Trench Raiding with the Glosters - Kathryn's history blog

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Trench Raiding with the Glosters

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Artist's impression of a trench raid (source)
During the First World War, long periods of time went by on the Western Front between set battles. These were largely quiet stretches, although men still manned the trenches. On the Somme, there were more than 18 months of quiet time in the lead up to July 1916. Both sides were preparing and reinforcing their defences, with short bouts of artillery interrupting both sides' progress and preventing the front lines from being truly quiet.

While the majority of infantry soldiers remained in the trenches during these times, it was sometimes necessary to send small parties 'over the top', in what became known as trench raids or trench patrols. Usually sent at night, these groups of up to twenty soldiers would go to reconnoitre the German front positions, capture prisoners, or seize weaponry. They were highly dangerous. Enemy snipers would be on the look out for any sign of movement in No Man's Land and if the patrol encountered a counter group, or made it into the enemy trench hand-to-hand combat could ensue, often with high casualty rates. Sometimes, forward trench positions could be captured, their occupants killed with grenades, but more often than not the patrols were shot or prevented from achieving their aims.

Despite their risk, trench raids became an accepted part of trench warfare. The potential gains of investigating the enemy's defences, or capturing their troublesome machine gun could often warrant the cost. If nothing else, frequent raiding would pressurise those in the opposing trenches and prevent them from ever truly being able to relax at night. In attritional warfare, morale gains were as important as material advantages and trench raiding became part of that calculation. Risking lives became part of the deadly game of war and without taking the chances, no progress could have been made. Trench raids were also important for gathering intelligence, without which greater risks could have been suffered by those in the front lines.


In September 1915, The Fifth Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment were serving in the trenches near the Hebuterne-Puisieux Road to the north of the Somme region. This was a quiet sector, as yet unused in battle, but with a narrow No Man's Land between the British and German lines.


A number of trench raids were undertaken during B Company's period of time in the forward trench from 22nd September. A number of these were led by Lieutenant Thomas Harold Moore, a territorial officer from Tewkesbury.

Moore was following in the footsteps of his father - also Thomas - who was a territorial (previously volunteer force) Captain with the Glosters. Thomas [Junior] had served for more than a decade in the Territorials before being mobilised at the outbreak of the First World War. He was also accompanied by his younger brother Lionel who served alongside him in the Fifth Glosters. Both brothers were part of B Company and thus would have spent quite a lot of time with each other while in France.

September 1915 was to be an eventful month for Thomas Moore. He had spent some time back home in Gloucestershire before returning to the Somme midway through the month. Almost immediately, he was back in the front line and on 23rd September he was sent on a highly dangerous daylight patrol into No Man's Land. He returned unharmed, with the war diary recording that he brought a 'German bomb' - a grenade - back with him.

On the 24th, he was sent into No Man's Land again, this time accompanied by Corporal RC Jackson. The two men had to crawl out 'to inspect the gap in enemy's wire', which may have been in preparation for a German attack. They found a hole of 15 yards wide and 25 deep which had been created by British shells.

The following morning, the 25th, was the opening day of the Battle of Loos some 25 miles to the north. Further damage to the German wire was exacted in Hebuterne by heavy artillery fire and RC Jackson was sent out again to investigate the damage. This time he crawled out with Private A Enock to find that the Germans had not attempted to repair the damage to their wire. This must have been unpleasant for the men. Not only was it highly dangerous, with the risk of being shot by German snipers, but once again they had to crawl across the muddy gap, made worse by the two days of rain reported in the war diary.

British Front Line Trench Between Hebuterne and Serre, October 1915
The front line at Hebuterne, by GK Rose (IWM)
The damage to the wire found on the patrols must have proven satisfactory to the officers as a larger trench raid was launched on the night of the 26/27th September. 15 men from B Company were sent over the top in this raid, and this time they were sent actually to the German forward trench, rather than just to the wire. The battalion's war diary records the purpose of this trench raid as being to 'ascertain if the enemy were evacuating this line'. The patrol was led by Lieutenant Thomas Harold Moore, who was accompanied by Sergeant GE Cook, Corporal RC Jackson (who had already been on two raids that week), Lance Corporal Wilfred G Rodway and 11 Privates.

Unfortunately, this patrol was not met with the same success as their previous excursions into No Man's Land had been. The soldiers were spotted when they began moving through the enemy wire and a group of German soldiers climbed out of their trench to fight them at close range. The Glosters' war diary states that 'three Germans were shot', but so was Lance Corporal Rodway. Thomas Moore and Corporal Jackson had just lifted his body to carry it back to their lines when Moore was also shot and killed.

The other 13 men ran back to their own trench, with 12 of them making it back to safety. Private WC Bingham was reported missing, but as he doesn't appear on any casualty or prisoner of war lists, he must have made it back okay.

The following evening, shortly after 5pm, Corporal Jackson was sent into No Man's Land once more, accompanied by three others to bring back the bodies of Moore and Rodway. The war diary reports that it was dusk by the time they had wrapped them in blankets ready to carry them back to the trenches, when they were met with two German patrols who fired further shots at them. None of the Glosters were injured, but they returned without their dead comrades. The Germans from the trenches opposite buried Moore and Rodway, with one of the German officers' wives writing back to Tewkesbury to inform Moore's family that he had been honoured with an officer's funeral.
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Puisieux Church (source)
Moore and Rodway were initially buried at Puisieux Churchyard, before being moved after the war to Serre Road No 1 Cemetery where they remain today, buried side by side. They were reported killed in action, although they were not killed in battle. They had been shot while performing a vital intelligence-gathering job at the front, one of the many risks experienced during their stints in the nominally peaceful trenches.

A friend, un-named, wrote in the Fifth Glosters' Gazette that Lieut Moore 'was of the type which is England's peculiar glory. To say that is to say all - good friend, good leader, good man. To praise what we have lost is stoic comfort, but no comfort is so true as the memory of a stainless life and noble death, and the sure hope that death is not the end of all.' He is also remembered on a plaque in Tewkesbury Abbey, alongside the name of his brother, Lionel, who was killed in the Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916.

WG Rodway (source)
LCpl Wilfred G Rodway was a territorial from Stroud, who had joined the Glosters in 1910. In training after the outbreak of war he had won the honour of 'best shot in the battalion' for a score of 155. The Fifth Glosters' Gazette reports that Rodway had been the personal choice of Moore to accompany him on trench raids and had been popular with everyone in the Company, despite his 'quiet and retiring' nature. He certainly appears to have been one of the talents of the Fifth Glosters and the loss of both Rodway and Moore must have been felt by the rest of B Company, not least by Lionel Moore and the others under Moore's command on the deadly trench raid.

Two days later, the 29th September, the Fifth Glosters were relieved from the trenches and went for rest at Bus-les-Artois behind the lines for the subsequent fortnight. During this time, Lionel surely would have written back to his family in Tewkesbury to report on his brother's death, which had come so soon after Thomas had visited them on leave. Both the Moore and Rodway families would also have received a letter from their commanding officer, most likely Captain R Carruthers-Little, praising their bravery in their trench raid escapades.

The raid which had cost Moore and Rodway their lives had been a technical success. The men ascertained, as had been their duty, that the German front line had not been evacuated; although hardly with the desired response. Thousands of these patrols were sent out over the course of the First World War. There was no technological alternative; attrition depended on manpower and  the willingness of soldiers to fight and there were no shortcuts in the fight for success.

Kathryn

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