10th Scottish Rifles trench raid and an oft-used photograph

Imperial War Museum photograph Q5100. Said to have been taken by John Warwick Brooke, the official photographer. Captioned "An officer of the 10th Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) leads the way out of a sap and is being followed by the party. Note shells bursting in the distance. Near Arras, 24 March 1917." and also "John Warwick Brooke, the official photographer, followed them in the sap, into which a shell fell short killing seven men." This is a photograph often seen in books and websites, often in completely wrong context and used as a general illustration of trench warfare. The men appear to be carrying rifles with bayonet, which when the orders for the raid are understood offers a hint as to their role in the raid.

The 10th (Service) Battalion of the Scottish Rifles returned to the front line of the Arras sector on 23 March 1917, relieving the 7/8th Battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers.

It war diary reads, “B and D Companies raided enemy trenches to support line, bombing dugouts. 2/Lieut Pratt, 2/Lieut Stewart and 3 other ranks killed. Two died of wounds. Three missing, believed killed. Capt Steedman and 22 other ranks wounded.”

Strategic context

The raid took place during the build-up phase before the British Third Army lunched a major offensive: the Battle of Arras, which began on 9 April 1917. This map shows in dark blue the British front before the attack pushed it eastwards. The area of relevance to the photograph is the village of Blangy.

Enemy

Two days after the raid, an enemy prisoner was captured by the battalion. He belonged to 104 Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment but had been attached to 2nd Battalion of 133 Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment (Kgl. Sächs. Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 133) since February 1917. Both units came under command of 24th Reserve Division.

Raid orders

The battalion will carry out a raid on the enemy trenches on lines G.24.d.1/2.6 – G.24.c.9 1/2 .9 – G.24.d.2.9 – G.24.d.3.6 on 24/3/17.

British trench map dated to 25 April 1917. British trenches in blue, German in red. I have added four small flags to mark the four grid reference points defined in the raid orders. Note that the raid area straddles the railway line.

Objects:
To kill or capture enemy; to obtain identifications; to destroy trench mortars, machine guns and dugouts.

Zero hour will be 4am.

Composition:
B and D Companies, less Lewis gun teams and company HQ section(s).

Distribution:
(1) Right or Southern Company: B Coy. Total 4 officers and 77 other ranks.
A Block: 1 NCO and 5 men; B Block: 1 NCO and 5 men; C Block: 1 NCO and 8 men; D Block: 1 NCO and 5 men; with 1 officer in charge
Number 1 Clearing Party: 2 officers, 5 NCOs, 25 men
Number 2 Clearing Party: 1 officer, 2 NCOs, 10 men
Number 1 Escort Party: 1 NCO, 3 men, 4 Stretcher bearers.
(2) Left or Northern Company: D Coy. Total 4 officers and 74 other ranks.
E Block: 1 NCO and 5 men; F Block: 1 NCO and 5 men; G Block: 1 NCO and 5 men; H Block: 1 NCO and 5 men; with 1 officer in charge
Number 3 Clearing Party: 2 officers, 5 NCOs, 25 men
Number 4 Clearing Party: 1 officer, 2 NCOs, 10 men
Number 1 Escort Party: 1 NCO, 5 men, 4 Stretcher bearers.

Action:
Right Column will move up Ivory Street and file out of Sap 66a.
Left Column move up Inns of Court and file out of Sap 66b.
Arrow heads exist in these saps.
Columns will form up in no man’s land in single file by groups as in attached diagram [missing from diary] and at Zero will move across no man’s land in that formation, working as close up under the barrage as possible to the enemy line.
Right Column advances to gap in wire at G.24.d.1/2.6 using railway as a guide.
Left Column advances [on] bearing of 102 degrees magnetic to gap at G.24.d.0.7 1/2.
Blocking parties proceed to establish blocks as per attached sketch [missing from diary].
Clearing Parties 1 and 3 move along communication trenches “on top” to [enemy] support line and move along it until they meet. At each dugout entrance passed, two sentries will drop into the trench and picquet the entrance ready to capture or kill any enemy coming out. Signal on parties meeting will be the word “Glasgow” and a sandbag will be raised up on a bayonet.
Similarly, Clearing Parties 2 and 4 turn northwards along the [enemy] front line, also picquetting dugouts.
Where Clearing Parties meet those of opposite column they will turn about. The officer in charge will proceed to each dugout entrance, shout down to occupants to come out and failing compliance will throw down a “P” [Phosphorus] bomb. If no enemy comes up a Stokes bomb will be thrown down. … As sentries from parties 1 and 3 are freed they will be sent back to points of entry into the trenches. A NCO at each of these points will send men back to our own lines.

Withdrawal:
Clearing Parties 1 and 3 and Blocks C. D, G, H in that order will withdraw at Zero plus 25.
Parties 2 and 4 will act as a covering party and together with Blocks A, B, E, F will withdraw at Zero plus 28.
The signal for withdrawal will be the blowing of French horns.
Should the parties have completed their task in a shorter time, the signal for withdrawal will be given and there will be no waiting for Zero plus 25.
If machine guns or mortars cannot be brought back they will be destroyed with Stokes bombs.

OC Company will have a small search party detailed ready to look for wounded in no man’s land.

A NCO at exit points from our trenches will have a nominal roll and check names of men of the column. Whole party will return to support billets where a roll call will again be taken.

Prisoners:
Will be handed over the escort disarmed and made to march across no man’s land holding up their arms. Regimental police will take them over, search them and collect all papers and letters and place them in sandbags. Money and personal belongings will not be taken away. They [prisoners] will be taken to battalion HQ where a guard will take them over.

Dress:
Fatigue dress with puttees, steel helmets and gas respirators in the alert position. Rifle and bayonet, 9 rounds in magazine and 1 in chamber; safety catch back. 2 [magazine] chargers in trousers pocket. Throwers of Blocking Parties, 6 bombs each in bucket. (They will carry the helve of the entrenching tool but no rifle). Carriers, 12 each in the bucket. Men of Clearing Parties 1 Stokes bomb and 1 “P” bomb alternately. Each man will have a wire cutter on his rifle. No shoulder badges, identity discs, letters or identifications will be worn or carried by any member of the raiding party.

Report on raid

No difficulty was experienced in getting through our own wire. At Zero both columns moved forward under cover of the barrage, the tail in each case being just clear of our own line.

Right Column:
Within the first minute a shell dropped near the tail of the column, about 50 yards from our line, Captain Steedman being dangerously wounded in the back.
Within 25 yards of the enemy wire, 2/Lieut. Stewart was killed.
2/Lieut. Pratt leading Number 1 Clearing Party led on too fast, and this combined with the loss of officers caused gaps in the column.
There was an 8-10 yard gap in the wire, affording easy passage.
2/Lieut. Pratt, followed by three sergeants and two men, moved along the Communication Trench. Three blocks were met with, each about six feet long, resembling a square cheveux de frise fitting into the trench.It was possible to crawl under the second one but the third was about seven feet high. Four dugout shafts were found leading under the railway. Three were blocked with wire and the fourth boarded almost up to the top. No enemy were met with.
At junction of Communication Trench and Support Trench a five yard wire block was found with a barricade behind. Two Germans were standing between the wire and the barricade. They had rifles in their hands. Lieut. Pratt shot down both men with his revolver, but whilst freeing himself from the wire was killed by a bomb thrown from a position half right about 15 yards away. This was the position when the signal for withdrawal was given.

IWM photograph Q5102, also by Brooke. ” A raiding party from the 10th Battalion, Scottish Rifles (Cameronians) returning covered by the barrage seen behind them.”

Left Column:
Found a clear gap in the wire.
Here again the leader went too fast and found himself with only four men in the Support Line.
2/Lt. Menary led No. 3 Clearing Party.
A few rounds of German machine gun fire just before entering the German line.
The party moved “on top”along the Communication Trench. There were three dugouts and three wire blocks of same pattern as above. Trench was about six feet deep, occasional hurdle revetments, no duckboards, occasional turns but no proper traverses.
There were no enemy met with.
Party avoided wire in front of Support Line by dropping into the CT. This wire was very little damaged but not very thick. Support Trench was about 8-9 feet deep, occasional hurdle revetment, no firestep and no duckboards. Half way down in front of the trench was a form of sentry box made of wood and raised above the level of the trench floor, about 6 feet high and 4 feet wide, containing a bell and a loophole.
Five dugout shafts were found,. In two cases a man with a rifle and bayonet stood just inside. 2/Lt. Menary ordered them in German to surrender. They did not comply. he shot each of them with his revolver. Voices were not heard in these dugouts but a light was seen in the most southerly. They were bombed with “P” Bombs and Stokes bombs. A man was shot by bayonet man of “H” Block, running towards him. A bomb store was destroyed … and a man was killed by NCO in charge of “F” Block.

2/Lt. Saunders in charge of No. 4 Clearing Party found no blocks in front line between point of entry and CT on North. Trench was 6-7 feet deep, very wide, some hurdle revetments giving the appearance of having been very knocked about by shell and mortar fire. This were four dugout shafts in this sector. These were all bombed. Two Germans appeared from southern end, one carrying a Very pistol. Lt. Saunders shot at this man and missed him. The German then held up is hands, but when Lt. Saunders motioned him with his revolver to turn about, he rushed in and seized the  revolver and a struggle ensued. One of the dugout sentries bayoneted the man. The second man had also been killed meantime. Both of these men and those een by Lt. Menary were youngish men, well built and wearing new and clean uniform, and in all cases Germans were wearing steel helmets.

General remarks:
The Right Column, with the exception of a small party, under 2/Lt. Pratt became much disorganised as the result of Capt. Steedham and 2/Lt. Stewart becoming casualties and the fact that other casualties occurred from our own barrage.
The Left Column on the whole did very well and the officers showed good leadership and dash.
My Medical Officer reports that of the 25 casualties he has had to deal with today, all had been caused by shell fire. The enemy made no retaliation with shell fire and all the casualties, with the exception of 2/Lt. Pratt, occurred on the way over. I am of the opinion that one shell dropping short accounted for four stretcher bearers, NCO and 3 escort of the Left Column (2 killed and 6 wounded). Five or six shells were observed to burst a very short way beyond our own wire. The box barrage was admirable and there was no rifle or machine gun fire or attempted counter attack.

30 minutes in dim light was too short. 40 minutes would have been better.

I regret that no identifications were taken of the killed. Special orders were given as to the importance but officers and men admit to being to excited to think of doing so. Captain Steedman was a great loss in this respect.

Lieut-Col. A. C. Stanley Clarke, OC 10th Scottish Rifles.

Casualties

The war diary narrative reported:
Killed: 2/Lt. Pratt, 2/Lt. Stewart. 3 other ranks. 1 died of wounds.
Wounded: Capt. Steedman. 23 other ranks. 60% slight.
Missing, probably wounded: 3 other ranks.

The records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission include eight officers and men of the battalion with a recorded date of death of 24 March 1917. Five have known graves.

Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery in Arras

  • 14192 Private Harry Goodall
  • 24956 Private Michael McDonough
  • 28709 Private John W. Richardson
  • 14315 Private James Welsh

Roclincourt Valley Cemetery. The casualty buried in this cemetery was brought into it after the war, his body having been located in the raid area (at G.24.d.6.6)

  • 19619 George Alfred Deighton

Arras Memorial commemorating the officers and men whose burials remain unidentified

  • 22530 Private George Hannah
  • Second Lieutenant Alexander Stewart Pratt
  • Second Lieutenant William Marshall Stewart

Recognition

Captain Alexander Reid Prentice. Military Cross. Prentice was killed in action on 9 November 1917. He has no known grave and is commemorated at the Arras Memorial. Aged 22, he was the son Mr. and Mrs. A. B. Prentice of Newark Lodge, Greenock. He had been well known locally as a rugby player.

From a group photograph that appeared in “The Tatler” of 9 June 1915.

The citation for the award to Prentice. (Battalion war diary)

7377 CSM Patrick Timoney. Distinguished Conduct Medal. Timoney, who came from Barony in Glasgow, was killed in action on 1 August 1917. He is buried in New Irish Farm Cemetery near Ypres.

The citation for the award to Tymoney. (Battalion war diary)

14164 Cpl Matthew Cockfield. Military Medal. A native of West Hartlepool, he had worked in Irvine’s shipyard before the war. He was 21 at the time of the raid. He had landed in France with the battalion in 1915 and survived the war despite being wounded in 1916 and again in 1918.

The citation for the award to Cockfield. (Battalion war diary)

Sources: war diaries

10th (Service) Battalion of the Scottish Rifles: National Archives WO95/1954
British Newspaper Archive
Commonwealth War Graves Commission (for burials and commemorations)
Findmpast and TheGenealogist (for points of detail of names and ages)
Linesman: map software

Visiting the raid area today

The area in which the raid took place had been greatly developed since 1945 and is now an industrial estate. The D60 road runs along what had been the German front line at the time of the raid, but the Scottish Rifles trenches and where Brooke took his photograph are much less easily identified.

Present day map with the trenches and raid reference points overlaid.

Thanks to Google Maps. We are standing on the D60 road at the southernmost point of raiding party’s entry into the German front line, looking north.

Links

Scottish Rifles