An early trench raid: 1st Worcesters

At 6pm on 31 December 1914, the 1st Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment returned to the front line trenches after a brief period of rest. The battalion’s commanding officer had been sent home for three weeks’ sick leave, and his place was taken by Major Ernest Wodehouse DSO. The first two days proved to be relatively quiet but for some German shelling around battalion headquarters, during which was Pte 8443 George William Whiteing was killed and two other men wounded.

The battalion returned to the trenches of “B” Lines [red]. This map is from the battalion’s war diary and bears the remark that “German trenches [blue] traced in from photograph taken from aeroplane”. Note that the “B” Lines face Neuve Chapelle and are roughly parallel to the Rue du Tilleloy. Battalion headquarters was near the Pont-Logy junction. Also note that the orientation of the sketch is not the normal “north at top”.

A dangerous development

At 9am on 3 January, Captain John Arden, commanding “A” Company, reported that during the night the Germans had dug a sap out from their front line opposite his left platoon “near the line of willows”, and then a section of trench which was only about 75 yards from and parallel to his own front. Wodehouse phoned this information though to 24th Infantry Brigade and then went off to confer with its commanding officer, Brigadier-General Francis Carter. In conference with Major-General Francis Davies, commanding 8th Division, it was decided that during the evening, a party of one officer and 25 men would rush this saphead.

Brigade noted at 10am that Germans could be seen digging in the new trench.

Arden and Lieutenant Frank Roberts met Wodehouse at battalion headquarters to be given instructions. Captain Arthur Capell, who commanded a company of the 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment which normally relieved “A” Company and which was to support it during the action, also attended, along with Second Lieutenant William Douglas-Jones, the observation officer from 33rd Battery of 33rd Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. It was confirmed that Roberts would lead the raid. He was given written orders at 3.25pm, a copy of which was also given to Douglas-Jones.

The operational orders given to Roberts. This copy is from the war diary of 8th Division’s headquarters. “… volunteers … encircle the saphead … bayonet or capture as many of the enemy as possible … do not advance further than 5-70 yards down the enemy trench … withdraw … should not occupy more than 3-5 minutes”.
This similar sketch from the brigade headquarters diary is marked to say that the position shown as a circled letter A was “sap and parallel”. It is my assumption that this refers to the position dug by the Germans over the night 2-23 January 1915 and which was soon raided by Roberts’ detachment. The twin line of dots near to it is possibly the “line of willows”.
Subsidiary orders given by the battalion to the supportung artillery. ” … have a telephone in the trenches and in contact with your battery … should the enemy open heavy rifle fire on Roberts’ detachment, open fire on the main German trench some 250 yards behind their present sap …”
Roberts’ orders to the NCOs and men of his detachment, all of whom had volunteered for the operation. “… the signal to be advance will be Lieut. Roberts standing up … no noise or cheering … bayonets fixed, (rifle) magazin charged, cut-off in and safety catch back … no equipment excpt one bandolier of ammunition … if Germans are found they are to be killed … prisoners only if possible in the time … to take 2 minutes … two whistles to be a signal to return … no wounded to be touched … “

The perfect operation

The raid went perfectly to plan. At 7.45pm according to some reports, 8pm others, the detachment began its advance. German sentries were unaware of its approach until the raid party was only about 8 feet from them, wherepon they opened fire and shouted the alarm.

Roberts’ men quickly encircled the saphead and jumped in, finding it three to four feet deep. They found it thickly occupied by troops sleeping in a sitting position, about five to a traverse. They were bayonetted, with very few escaping. After the raid it was estimated that there were 26-30 killed or wounded. Roberts’ signalled the withdrawal after about three minutes and the detachment returned to its own trenches, with two men missing and one wounded.

None of the diaries mention any requirement to obtain an indentification of the unit of the German troops, or any such information being reported after the raid. They are however likely to have been of 14th Division.

The casualties

Killed in action: Private 8434 Albert Davies. He had enlisted into the Special Reserve aged 17 in July 1909. Albert had trained with the regiment’s 5th (Reserve) Battalion and been sent to the 1st Battalion with a reinforcement draft only on 11 December 1914. He has no known grave and is commemorated at the Le Touret Memorial. Albert had married Phyllis Rippin in his home city of Birmingham on 31 October 1914. Their son Albert Henry Davies was born on 25 January 1915, three weeks after his father had been killed. At the time, Albert was still only officially reported as missing. It was not until 22 February that his death was accepted. Phyllis and her son lived at 3/28 Spring Hill, Birmingham. Albert’s parents Henry and Caroline lived at 3 Shakespeare Terrace, Shakespeare Road.

From Albert’s service record (National Archives WO363). He was one of the two men who had initially only been reported as missing.

Killed in action: Lance-Corporal 11241 Joseph Palmer is another man who has no known grave and who is commemorated at Le Touret. He is almost certainly the second man to be initially reported as missing. A Kidderminster man, he was the son of John and Alice Palmer.

It is not clear whether either of the following received their fatal wounds during the raid.

Died of wounds: Private 12580 Charles Harold Meredith died on 3 January 1915, having been evacuated and then in the hands of 25th Field Ambulance. He is buried in grave I.D.1 at Estaires Communal Cemetery and Extension. His sole legatee was his aunt, Mrs. Caroline Butt.

Died of wounds: Private 9345 Charles Simpson died on 5 January. He lies in grave I.F.12 at Estaires Communal Cemetery and Extension. Aged 36, his parents lived at 1 Trafalgar Square, St. George’s Street, Birmingham.

“Birmingham Mail”, Tuesday 26 January 1915


The Distinguished Service Order was awarded to Lieutenant Frank Crowther Roberts. It was gazetted on 18 February 1915 with citation

On the 3rd of Jan. 1915, Lieut. Roberts, with 25 men of the 1st Battn. Worcestershire Regt., attacked and captured by surprise, with complete success, a German sap-head situated about sixty yards in front of our lines near Neuve Chapelle“.

Roberts went on to a most distinguished military career: he “Was born 2 June, 1891, son of the Rev. Frank Roberts, Vicar of St. John’s, Southall, and of Mrs. Frank Roberts; and nephew of the Rev. Canon and Mrs. Parr, of Milton Bryan, Bedfordshire. He joined the Army in 1911, serving in the European War in France. He was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order in 1915; awarded the Military Cross in 1917, and was awarded the Victoria Cross [London Gazette, 8 May, 1918]: “Frank Crowther Roberts, D.S.O., M.C., Capt., Acting Lieut.-Colonel), 1st Battn. The Worcester Regt. During continuons operations which covered over twelve days Lieut.-Colonel Roberts showed most conspicuous bravery, exceptional military skill in dealing with the many very difficult situations of the retirement, and amazing endurance and energy in encouraging and inspiring all ranks under his command. On one occasion the enemy attacked a village and had practically cleared it of our troops, when this officer got together an improvised party and led a counter-attack which temporarily drove the enemy out of the village, thus covering the retirement of troops on their flanks, who would otherwise, have been cut off. The success of this action was entirely due to his personal valour and skill.””

Frank Crowther Roberts. Source unknown.

It was said that Robert’s DSO was immediate and delivered to him by motorcycle!

The Distinguished Conduct Medal was awarded to the following men. It was announced in the “London Gazette” of 18 February 1915, with the same citation applying to all three and appearing in the edition of 1 April 1915.

For gallant conduct on 3rd January 1915, at Neuve Chapelle, in the able assistance rendered in the attack on a German trench, when 30 of the occupants were killed or wounded.”

Sergeant 4725 Harry Edwards.
A veteran of the Second Boer War, Harry had been wounded on 11 February 1900. Killed in action with the rank of Company Sergeant Major on 24 September 1915, he is buried at Y Farm Military Cemetery, Bois-Grenier.

Lance-Corporal 10893 George Darby.
Later rose to Company Sergeant Major, Darby was also wounded later in 1915, mentioned in despatches, and commissioned as an officer in October 1917. He lived on Winnie Road, Selly Oak in Birmingham.

Private 8910 Henry (Harry) Evans.
Was captured and made a prisoner of war on 25 March 1918.

Major Wodehouse also recommended that the following men be recognised for their part in the raid, but no further action appears to have been taken in this regard:

Sergeant 8132 John William Sumner

Lance-Corporal 10756 Henry F. Hatt

plus one man whose number appears to be given as 10858 but whose surname is poorly written and does not appear to be that of 10858 Harold Bratt.

Other named individuals

Major Ernest Charles Forbes Wodehouse was killed in action at the age of 43 in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle on 12 March 1915. He was the husband of A. Violet Wodehouse of 11 Prince of Wales Terrace, Kensington, London. A memorial window at Worcester Cathedral is dedicated to him and a brass memorial plaque is in St James’ church, Norton-juxta-Kempsey, Worcestershire. Wodehouse was a veteran of the Second Boer War and held the DSO from that campaign. He has no known grave and is commemorated at the Le Touret Memorial.

From “Bond of Sacrifice”.

Captain John Henry Morris Arden, born in 1875, the son of the Reverend A. Henry Arden (a reader in Tamil and Telugu at the University of Cambridge), was educated at Malvern College. He was already a veteran of the Second Boer War and 1912 Sudan campaign and had been with the Egyptian Army for eight years. On 17 June 1918, by which date he had been three times mentioned in despaches, he became a Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel of the Administrative Branch of the Royal Air Force, attached to Number 3 Cadet Wing in the Middle East. Tragically, he died of self-inflicted wounds at the age of 44 on 22 July 1918 and is buried at Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt.

Image courtesy of “Teignmouth and Shaldon Remembers WW1” website, with thanks. Original source unknown.

8132 John William Sumner was killed in action on 12 February 1915. He has no known grave and is commemorated at the Le Touret Memorial. His rank is given as Corporal, implying that he may have been Acting Sergeant at the time of the raid.

Lance-Corporal 10756 Henry F. Hatt was twice wounded, in 1915 and 1916, but survived the war.

Captain Arthur George Coningsby Capell, 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment, was killed in action on 12 March 1915. He has an entry in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour which reads, “only s. of the Rev. George Marie Capell, Rector of Passenham, co. Northampton (d. 1 Feb. 1915), by his wife, Annie, dau. of Peter Stanley Lowe, of Whitehall Churchstow, co. Devon, and gdson. of the Hon. Adolphus Capell, brother of Arthur Algernon, 6th Earl of Essex ; b. Passenham, Stony Stratford, 28 June, 1879 ; educ. by private tutor ; joined the Northamptonshire Imperial Yeomanry in Jan. 1900, sailing with them for South Africa, 16 March the same year ; took part in the operations in the Transvaal (Queen’s medal with five clasps) ; returned in June, 1901, and 12 months later joined 3rd Battn. Northants Militia, obtaining one of the late Earl Roberts’ commissions, 17 May, 1902, for which he was specially recommended by his Adjutant. He was promoted Lieut. 27 Feb. 1904, and obtained his company 20 Nov. 1910. On the outbreak of war he was with his regt. in Alexandria ; they returned to England and went to France, 4 Nov. 1914 In the fighting near Neuve Chapelle on 12 March, 1915, he was twice wounded in the hand and side, but refused to fall out, and went on leading and cheering his men till finally shot through the head, falling into the arms of his colonel, Col. C. Richard, D.S.O., C.B. He was buried behind the lines at Neuve Chapelle with his great friend, Capt. H. Power, adjutant to the regt., and 19 men of his company who fell that same day. The second in command wrote : ” He was a brilliant officer, and deeply regretted by all the regt.” Capt. Capell m. at Whatstandwell, 20 Oct. 1914, Phyllis, dau. of Maurice Deacon, of Chase Cliffe. Whatstandwell, co. Derby, s.p. Capt. Capell was mentioned in F.M. Sir John French’s Despatches [London Gazette, 22 June, 1915] for gallant and distinguished services”. He has no known grave and is commemorated at the Le Touret Memorial.

Second Lieutenant William Eric Vyvian Douglas-Jones, artillery observer for 33rd Battery, was fatally wounded by a rifle bullet a matter of days after the raid. He died on 15 January 1915 and is buried in grave I.E.2. in Estaires Communal Cemetery and Extension. He was aged just 19. Son of William and Maude Douglas-Jones of Orchard Dene, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, he had been born at Ruthin, Denbighshire.

Imperial War Museum photograph HU121402 is from Douglas-Jones’ entry in “Bond of Sacrifice”.

The site today

A 1915 map, on which I have placed – as near as I can judge it from the sketch – X to mark the site of the raid. This map orientation is normal “north at top”.
The same X transposed onto a present-day map. Note the white lane D170E1 and that it makes a little wiggle near my X. The British called it “Signpost Lane”.
Using Google Maps. The camera is standing just as the wiggle in “Signpost Lane” begins. The site of the raid is across into the field on our right.
The arcaded Le Touret Memorial, where several of those connected to this raid are comemmorated.


War diary, 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment (National Archives WO95/1723)
War diary, 24th Infantry Brigade headquarters staff (National Archives WO95/1716)
War diary, 8th Divison headquarters General Staff (National Archives WO95/1671)
British Newspaper Archive
Soldiers’ financial effects register (National Army Museum, via Ancestry)
London Gazette (free online)
Commonwealth War Graves Commission (free online)
Imperial War Museum (free online)


Worcestershire Regiment

8th Division