We end this month’s Winter War series with a photograph from Christmas Day 1914. It shows men of the 11th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment (1st Southdowns Battalion) having Christmas Lunch in their wooden hut at Cooden Camp, just outside Bexhill-on-Sea. The lunch was paid for by the man who had raised the Southdowns, the county of Sussex’s equivalent of ‘Pals’ battalions, Lieutenant Colonel Claude Lowther MP. The men are still in their ‘Kitchener’s Blues‘ uniforms; enough khaki not having yet arrived to equip more than handful of recruits.
The 11th would last the longest of all the wartime raised battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment. It’s war would take it finally to France in 1916, and then in almost every major engagement up to the end of the conflict on the Western Front and in late 1918 to Russia where it would stay well into 1919 fighting against the Bolsheviks.
For these Sussex worthies it was the first Christmas of a long war; how many of them in this photo would come home when the battalion was finally disbanded?
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, but today is another anniversary – of a forgotten battle from the same year.
On 30th June 1916 the men of the 11th, 12th and 13th Battalions Royal Sussex Regiment (South Downs) fought a two and a half hour battle in the German lines close to the ‘Boar’s Head’ at Richebourg in Northern France. More than 360 South Downs men were killed and 1,100 wounded or missing. Veterans called it ‘The Day Sussex Died’.
The South Downs were unusual in Sussex as they were the nearest the county had to ‘Pals’ battalions; this photo shows men of the 1st South Downs at Cooden Camp near Bexhill on Sea, during their training there in September 1914. At this stage there were very few uniforms and most men slept under canvas. Morale in this unit was very high; something that continued well after the war as the Old Comrades Association continued to meet until 1979 and the last South Downer died in the early 1990s.
You can read more about the battle here: