Most people are familiar with the battle of the Somme, which started on the July 1 1916 and tragically resulted in the loss of more than 58,000 lives.
Few, though, are aware of an important battle that occurred just the day before, at Richebourg l’Avoue in northern France – the Battle of Boars Head.
This particular battle was planned as a diversionary tactic, with the hope of persuading the Germans that a main offensive would begin at Boars Head, and not at the Somme, which lay some 30 kilometres south.
The objective of the battle, apart from its diversionary purpose, was to capture German frontline trenches, as the Boar’s Head location gave the Germans superiority over their enemy, allowing them to fire into British trenches.
The British offensive on Boars Head saw exceptional courage from the troops of the South Downs Battalions, Royal Sussex regiment, with one particularly notable example, that of Company Sergeant Major Nelson Carter of Eastbourne.
As the majority of officers of the 12th Batallion had been killed, Carter took it upon himself to assume command of his troops.
In acts of great courage and selflessness, Carter pushed forward with the 12th Batallion capturing the German frontline trench.
The next step was to capture the German support trench, rendezvousing with the 13th Batallion into small groups of lost and disorientated men, with few making it to the German trenches alive.
Thus, they were unable to take the German support trench, due to heavy casualties and too few men.
As a result, the 12th Battalion became isolated in the German support trench, taking the brunt of the German counterattack.
Among the mayhem and killing, CSM Carter used his revolver to capture a German machine gun, and used it to cover the 12th Battalion’s retreat.
Carter later carried 67 wounded men back to British lines.
Tragically for CSM Carter, he was hit in the chest by a German bullet while going out to carry another wounded soldier back from No Man’s Land.
For his deeds of valour, CSM Nelson Carter was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in honour of his outstanding courage, his selflessness, and for the love of the men he led.
The Battle of Boars Head is a poignant reminder of the futility of war; with more than an estimated 1,129 British lives lost on “The Day Sussex Died’.
n Christopher Richards, 16, Eastbourne.