Saturday, 11 November 2017

The night was fine

On the night of 29th/30th October 1917, Captain C.H. Carruthers and 2nd Lieutenants Schutze and Beale lead a party of 60 men on a raid on German trenches. All were from ‘A’ Company, 2/6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment. The night was fine, the moon being exceptionally bright.

The objects of the raid were straight forward:

(a) To kill the enemy and take prisoners
(b) To destroy dugouts and emplacements
(c) To obtain identifications

British and German trenches east of Arras from a November 1917 map. 
The square is where the raid of 30 October 1917 took place.

Detail map from the raid report showing the line taken between British and German trenches;
the British front-line trenches are those on the left.

The outcome, according to the official report*, “generally speaking, was a good one. It is evident that many casualties were inflicted on the enemy, and if the raided area had not been fired on by hostile trench mortars a great deal of damage would have been caused to the trenches and defences.” British losses in the raid were two men dead and several wounded.

Thanks to contemporary trench maps and satellite imagery it is possible to find the exact site of the raid, which is open farmland today. A track shown on trench maps still exists and can be followed to a point immediately in front of the British trenches where the raid commenced. Helpfully there is a new road built along the line of the German trenches that provides a view of the proximity of the opposing lines.

Trench map overlay on satellite imagery.
Arrowed is the line taken by ‘A’ Company of 2/6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment

View from point B on overlap map, looking towards the barn. British trenches were to the left of the track.

View from point A on overlap map, indicting the direction taken by the raiding party.
The tree lined road is where the German trenches were in October 1917

Turning from viewing the route taken to the German lines, and looking back to where the British were, was a stark and poignant reminder of events a century ago; almost at our feet in the field was an unexploded shell. As we walked back down the track we found more examples of this iron harvest. The men died at a time when tit-for-tat trench raids seemed to be the order of the day, with little purpose other than to kill ‘the enemy’.

Unexploded shell in the field at point A, where the British trenches were.

The iron harvest of unexploded ordnance. The two items at the top right of the picture appear to be Stokes mortar shells

(*) Report on Raid carried out by 2/6th Gloucestershire Regiment, on night of 29th/30th October, 1917. A.H. Spooner, Brigadier-General, Commanding 183rd Infantry Brigade. 30.10.17

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