a Night Raid
by Lance-Corporal. W. Stevens
a Romp Across No-Man's Land into Enemy Trenches
covers from 'the War Illustrated'
a Night Raid
The night before we were to commence operations we went to the front in motor-lorries with three officers renowned throughout the brigade - officers that soldier men would follow into the shades of Hades to drag out Lucifer himself if they said the word. And I have to be excused of any want of modesty when I say that the raiding-parties were picked men, every soul of them,
We arrived in the front-line trenches where a weary regiment were holding on, and they almost wept when they heard we weren't their reliefs. They had had a terrible time, these lads, and had been five full days and nights without any rest. We, however, were in better form, for we'd had a fortnight in billets.
Never before had I ever seen the German artillery so vindictive, nor had there ever been such an expenditure of lights. One of the men seemed to resent this.
"You blighters bring trouble with you it seems," he said. "What we've had before has been milk-and-water to this lot. I shall be glad when you get out, and we see the back of you."
At last the word came, and we went over the parapet, not with a yell as the lads do when charging, but silently, slinkingly. I remember passing a gas cylinder which was leaking, and I got a full whiff of the stuff for a start. That nearly floored me, but I stuck it, and bent double, ran on till the effects had passed off. The next thing that I came across was some barbed-wire that had once belonged to the German third-line trench, and this nearly tripped me up. As I had half a hundredweight of bombs slung around me, and as many of the pins had shaken out, it would have made a moss of me had I fallen, though I didn't realise this at the time.
Finally, we came to what had once been a road but now it was nothing but a series of shell-craters, half lull of water but excellent cover for all that. The one I got to had seven dead Germans still in it, but we quickly dumped these out of the way and took their places, up to the waist in mud and rain-water. Then we waited for the bombardment that was nearly due.
I looked at my watch and it said ten minutes to ten. I knew that at ten sharp our guns would start, but I never knew ten minutes to take so long passing before. Then it came suddenly. It was all heavy stuff and we ducked low. We were also afraid of shells blowing back, which means that instead of the enemy getting the benefit you get the shrapnel and high explosive in your faces.
Just then the guns lifted, and we stood by.
"Get ahead, wire cutters," was the order, "and see it everything's clear."
They took the telephone wire with them and soon the word came back that the enemy wire was smashed out of existence. We passed it on to the gunners, and they gave us five more minutes to wait. Boom ! Keri-rump ! The guns were blazing away like steam. Five minutes up - over you go !" With our heads well tucked in right on the heels of the shells as the guns lilted, we went forward, scrambling and racing in the darkness.
I reached the German trench before I knew it, and slithered down, losing my tin hat in the slide. I found a dug-out quite close and such a dug-out too ! I yelled out : "Come out, you beggars, or I'll smoke you out !" Two Wurtembergers climbed out, looking as scared as possible. Two here, sir !" I yelled to our off6cer, whose voice I could hear to the left. He came up at the run, brandishing a service revolver in one hand and an electric torch in the other. "Off they go. he ordered. "Send a couple of hands to take them to the prisoner-conducting party."
illustrations from 'the War Illustrated'
Clearing Enemy Dug-Outs
They went; but they really didn't need any guard. They seemed only too glad to got out of the mess with their skins whole, and the way they ran in front, shifting dead bodies and stray pieces of wire from the path was pitiful.
"Better make sure there's nobody else down there," was the order, and again I yelled. I got no answer, and two full minutes afterwards - to allow anybody to change his mind if need be - I made them a present of a couple of the best. Then I passed on to the next dug-out, and the next, and gave them all a similar dose. And all the time I seemed to be doing nothing but keeping myself from slipping down in the mud and muck.
I'd disposed of about thirty bombs when one of my pals came running round a corner. The whole of the left side of his face was bleeding horribly.
Bill, old man," he said, "I'm bleeding to death. You might do me a good turn and wallop that crowd of Germans just round the corner. There's about a hundred of 'em, holding a dug-out with bombs, and they've played hell with my platoon."
He'd hardly finished speaking when another chap I knew came staggering round the corner. He was blind, and was feeling his way along the parados to his friends. I sent a couple more lads with them to the prisoner-conducting party to be patched up, and then with the rest of the section, went round that traverse at the rush. just at the corner one chap let out a yell.
"I'm blown to bits ! he said. He'd only got a smack under the belt with a piece of spent grenade, and later on I saw him fighting like the dickens. We'd no time to attend to casualties now; the Germans had got wind of our coming, and were lobbing bombs and grenades over the twist of the traverse and random shooting though it was, they made excellent practice among us.
Trenching Tool as Battle-axe
But, instead of stopping its, these bombs only spurred us oil. We did let out one yell, and that must have given the Huns a fright, for they ceased fire for a minute. The next we were slap on top of them, and we slung bombs right and left into them. They fought hard, all gave us as good as we sent, until finally they ran a bit short of ammunition, and started to run down the mouth of the dug-out.
Soon there rose into the air three rockets, one after the other, and they burst with a cloud of red stars. Then some German lit a red flare, and with a final yell and a rush we charged, bombing as we went.
All my grenades had gone by this time, and all I was armed with was a trenching tool. I'd fitted the shaft on this earlier, and now I used it as a battle-axe and I stopped fully half a dozen Germans from bolting down that rabbit-hutch.
At last we'd got them all in, and there were only five of us left that weren't wounded. We stood and looked at each other for a second, in the dim light caused by star-shells sent up by the Germans. We were in a pickle too and no mistake. Faces as black as coal, hands and clothes smothered with mud and stains of German and British blood - our pals - and half a dozen bombs between us.
Somewhere down the trench -we could hear the grenades still exploding but we fancied they were some distance off. Fully forty Germans were in that dug-out and they wouldn't come out at all.
Suddenly we saw the reason of the red rockets and flares. The German guns started strafing it like the dickens. They must have had the range of that trench to an inch, though they only dropped occasional shells into it. They contented themselves with making a curtain of fire just behind us, through which we could get no supports or supplies.
"For the last time," I yelled into that dug-out, "are you coming out in peace or pieces ?" No reply, and not a single head showing.
'Right then. Here goes ! I said. Then I sent the last half dozen grenades down that dug-out one after the other. Still there was no rush for the entrance, and unless that dug-out went right underground for at least five hundred yards, there wasn't a man left to answer after the bombs had gone off.
Well, we'll get back, lads," says I, being in charge now - wed lost our officer somewhere. Pick up the dead and wounded as well as you can and make for the traverse."
Into a Hell of Fire
Luckily, as we reached it, we found a party coming to look for us and they helped us with our dead and wounded. We went back over the top and into that awful hell of fire, carrying our dead and wounded, and driving fifty Germans including three officers before us. Four men to a dead Tommy, two at least to a wounded man and we got back to the road. Then I felt as if some mighty hand had hit me in the small of the back; I tumbled head over heels and lost my entrenching tool. When I stopped rolling I felt myself all over, particularly my head, and licked my fingers in the dark to see if they tasted salt, which would have been blood. I scented all O.K. but I couldn't move any farther afterwards, and it took four men to get me in.
Then, back in the starting trench, they mustered us, and we'd lost a number of hands with several wounded. But, glory of glories, we'd cleared a German trench, and we'd brought in every dead soldier and all the wounded ones, including myself stunned by shell shock. Shell shock only, after that passage ! It's strange what a lot it takes to kill a chap nowadays !
illustrations from 'the War Illustrated' : into enemy trenches
Back to Index