1916, NIGHT OF AUGUST 19th / 20th – RAID ON THE GERMAN TRENCHES NEAR SUGAR LOAF
From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)
At 10 p.m. on August 19 a raid upon the German trenches near the ‘Sugar Loaf’ was carried out by A Company. The raid was part of an elaborate scheme in which the Australians upon the left and the 2/5th Gloucesters on our own front co-operated. The leading bombing party, which Bennett sent forward under Sergeant Hinton, quickly succeeded in reaching the German parapet and was doing well, when a Mills bomb, dropped or inaccurately thrown, fell amongst the men. The plan was spoilt. A miniature panic ensued, which Bennett and his Sergeant-Major found it difficult to check. As in many raids, a message to retire was passed . The wounded were safely brought in by Bennett, whose control and leadership were worthy of a luckier enterprise.
 [Footnote 1: A failure of this kind was far less due to any indetermination of the men than to the complex nature of the scheme, which any misadventure was capable of upsetting. On the occasion the ‘order to retire’ was said to have been of German manufacture, but such explanation deserved a grain of salt. Owing to the danger of its unauthorised use, the word ‘retire’ was prohibited by Army orders.]
From The Story of the 2/5th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, 1914-1918, by A. F. Barnes, M.C.
During this tour of duty C Company made a raid on the night 19th / 20th August.
The rough outline of the trenches that were raided was an inverted T, affront trench of some eighty yards with a communication trench running back from the center.
The raiding party was divided into six sections: two were to act as flank guard; a third was to be the covering party, and was detailed to take up its position on the parapet of the German front line trench at the same point and to work respectively right, left and up the communication trench. The signal for the attack was to be the fist shot from the artillery which, it had been arranged, would open fire on the enemy’s support line and shorten to the front line immediately after the raiders had evacuated the trenches.
Two novelties were introduced into the plan. Firstly the raid was to be made on the same night and an hour or so after a similar operation had been carried out on exactly the same sector by another battalion. Secondly, the preliminary bombardment was to be dispensed with.
In these ways it was hoped to take the enemy by surprise – and this indeed proved to be the case……
In preparation for the raid the Company spent the previous fortnight behind the lines. Each day the attack was rehearsed on some disused trenches which approximately resembled the plan of those to be raided. Each night No Man’s land was carefully reconnoitered………..
Despite the hope that that the war might end on August 18th, the fateful day rolled round (19th). The raiders trudged up to the frontline about 10 p.m. and spent a desultory hour or so quaffing rum and blackening hands and faces. At about 12.45 a.m. they moved out into No Man’s L, and the various sections took up their allotted positions, the three that were to enter the trenches and the covering party, lying down in a ditch which ran nearly parallel to the German line and about forty yards from it……
Everything was depressingly quiet, as is usually the case just before a raid. A light mist hanging over the scene lent an eeriness to the picture: an occasional Verey light alone relieved the darkness; nothing was so audible as one’s breathing; the merest whisper jarred.
Thus they waited. Some dozed nonchalantly; some watched the luminous hand moving slowly yet inexorably towards the hour of zero. One minute still to go – thirty seconds – fifteen – ten! There was a slight brazing of limbs. Suddenly – a sound from far behind – faint, but unmistakable – the guns had opened fire. The raiders rose up and, rushing towards the German trenches, reached them as the first shell burst on the support line. What a moment ago, might have been a meadow outlying some English village, was now a caldron of flames and metal. The night air was riven by screaming shells; hundreds of Verey lights transmuted the darkness into a dazzling carnival; the quivering gun flashes from the German counter-barrage illuminated the distant sky-line; rat-tat-tat of innumerable Vickers guns, the muffled explosion of bombs; the ear-piercing bursts of the 4.9s completed the transformation. The enemy was taken completely by surprise, as is shown by the fact that the first sentry whom the raiders encountered was still looking out over No Man’s Land and was bayonetted through the back. Dugouts were bombed as well as several of the enemy who were endeavoring to escape.
The battle was at its height when shell from one of our batteries, falling short, burst in the fire bay close to one of the raiding sections. A certain amount of disorganization resulted and taking advantage of the occasion, some cute German shouted “Retire.” The raiders, taking the order to be a genuine on, immediately scrambled out of the German lines. The guns almost at the same time shortened their range on to the enemy’s front line, so that the mistake was of little consequence.
It had been prearranged that the sections would reassemble in the ditch from which the attack started, the flankers naturally remaining where they were. This was done in order that the party on returning might not get caught by the German barrage which was then falling heavily on the Battalion’s front line. Only one member of the entire party disregarded the precaution and unfortunately was killed just before he reached the safety of his own trenches. The rest remained out in No Man’s Land for forty or fifty minutes while the shells from both sides hissed and shrieked overhead. Eventually the British Artillery barrage died down and ceased and the German guns followed suit in a few minutes. When all was quiet again, the party walked back to its trenches without sustaining a single casualty on the journey.
War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Fauquissart
Entry Quiet day – Wire cutting by our Artillery and TM’s 9.30 – 9.45pm and 10pm – 1230pm. Two small Raids were carried out on our Right Centre front. The first took place after Artillery preparation at PM by one company of 2/4th OXFORD and BUCKS LI. The second raid was upon the same front without Artillery preparation at AM (20/8/16) by one Company of 2/5 GLOSTERS. Wire was found to be cut and the second Raiding Party entered Enemy Trenches and inflicted loss on enemy with Bombs and Bayonet. Both Raiding Parties suffered slight casualties only. (2nd/Lt S WHITWORTH, 6th Manchesters joined Bn)