Hailsham’s VC hero on ‘The Day Sussex Died’

Nelson Victor Carter - possessed of exceptional physical strength as well as courage
Nelson Victor Carter - possessed of exceptional physical strength as well as courage
  • Disastrous diversionary assault came at a terrible price
  • Royal Sussex Regiment beat off series of enemy counter-attacks
  • Sergeant Major repeatedly carried wounded to safety

Further details have emerged of the valour of Hailsham’s Victoria Cross hero Nelson Victor Carter.

He was posthumously awarded the British Army’s highest decoration for bravery after being killed at The Battle of the Boar’s Head on June 30, 1916.

It would be difficult to imagine a man better qualified to lead his comrades into action under the dangerous conditions

Now a commemorative paving stone is to be unveiled in the town next year to honour his memory.

Local historian and researcher Dave Dyer told the poignant story of Company Sergeant Major Carter in his book The Heroes of Hailsham.

In September 1914 Colonel Claude Lowther, the owner of Herstmonceux Castle, set up recruitment offices all over Sussex and 1,100 men, including Nelson Carter, volunteered within the first two days.

They became the 11th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment, the first Southdown Regiment affectionately known as Lowther’s Lambs, and by the end of the year there were three battalions, with most of the recruits from Sussex.

The Battle of the Boar’s Head (Richebourg l’Avoue) was a disastrous diversionary attack that has been described as ‘The Day Sussex Died’.

The 11th, 12th and 13th Battalions of the Royal Sussex went ‘over the top’ shortly after 3am and within five hours 17 officers and 349 men were either killed or missing and more than 1,000 wounded or taken prisoner.

They had bombed and bayoneted their way into enemy lines and beat off repeated counter-attacks until they were forced to withdraw as casualties mounted and ammunition ran out.

Their grievous sacrifice was to be overshadowed within 24 hours by the main attack. July 1 was the first day of The Battle of the Somme when the British Army suffered nearly 60,000 casualties.

Lieutenant Howard Robinson, Carter’s Commanding Officer, wrote the following letter to his widow. “On 30th June, he was in command of the last platoon to go over the parapet. When I last saw him, he was close to the German line, acting as a leader to a small party of four or five men.

“I was afterwards told that he had entered the German second line and had brought back an enemy machine gun, having put the gun team out of action. I heard that he shot one of them with his revolver.

“I next saw him about an hour later (I had been wounded in the meanwhile and was lying in our trench). Your husband repeatedly went over the parapet. I saw him going over alone and carrying in our wounded men from ‘No Man’s Land’. He brought them in on his back, and he could not have done this had he not possessed exceptional physical strength as well as courage.

“It was in going over for the sixth or seventh time that he was shot in the chest. I saw him fall just inside our trench. Somebody told me that about a month previously your husband carried a man about 400 yards across the open under machine gun fire and brought him safely into our trench. For this act I recommended him for the Military Cross.

“On every occasion, no matter how tight the hole we were in, he was always cheerful and hopeful, and never spared any pains to make the men comfortable and keep them cheery.

“In fact, it would be difficult to imagine a man better qualified to lead his comrades into action under the dangerous conditions.”