described as the day Sussex died.

"Between the towns of Bethune and Armentieres, in the Pas de Calais, lies Richebourg l’Avoue. Richebourg is surrounded by other villages and small towns, some with slightly more familiar names, at least to those with an interest in the Great War. Aubers, Festubert, and Neuve Chapelle are just some of the scenes of battles fought in 1915. Mention Richebourg to many people and their response is an unknowing look or a shrug of the shoulders. Yet Richebourg played a significant, if somewhat dubious, role in the Battle of the Somme, and an infamous one in the history of Lowther’s Lambs, officially the 11th, 12th and 13th (Southdowns) Battalions of The Royal Sussex Regiment.
The Battle of the Boar’s Head, Richebourg l’Avoue, was planned as a diversionary action to make the German Command believe that this area of the Pas de Calais was the one chosen for the major offensive of 1916. The intention was to prevent the Germans from moving troops to the Somme area, some fifty kilometres to the south."  (From the website of the Royal Sussex Living History Group.

In the battle, 350 officers and men were killed or died of their wounds, and 750 were wounded.  Of those, some 70% were known to have been born and lived in Sussex and many of the rest, although born outside Sussex, would have been resident in the county. Among the dead were six pairs of brothers.  Another family had four brothers in the battle; three were killed and the fourth taken prisoner.  Seventy-seven towns and villages in Sussex were affected by the fatalities, the greatest number of which came from Brighton and Eastbourne.

Among the dead was Company Sergeant Major Nelson Carter:

Nelson Victor Carter was born at Eastbourne on the 9th April 1887 and was educated at Hailsham. In December 1902 he enlisted under the name of Nelson Smith into the Royal Field Artillery, where he attained the rank of Bombadier, but was discharged on the 17th August 1903 as medically unfit. Declared fully fit in August 1906 he again enlisted into the RFA and served three years with the regiment. However, whilst on service with the RFA in Singapore he was once again declared medically unfit and returned to England and discharged.

Upon the outbreak of WWI, Carter joined Lowther's Own in September 1914, promoted corporal on the same day, then sergeant and later Warrant Officer Class II. Nelson Carter was sent to France attached to 'A' Company, 12th Bn, Royal Sussex Regiment, and served with this detachment until his death on the 30th June 1916 whilst winning his Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award for gallantry..

For the award of the Victoria Cross: [ London Gazette, 9 September 1916 ], Boar's Head, Richebourg l'Avoué, France, 30 June 1916, Company Sergeant-Major Nelson Victor Carter, 4th Company, 12th Bn, Royal Sussex Regiment. 

 "For most conspicuous bravery. During an Attack he was in command of the fourth wave of the assault. Under intense shell and machine gun fire he penetrated, with a few men, into the enemy's second line and inflicted heavy casualties with bombs. When forced to retire to the enemy's first line, he captured a machine gun and shot the gunner with his revolver. Finally, after carrying several wounded men into safety, he was himself mortally wounded and died in a few minutes. His conduct throughout the day was magnificent."

Another almost-forgotten hero from a forgotten battle.


OldAFSarge said...

Something we Americans tend to forget (or never really knew) was that World War I was perhaps the most devastating thing to happen to Europe since the 30 Years War. A generation of young men was nearly literally destroyed. It crippled Britain and ruined France.

We who criticize the actions of Britain and France in the '30s when faced with Hitler have to remember that war was the last thing they ever wanted to see again.

We must remember them, those who gave that last full measure of devotion.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

My only actual real context where WW I is concerned is with my cousin's grandfather.
He got there late, was gassed, and was sent home.
It seems most Americans can't relate because there were relatively few veterans.