“One month after arrival in France and following several holding tours of duty in the line at St. Eloi in the Ypres salient(a trench system projecting outward into the battle line.*), a number of officers and men volunteered (on invitation!) to take part in a night raid on the German trenches. The plan was for raiding parties to enter the German front line on both sides of a mine crater which was incorporated into their trench system. Parties from either end were to descend into the bottom of the crater and bomb certain dugouts located there, doing as much damage as possible, and taking prisoners. As I had been a Sergeant Instructor at bombing school in England for some months I was favoured for the job of descending into the crater with a small party, while other sections blocked off neighbouring trenches which would prevent the Germans taking my party from the rear.
We did a little practice in the back country and moved to the front line on the night of the 15th September 1916. We were divested of everything in the nature of identification items, faces and hands blackened, wore woolen Balaclava caps and cardigan sweaters—and felt very queasy about the tummy. I carried an automatic revolver, borrowed at the last minute which I had never fired or tried out, eight hand grenades in a vest strapped to my chest, my bayonet and a knobkerrie which was really an entrenching tool handle (wood) with a large cog-wheel slipped on and down to the thick end.
At five minutes past midnight our artillery barrage was laid down. What a racket as the shells whistled over our heads a very few feet above! One could not hear orders or anything of that sort, however we knew what we had to do and without delay we climbed over the parapet and ran across 200 yards of No Man’s Land to the German front line. It was pitch dark, raining, and men were falling into shell holes, tripping on barb wire, and so on. When they got up their sections had vanished in the dark and very soon our company of greenhorns was quite scattered and disorganized and nobody knew where anybody was. The few of us remaining together crept up as close to the barrage of descending shells as possible and when the barrage in front of us lifted we rushed forward and jumped into the German trench. It proved shallow at this point and I landed on the back of a crouching “Fritzie” who surrendered very willingly and was booted out in the direction of our line under escort.
Our party of Lieut. A. D. Ramsay, myself and six or seven men were soon attacked by a German party and a hot time was experienced. As the rest of our sections totaling 30 odd men had got themselves lost we were soon outnumbered and got no further.
After a time I realized that I was alone and decided to retire. But now it was my turn to get lost. The German artillery now barraged the area between the front lines (No Man’s Land) and I was in the middle of it feeling most unhappy. The upshot was that I lost all sense of direction and after the row stopped, I did not know which way to go. I spent the rest of the night crawling about on my hands and knees in the mud and finally crawled into our lines, after dawn, and about 6:00 am. I was almost shot by an Australian sentry who didn’t like my looks at all and no wonder for I did not present a very soldierly aspect—plastered with mud and soaking wet.
To complete the evening’s entertainment I found that our outfit had moved out during the night and I had to tramp some 10 miles to catch up with them—no food since the previous evening and half asleep on my feet. So ended our first raid.”