The Day Sussex Died
In advance of tomorrow’s sombre commemorations of the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, I thought I’d write a short preliminary piece about a related centenary to be marked today, 30th June 2016.
On this day in 1916 there took place the Battle of the Boar’s Head, the name given to a German salient near Richebourg-l’Avoué in the Pas de Calais region. This battle is remembered locally here in Brighton as The Day Sussex Died. The following brief account is based on the wikipedia article.
The attack on the Boar’s Head was launched on 30 June 1916, as an attempt to divert German attention from the Battle of the Somme which was to begin on the following day, 1 July. The attack was conducted by the 11th, 12th and 13th (Southdowns) Battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment, part of the 116th Southdowns Brigade of the 39th Division.
A preliminary bombardment and wire-cutting by the artillery commenced on the afternoon of 29 June and was reported to be very effective. The final bombardment commenced shortly before 3:00 a.m. and the 12th and 13th battalions went over the top (most for the first time) shortly afterwards, the 11th Battalion providing carrying parties. The guns lifted their fire off the German front trench and put down an intense barrage in support. The infantry reached the German trenches, bombing and bayoneting their way into the German front line trench and held it for about four hours.
The second trench was captured and held for only half an hour, during which several counter-attacks were repulsed and then the raiders withdrew, because of a shortage of ammunition and mounting casualties. The German support position was not reached by the infantry, because the German defensive tactics included shelling trenches where the British had gained a foothold.
In fewer than five hours the three Southdowns Battalions of the Royal Sussex lost 17 officers and 349 men killed, including 12 sets of brothers, three from one family. A further 1,000 men were wounded or taken prisoner.
The corps commander looked upon the attack as a raid and considered it to be successful.
Here is a photograph of A Company of the 13th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment, taken shortly before the battle; by its end, over 80% of these men were dead.
The losses at the Boar’s Head were shortly to be dwarfed by the horrendous scale of the slaughter on the Somme, but their impact on families and indeed whole villages in rural Sussex was devastating. Those who lost their lives in armed conflict should never been forgotten, nor should their sacrifices be appropriated for political ends.
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