Title - Trench Raid of 17th-18th November 1916

Orders for the raid1PDF94th Infantry Brigade Order No. 90, PDF (156k)

Friday 17th November 1916 had been a generally clear, if cold, day. At 6.30pm, darkness having descended over the Somme battlefield, 31st Division artillery opened fire over a 2,000yds (1.8km) stretch of the enemy front line. The burst of fire lasted just 45 seconds. At 8pm, another 45-second burst of artillery fire broke over the enemy front line.

Shortly before 9pm, a raiding party of 1 officer and 55 other ranks from the 11th Bn. East Lancashire Regt. (Accrington Pals) scrambled into No Man's Land 1,200yds (1.1km) north-west of Serre and took up position close to the British wire. Both flanks were protected by covering parties, each of which comprised at least 20 other ranks and a Lewis gun.

Trench raid of 17th/18th November 1916

At 9pm - with the enemy hopefully by now accustomed to short bursts of artillery fire followed without incident - the divisional artillery again opened fire on the enemy front line. Forty five seconds later, the artillery fire was checked, then diverted to form a pocket around the intended point-of-entry.2 At the same time, the raiding party rushed forward. Their orders were to identify the units holding the enemy line.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no record of what followed, other than that the raiding party failed to enter the enemy trenches.3 Most likely the enemy were not after all taken by surprise and the raiding party ran into heavy fire.

Herbert Hartley Fred and Lena Westwell

Above: Herbert Hartley, k.i.a. 18th November 1916. Photograph courtesy of Kay Hartley. Above: Fred Westwell, k.i.a. 18th November 1916, and his wife, Lena (née Kenyon). Photograph courtesy of Dave Westall.
[more Kenyon-Westwell family photographs]

Four men from the battalion were posted as having been killed in action on either 17th or 18th November: Ptes. John Clapham, Herbert Hartley, John Wadsworth and Fred Westwell. None has a known grave, and all are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. It must be likely that all four lost their lives during the overnight raid.


  1. Crown copyright: The National Archives WO95/2363. This document may be copied and downloaded for personal and research use only. You must apply to The National Archives for permission for any other use.
  2. The intended point-of-entry was at map reference 57dNE3 (Hebuterne) K.23.b.6.0.
  3. The copies of the battalion war diary held at The National Archives (WO95/2366) and the Lancashire Infantry Museum inexplicably make no mention of the trench raid. It may be that one or more pages have been lost from the diary. The war diary of 31st Division (WO95/2341) records only that the attempt to enter the enemy trenches failed.

© Andrew C Jackson 2002.

Compiled from TNA document WO95/2363 and with the kind help of Kay Hartley and Dave Westall.

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