The last Saturday in June saw the annual gathering in Richebourg, Northern France, for a commemorative service to mark the 99th anniversary of the First World War Battle of the Boars Head where so many Sussex men, and men from Worthing, sacrificed their lives on June 30, 1916.
In the First World War, the Western Front went right through Richebourg and the town was totally destroyed.
The front line trenches were in the outline of a boar’s head, which gave the name to the battle.
The Sussex Southdown Brigade lost 17 officers and 349 men, not to mention the hundreds of soldiers, wounded or captured, hence the name ‘The day that Sussex died.’
The men fought bravely in a battle that was designed as a diversionary tactic to convince the Germans that the main attack was to come from this area rather than the Somme.
It failed in all its objectives.
Former Worthing Mayor councillor Vic Walker represented Worthing Council and the people of Worthing at the commemorative service.
Also attending were members of the Sussex Living History Group who, as usual, provided a Guard of Honour during the service.
It was the founder of this group, the late John Baines, acting on leads given by Paul Holden of the Worthing Journal, who revived the link between the two communities in recent years.
Both West Worthing and Steyne Rotary Clubs were represented at the service and laid wreaths.
Also present were the relatives of those who had been killed in the battle, including the descendents of Company Sergeant Major Nelson Carter of Eastbourne, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroism.
During the battle CSM Carter, among the mayhem and killing, used his revolver to capture a German machine gun, and used the machine gun 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.
After the end of the war, under the leadership of the then indomitable Mayor of Worthing, Mrs Ellen Chapman, the people of Worthing raised funds to help in the reconstruction of the shattered town, funding the rebuilding of the town school.
Gifts of a practical nature, such as clothes, were also given.
The school has now been replaced by a new and spacious modern building, opened earlier this year, but the people of Richebourg have remembered and marked this association with Worthing by naming the new road leading up to the school ‘Allée de Worthing’ – or Worthing Lane.
After the Boar’s Head commemoration service there was a procession from the military cemetery of San Vaast to the new school where, Mr Walker had the honour of cutting the tape to open the new road.
He also unveiled a commemorative plaque giving information about Mayor Ellen Chapman’s and Worthing’s role in helping the community after the Great War.
Mr Walker said: “This is my first visit to Richebourg and my first contact with the people of Richebourg. I am deeply touched and overwhelmed by the friendship and hospitality that was extended to myself and all the other visitors from England.
“It was a very moving experience to share in the commemoration of the young lives sacrificed for our peace today.”
The procession then moved on to Richebourg Church where wreaths were laid at the memorial to the French soldiers who fell in the Great War.
Later the visitors from England were invited to a civic French supper provided by the people of Richebourg.
Mr Walker presented the Mayor of Richbourg, Gérard Delahaye, with a 2014 bound volume of Paul Holden’s Worthing Journal and other tokens of Worthing life.
Rotarian David Chapman, who led the group from West Worthing Club, said: “We remember the events of the First World War with horror and incredulity at the scale and terrible loss of life.
“By our presence here in Richebourg we emphasise that all who suffered and died will be remembered and their sacrifice will not be forgotten.
“However, the fact that such friendship and links grow out of these past events gives some solace and it is hoped that by helping keep alive these memories the international ties of this nature, that are forged through these acts of remembrance, will help deter such events every happening again.”
Next June is the centenary of this battle and the people of Richebourg are planning to make it special with a programme of events designed to evoke the life of those times and the impact of the war on the community.
If you would like to attend and would like more information, contact Gary Baines by email: Royalsussex@shorehamfort.co.uk