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  • Christina Drummond

Company Sergeant Major Nelson Victor Carter VC, 12th Battalion, the Royal Sussex Regiment

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1916, Company Sergeant Major Nelson Victor Carter VC, 12th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, was killed in action at Boar's Head, Richebourg l'Avoue in France.

One of 9 children, he had worked from a very young age as a carter’s boy, a groom, and a general labourer on a farm. In 1902 he ran away from home and enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery using a false name. Being exceptionally tall at 6’1” – when the average height of men joining the army was 5’5” – he was able to pass for older than his fifteen years. The following year he was appointed acting bombardier with the 53rd Brigade, but was discharged after a few months due to having hammer toes. In 1906 he re-enlisted and served in Singapore for three years before returning to England; a few months later he was declared unfit for further service due to a temporary health issue and was discharged in June of 1909. He returned to work as a labourer and a doorman, living in the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ home in Eastbourne, before marrying in 1911; sadly a couple of years later his first child, a son, died at three months old.

CSM Carter re-enlisted at the outbreak of the Great War and served with the 11th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, being promoted to Corporal on the same day, three weeks later to Sergeant, and six weeks after that, on the 11th of November, 1914, to Colour Sergeant. The following day he transferred to the 12th Battalion, and was appointed Company Sergeant Major of A Company in January of 1915. The Battalion went to France in March of 1916. He was noted for his exemplary strength as well as his extensive extraordinary tattoos. His actions three months later won him the Victoria Cross. The citation reads: “For most conspicuous bravery. During an attack he was in command of the fourth wave of the assault. Under intense shell and machine gun fire he penetrated, with a few men, into the enemy's second line and inflicted heavy casualties with bombs. When forced to retire to the enemy's first line, he captured a machine gun and shot the gunner with his revolver. Finally, after carrying several wounded men into safety, he was himself mortally wounded and died in a few minutes. His conduct throughout the day was magnificent.”

The following is part of a letter written to his wife by his company commander, Lieutenant Howard Robinson: “When I last saw him he was close to the German line, leader to a small party of men…..he had entered the German second line and brought back an enemy machine gun, having put the gun team out of action. I next saw him an hour later (I had been wounded and was lying in our trench). Your husband repeatedly went over the parapet. I saw him going over alone and carrying in our wounded men from 'No Man's Land'. He brought them in on his back, and he could not have done this had he not possessed exceptional physical strength as well as courage. It was in going over for the sixth or seventh time that he was shot through the chest. I saw him fall just inside our trench. Somebody told me that a month previously your husband carried a man 400 yards across the open under machine gun fire and brought him safely into our trench. For this act I recommended him for the Military Cross*. On every occasion, no matter how tight the hole we were in, he was always cheerful and hopeful, and never spared any pains to make the men comfortable and keep them cheery." (*The Military Cross was not awarded, it was believed to have been overlooked due to his subsequent heroic actions.)

CSM Carter was originally buried within the trench system. His grave was lost, but was rediscovered in March of 1920, his remains being identified due to his identity disk; he was buried then in the Royal Irish Rifles Churchyard, Laventie, France.

Nelson, from Eastbourne, was 29 years old and married with a five-month-old daughter.

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