The Royal Sussex Regiment Battlefield Tour
The Royal Sussex Regiment was formed in 1881 (raised from the 35th (Royal Sussex) Regiment of foot and 107th (Bengal Light Infantry) Regiment of foot) and remained as an infantry regiment of the British army until 1966 when it was amalgamated into the Queens Regiment and in turn became part of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment in 1992.
In 2012 the Royal Sussex Regimental Association launched an appeal to raise £60,000 to erect a monument in Priez France. This would commemorate the 7302 officers and men who died during the Great War and they planned to mark this event on the centenary of when the Regiment suffered its first casualties, 10th of September 1914.
I therefore was extremely honoured to have been commissioned by The Royal Sussex Regimental Association, to document this event (in both Video and Photography); and follow veterans of the Regiment and members of the Association on their journey of remembrance into France and Belgium and the unveiling of the monument in Priez.
Assisted by Keith Malda (Videographer) we travelled a few days in advance of the main party to Château-Thierry to setup a base of operations and recce the itinerary locations before the arrival of the veterans and members on the 10th.
While we were there to work (setting up equipment, establishing viewpoints and confirming timings) we very quickly became overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Priez community. For we had only been on location for less than an hour, when before we knew it we were invited to a splendid home cooked lunch (and wine of course) with the Mayor or Priez, his wife, other Priez officials, as well as some members of the Association. It took a fair bit of will power to get back to work after lunch I can tell you!!
The morning of the 10th of September 2014 started early with a wreath laying at the Montreuil-aux-Lyons British Cemetery, where a number of the 2nd Battalion are buried. This was especially significant as descendant family members of L/9596 Drummer George Benjamin Whittington and L/2946 Regimental Sergeant-Major William Cleare (both were Killed at Priez 10th September 1914, therefore 100 years to the day of the visit) were also in attendance for a very personal remembrance.
After the wreath laying and a period of remembrance, the main party moved onto a viewpoint over Priez where the President of the Regimental Association, Colonel Roderick Arnold, addressed the group, pointing out the landscape and features of what the 2nd Battalion faced on that day in 1914, as well as a description of the action that took place. Following this short history lesson, a contingent of the Regimental Association formed up on the road; ready to march into Priez, marking the beginning of the monument unveiling and dedication service.
This was probably the toughest part of the day, as there was a lot of running around and making sure that we were at the right place at the right time for both the video recording and photography. This is where having the mind-set and skills of a photojournalistic wedding photographer came in handy; being ready and adaptable to the situation and anticipating those key moments – improvise, adapt and overcome! After the service we barely had time to collect equipment, before catching up with the main party at the Priez cemetery, where further wreath laying at both the commonwealth burials, as well as the local Communal burials by the Association and the Mayor of Priez took place.
Considering how much was packed in so far, it was only just after midday, so for us it was a quick drive up to Neuilly-St-Front for the reception luncheon and just enough time prepare equipment to record an address from both the Regimental Association and the Mayor of Priez; giving thanks and presentation to all those involved in the planning and execution of the trip, especially for our excellent French hosts! The highlight for me though was when many of the Regimental Members stood and sang “Sussex By the Sea” in true rousing spirit…
The day was still not over though!
After lunch the Regimental Association members travelled onto the Asine battlefield and the Vendresse British Cemetery, where we continued to document the day and spent some time conducting interviews for the video. When the day was over; and as much as we wanted to collapse from exhaustion, we made a further drive onto Laon where we just had enough time to back-up all the footage and photographs, charge batteries and prepare for the final day (and drive) towards Ypres, Belgium.
The following day, after stopping off at a number of battlefield sites around Polygone Wood we finally made our way to the Menin Gate in Ypres for a final wreath laying and remembrance for the Association members.
Spending time with veteran members of the Royal Sussex Regiment and Regimental Association, has been one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences I’ve had; listening and recording the personal stories and what the trip meant to them, observing the camaraderie of the regimental family and being given the opportunity and privilege of archiving a piece of history for generations to come. Enjoy!