On 21st December 1916, orders were issued by 94th Infantry Brigade Headquarters for the 13th Bn., York & Lancaster Regt. (1st Barnsley Pals) to carry out a raid on the enemy lines midway between Hebuterne and Serre. The objectives were entirely typical - to obtain identifications and to inflict casualties. Preparatory work by the artillery began immediately. The enemy wire was targeted at six points along the divisional front and paths through had been cleared by the afternoon of the 23rd. Each day from the 21st, three bursts of artillery fire were directed onto the enemy trenches, the idea being to train the enemy to expect bombardments so that a similar burst of fire on the night of the raid would give no warning of an imminent attack. Each burst started on the enemy's second and third lines and ended on the front line.
Just as on the two previous days, 31st Division artillery briefly bombarded the German lines first at 5.30pm and then again at 6.45pm on the 23rd. As the second bombardment drew to a close, 2 officers and 77 other ranks from "C" Company of the 13th York & Lancasters formed up in the Orchard at Hebuterne and made their way down the Serheb road to the front line. By 8.30pm, the raiding party had moved into No Man's Land without being seen by the enemy, and had halted close by the German wire. There the men waited for zero hour.
The final bombardment began at 9.56pm, four minutes ahead of zero hour. After opening as usual on the enemy's 2nd and 3rd lines, the bombardment shifted not to the front line but to form a protective barrage around the trenches to be raided. Shortly afterwards a machine gun barrage was opened over the enemy's 4th line (Snuff Alley). At about 9.58pm, the raiding party was led by Capt. Lionel Foers through the gap in the enemy wire and into the front line where they immediately came across a large dug-out. No sooner had the party entered the trench than a shell exploded in the midst of them, wounding 2/Lt. Harry Midwood and 6 or 7 other ranks. Foers - having been knocked over and dazed by the shell-burst - struggled to his feet to give orders for the wounded to be taken back across No Man's Land. Midwood alone of the wounded remained with the party.
Foers then turned his attention to the dug-out. He later reported that on looking down one of the entrances he saw two of the enemy and heard a great deal of talking. He called out "Kommen Sie mit" several times but, on receiving no response other than a rifle shot, he posted two men at the other entrance and threw Mills bombs down into the dug-out. As this failed to draw out the enemy, Foers then threw down phosphorous bombs which set the dug-out on fire. As fumes from the furiously burning dug-out filled the trench, the party withdrew, though not before throwing four phosphorous bombs through the other entrance. The danger was far from over, as the party struggled to bring the severely wounded Midwood back across No Man's Land through shell bursts and sweeping machine-gun fire. After some considerable time, the party regained the British lines with little or no addition to the casualty list.
The raid could scarcely have been regarded as a success with no identification having been made at the cost of 8 or 9 casualties. Tragically, 2/Lt. Midwood died of his wounds at No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station, Puchevillers on Christmas Day. 12/534 Pte. Colin Jackson, who died of wounds on Christmas Eve, was probably also a victim of the raid.
The raiding party having returned without making any identifications, it was fortunate that in the early morning two Germans from the 8th Bavarian Infantry Regt. came in from No Man's Land to surrender.
Before departing for leave on the 24th, the battalion's commanding officer, Capt. C. H. Robin, wrote a report on the events of the previous night in which he brought to the attention of 94th Infantry Brigade Headquarters the excellent work done by Capt. Foers, 852 Sgt. F. Sagar, 39998 Cpl. W. Sayers, 389 Pte. J. Gough, 3/28713 Pte. W. Harker and 1011 Pte. C. Nurney. For this action, the Military Cross was awarded to Capt. Foers, and the Military Medal to Sgt. Sagar. It was left to Capt. F. W. L. Hulk to write a letter of condolence to Midwood's mother.
© Andrew C Jackson 2002
Compiled from TNA documents WO95/2341, WO95/2363, WO95/2365, WO339/27873, WO339/40059, the "London Gazette" of 13th February 1917, and the "Harrogate Herald" of 17th January 1917. The raid has also been described in detail in "Not For Glory" by R. H. Haigh and P. W. Turner.