9th May 2004
The “last” Aubers Ridge Parade was held in Eastbourne in May 1985. The “last”? Not where David Wakefield was concerned – National Service with the 1st Battalion in Suez 1951-53 and 4 Battalion 1953-57, and Mayor of Tunbridge Wells 2003—04.
David recalled the days when the 4/5th Battalion used to commemorate the day in May 1915 when the 5th Battalion went over the top at Aubers in support of the 2nd Battalion, and suffered grievously. It had been the last attempt of the BEF to restore a war of movement in the Western Front, but it failed due to a gross shortage of artillery ammunition (the “shell scandal”), and a misappreciation by the staff of the strength of the German positions. The village of Wadhurst in East Sussex, where the 5th Battalion was recruited, lost 24 young men in 2 hours on that day, 9th May 1915. So David revived the event in Wadhurst this year, invited the Regimental Association to take part and organised a most fitting parade and an excellent reception in the Commemoration Hall afterwards.
All Branches of the Association responded splendidly, mustering over 40 on parade with 5 Standards and about 80 spectators, at the Memorial; together with In-Pensioner Sam Weekes from Chelsea; and Eastbourne Branch brought Royal Marine Cadet Corporal Stuart Sorrel!, in full dress as our Drummer. The parade was marshalled by RSM David Truran of the Sussex Army Cadet Force who is also a member of the Mid-Sussex Branch of our Association.
Forming a Guard at the War Memorial were three soldiers in period dress, including the Service Dress of 1915, organised by John Baines “Royal Sussex Living History Group’. We are most grateful to Mr Baines for all his work in publicising the Regimental Heritage.
During the service at the Memorial, Colonel John Buckeridge laid a wreath on behalf of the Association; and a party from Aubers in France, (with which town Wadhurst is twinned) attended with Standard, so the prayers were repeated in French and after The Queen. the Marseillaise was played. The service was conducted by the Rev, Jeremy James, Vicar of Wadhurst.
The Royal Sussex contingent then marched off parade to the Wadhurst Brass Band playing “Sussex by the Sea” very snappily, to give “Eyes Left” when the Salute was taken by the High Sheriff of East Sussex, Mr Julian Amery, supported by David Wakefield and Colonel Buckeridge. (It was clear that many of the gentlemen spectators – Royal Sussex, Royal British Legion, Army Benevolent Fund and other services could not resist joining in for the March Past, because by the time we dismissed at the Commemoration Hall numbers had grown to over 50!)
In the Hall we were met with very ample supply of alcoholic beverages followed by a delicious finger buffet Around the Hall was a display of the battlefield of Aubers supplied by the French visitors, together with reproductions of pages from Colonel Fazan’s diary of the battle, and photos of groups of soldiers from East Sussex who had fought there. And we were pleased to welcome Eric Fazan’s remaining sons, Brian and Guy.
The displays where enhanced by a projection of images of the battlefield, courtesy of Clive Wilson of Crowborough who had served as an officer in 3 Queens in Lemgo, Ulster and Cyprus.
After addresses describing the Regiment’s part in the Battle, and a briefing on our successors – The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment – and its operations in Iraq, a framed copy of “Sussex by the Sea” by Charles Stadden was presented to David Wakefield on behalf of the Association by Chris Rollason, in recognition of all the work and resources that David had put in to make the event such a success. We are also most grateful to Mr John Phipson, Chairman of the Wadhurst Parish Council for all his help with arrangements at the War Memorial and in the Commemoration Hall. And very many thanks again to Branches for supporting the event in such strength.
Extracted from the Winter 2004 (No.27) edition of The Roussillon Gazette (Newsletter of the Royal Sussex Regimental Association)