Ninety-nine years ago, at 0305 on June 30th 1916 after a 15-minute bombardment, ‘Lowther’s
Lambs’ crossed no man’s land and bombed and bayoneted their way into the enemy trenches
near Bethune in Northern France. In the attack, a diversion before the Battle of
the Somme, these men of the 11th, 12th and 13th (Service) Battalions of The Royal
Sussex Regiment occupied the German front line and beat off repeated counterattacks
until forced to withdraw as casualties mounted and ammunition ran out.
The Battalions were part of Kitchener’s New Army of volunteers and had been raised
by Colonel C W H Lowther, a Sussex M.P. and landowner. This July his home, Herstmonceux
Castle, was the setting for support to the Army of a different kind as ABF The Soldiers’
Charity held a fund-raising Sounding Retreat in front of the castle. The event consisted
of a concert by The Band and Bugles of The Rifles and a marching display by The Cinque
Ports R.V. Corps of Drums, concluding with The Rifles’ Band and Bugles Sounding Retreat.
Among the first ‘Cinque Porters’ to arrive at the Castle were the four front rank
drummers, so the Drum Major had a chance to drill them in the ‘bomb burst’ and ‘outward
and inward by twos’ evolutions for our display. When the full Corps had assembled
we practised the full routine – not too difficult for most of us as we were now ‘following
the man in front’.
When the Drum Major, only lately risen from his sick bed, could take no more we were
dismissed to enjoy the afternoon sunshine. After individually perusing the Zimbabwean
sculptures, worrying the ducks or just sitting over drinks, we all gathered in the
Castle dining hall for shepherd’s pie followed by apple crumble and custard.
While the Band and Bugles of The Rifles gave their ‘sitting down’ concert we kitted
up, giving our boots and badges a last shine. Interestingly, our Cinque Ports cap
badges combine insignia from both Lowther’s Lambs and The Rifles.
As Battalions of The Royal Sussex Regiment, Lowther’s Lambs’ cap badges featured
the Rousillon plume, as do ours. (See the ‘April 2015 Engagements’ report for background
on the Rousillon plume.) Drawing our inspiration from the pre-Territorial Force Rifle
Volunteers, our cap badges also feature the Maltese cross which the Rifles Bandsmen
wear on their belt buckles and cross belts.
During the Band’s concluding numbers we quietly fell in on the tree-lined drive.
Having made sure that the Band’s seating was being removed, we sounded Regimental
Call and Fall In before marching on playing Drum Major Albert Shrimpton’s quick march
Medicine and Duty.
We halted facing the audience and guests of honour: HM Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex,
Peter Field DL, and General The Lord Richards of Herstmonceux KCB, CBE, DSO. Drum
Major Geoff Fairfax MBE then stepped us off slow marching to the traditional Irish
air King of the Fairies before breaking into quick time for Euterpe by Bandmaster
William Clark. Here our front rank drummers did us proud with two sets of faultless
‘bomb bursts’, while Drummer Downes impressed with equally faultless flute carrying.
Next was our 1914-1918 Medley arranged by Laurie Johnson. During this we did our
traditional ‘going round in circles’ evolution, snaking into a counter-clockwise
circle, spiraling in, re-emerging in a clockwise circle then re-forming behind the
Drum Major. Shrimpton’s Galanthia enabled us to again show our skills at ‘following
the man in front’ as our files marched outward and inward by twos.
Coming to a halt facing the audience and guests of honour it was time for our static
pieces. Trumpet Tunes, the trumpet tune from Purcell’s Trumpet Tune and Air and the
prelude from Charpentier’s setting of the Te Deum, was followed by our Retreat Marches:
The Ash Grove,Flow Gently Sweet Afton, and Mandora. This static set concluded with
our old crowd-pleaser, The Jigs. Playing I’ll Gang Nae Mair Tae Yon Toon, Mairi’s
Wedding and The Rakes of Mallow individually then with the full Corps at steadily
increasing speed and finishing abruptly always produces a moment’s silence, then
Having stood us ‘At Ease’, the Drum Major asked the Lord Lieutenant for permission
to march off. After the customary but sincere thanks, permission was given and the
Drum Major marched back to us, brought us to ‘Attention’ and stepped us off to Sussex
By The Sea – another crowd-pleaser in this part of the world.
As we left the display area and broke into Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant Major the Drum
Major peeled off to mingle with the audience. We’re not entirely sure what he does
there – sign autographs? Pose for selfies? Give tips on slimming? – we’ll never really
know. Suffice it to say, when we’d changed and gathered on the castle’s grassy knoll
to sip free beer and enjoy the Rifles Sounding Retreat, he returned to us his usual,
During this pleasant end to the day we were able to chat with several Royal Sussex
Regiment veterans, with some of our number arranging to visit the Regimental Collection
at The Redoubt in Eastbourne the next day. And what of Lowther’s Lambs? Despite heroic
efforts, with a posthumous award of the VC to CSM Nelson Carter of the 12th Battalion,
the attack didn’t succeed. Their casualties, just over 1,100 for the three Battalions,
were a pre-cursor to the tragic losses in the Battle of the Somme that followed.
The conflicts that today’s soldiers face are different, but the pressures and risks
remain. ABF The Soldiers’ Charity helps by providing lifetime support to serving
and retired soldiers and their families. Vital to its continued good work are fund-raising
events like this Sounding Retreat. We count it a privilege to have been asked to
be a part of it.