On 30th June 1916 the Southdowns Battalions took a major part in their first battle. It was a diversionary operation at the village of Richebourg L’Avoue in northern France. A set piece battle had been planned to straighten out the line of a German position known as Boar’s Head.
The first reports started to trickle back in early July 1916 together with the start of the Battle of the Somme which was further south. The casualties from the the Somme were enormous, in fact the 1st July 1916 was the worst day in the history of the British Army; 60,000 casualties either, dead, wounded or missing.
The Battle of 'Boar's Head' has today been largerly forgotten about, in fact many books about that time do not even mention it. The cost to the three South Downs Battalions and to the people of Sussex was terrible. The total causalities were 15 Officers and 364 other ranks killed or died of wounds and 21 Officers and 728 other ranks wounded. In total nearly 1,100. A conservative count of men killed coming from Eastbourne alone stands at 47, hardly a town in the county escaped without some casualties.
The Eastbourne Gazette on the 5th July 1916 carried the first reports as the wounded arrived .
"Several of the men who arrived at Eastbourne on Sunday night have been serving in the Southdowns battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment; and we hear that most of them were wounded in the fighting last Friday. They are all bright and cheerful. A gentleman who visited a hospital ward on Monday was spoken to by the men who said, “We are in disgrace today. We have been laughing ever since we have been in here.”
The ambulance brought 142 men – eighty cot cases and sixty-two sitting cases. "
A week later on 12th July 1916, the Eastbourne Gazette received more information from a wounded soldier.
Southdowns in Action
Terrific Artillery Fire on Both Sides
Eastbourne Man Wounded Twice
"In August 1914, Private Leonard P. Newham (eldest son of Mr. L.G Newham, a director of Bobby & Co, Ltd.) joined the band of the 11th (Southdown) Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment: and has been serving in France for several months. The strictness of military regulations precludes our giving the exact position of the troops engaged in the recent fighting. Private Newman, it appears, was wounded on July 1st and he seems to have written without delay a very cheery letter, from which it would seem that the Southdowns have emerged with credit from a severe ordeal.
“I am more than thankful that I escaped with this little lot. My wounds are only slight.
My word! It was a strafe! Our Brigade had a job to do and they did it, although the odds were against them. The artillery firing on both sides was simply terrific.
I was first wounded in the left forearm by a small piece of Shrapnel. While I was dressing a comrades wounds a shell burst somewhere near, and I stopped one piece with my right thigh.
Neither of my wounds was very serious. I dressed my leg and a sergeant did my arm, I fell in with Percy Clack (formerly of the cabinet department in Bobby & Co.’s) and walked with him till a piece of earth or something caught me and knocked nearly all the wind out of me.
I went up to the aid-post with two walking cases. The trench was smashed up in several places and was still being heavily shelled.
I proceeded to the advanced dressing station, and the enemy shelled that place, but no one was killed although on of the R.A.M.C. doctors received a wound in the head.
It was a marvellous thing that no more mischief was done, for dozens of men were lying practically helpless.
I met two or three of our fellows afterwards, and we all agreed it was the roughest time we had had.”
Private Newham is now in hospital at Colchester.
Mr. L.G. Newham second son (Sapper Hugh M. Newham) is serving in the Royal Engineers, and is in hospital at Maidenhead."
Private L.P Newham survived the war, Private Percy Clack the friend he mentions, (SD/156) died on 18th September 1918 aged 21 and is buried in STE. EMILIE VALLEY CEMETERY, VILLERS-FAUCON, France.