Percy John Isard was born in Newick in 1893, the eldest son of Stephen Isard and his wife Ellen, who were both born locally. The 1901 Census shows Stephen’s trade as ‘Fellmonger’, a dealer in sheepskins (fells), which suggest he was probably also skilled at the removal of the wool from the pelt. By 1901 Percy was living with his parents, three elder sisters, Amy, Marion and Adelaide, and a younger brother, Joseph at an address at The Green. Percy attended the village school between 1904 and 1907.
By the time of the 1911 census, the family consisting of Stephen, Ellen, Percy and Joseph were still living at The Green. Stephen was working on one of the local farms, although both his sons were working as assistants in shops. Percy was working in a grocers and Joseph was serving in a drapers.
Percy joined up in November 1914 in Lewes. SD2940 Private Percy Isard was posted to the 13th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment.
Records show he sailed for France in March 1916, probably at the same time as Charles Hodges and Sydney Brooks.
The War Diaries of the 12th and 13th show that both formations had been in and out of the front line since their arrival on the continent in March. By the 29th June 1916, both battalions were in the Ferme de Bois/Richebourg area awaiting the attack, following a period of practice for it behind the lines. The detailed orders for the plan of the attack show that the intention of the action was to capture both front and support lines in the area of the Boar’s Head. To this end the 12th and 13th Battalions were to capture these positions and hold them, forming a new front line, the 12th on the right, and the 13th on the left of the assault. The 11thBattalion, Royal Sussex Regiment was in reserve, making the attack a very local affair.
Following a short bombardment, the Sussex men attacked at 3.05am on the morning of 30th June 1916. The War Diary of the 12th Battalion is short and to-the-point:
‘Battalion attacked enemy front and support lines and succeeded in entering same. The support line was occupied for about ½ an hour, and the front line for 4 hours. The withdrawal was necessitated by the supply of bombs and ammunition giving out and the heavy enemy barrage on out front line and communication trenches preventing reinforcements being sent forward.’
By 10.00am the battalion had been relieved and was marching to billets at Les Lobes. A figure entered in the margin of the 12th Battalion’s War Diary shows that the casualty figure for the day was 412 men killed, wounded or missing. Privates Sydney Brooks and Charles Hodges were among them. Sydney’s brother William survived the attack.
The War Diary of the 13th Battalion gives a more detailed account of the events of the day, but in essence the 13th Battalion’s experience was clearly much like that of their comrades in the 12th Battalion. They managed to occupy limited parts of the German front and support line but were forced back owing to fears that they would be cut off. The only extra detail of significance is the effect of a smoke screen designed to mask the advance, which drifted into the attacking formation causing great confusion, especially in the darkness of early morning.
The battalion was relieved at 1.30pm and marched to billets in Vielle Chapelle. The War Diary does not give complete casualty figures, but Paul Reed, (a leading authority on the Royal Sussex Regiment during the Great War) gives a total figure of nearly 1,100 men killed wounded or missing from the three Battalions (a company from the 11th Battalion had gone forward as a carrying party and had been almost completely wiped out). Hence casualties in the 13th battalion were even higher than those in the 12th
Percy Isard is buried in Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery near the village of Souchez to the north of Arras. He was eventually laid to rest some distance from where he fell, as the cemetery houses the remains of men ‘brought in’ from over 100 separate cemeteries scattered over a wide area. Official records show that Percy’s remains were originally buried by the Germans in a cemetery near the village of Illies, but that his body was exhumed and identified by his identity disc in 1923, and reburied at Cabaret Rouge along with a number of other Royal Sussex men killed on 30th June 1916.
The cemetery contains the remains of 7,655 Commonwealth servicemen from the Great War, of whom more than half are unidentified. The personal inscription on Percy’s grave reads ‘THY WILL BE DONE’, a popular choice, in this case made by his mother. There is a beautiful red rose planted close to his grave, and a number of Horse Chestnut trees grow nearby. The cemetery was designed by Sir Frank Higginson, whose ashes were scattered at the site after his death in 1958.
Percy is also commemorated on his mother and father’s gravestone in the churchyard.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry for Percy Isard describes him as the ‘Son of Ellen M. Isard, of The Firs, Newick, Sussex’.
Percy Izard was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal.
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