Western Front Raiders

Western Front Raiders

WHAT would be your feelings if, when on “sentry go” peering over the parapet, some one were to come along the trench and whisper: “Scouts going out on the right and coming in on the centre.” I remember my first twenty-four hours in the front line. It was a great experience, crowded with exciting moments. Not the least of these was the one, about 11 p.m., when the caution, “Scouts are out” was passed along. Three figures like silhouettes, appeared out of the gloom.

The night was very dark, one of those in which Fritz shoots up countless flares. These men were going out over the parapet. Going out into that narrow strip of land which knows night prowlers only. Going out into that bullet-swept zone banked by huge piles of sandbags, behind which men cower and wait and wait.

Surely, I thought, these chaps are the real heroes. It is nothing to hide behind a wall of sand, but to go out there, why, I wish it were in me. Every first-nighter has these thoughts. He sees the patrol in a heroic light. He peers into the faces as the men shuffle by, trying to read their miraculous escapes the wonderful encounters in the dead of night. A patrol will often consist of three scouts and a “non-com.” The Canadians take kindly to this business of raids and patrols.

In fact, some battalions refuse to have the strip called “No Man’s Land.” “It is ours” they vehemently assert. Some fine results, too. The German is losing the whip-hand along the whole front. In the first instance this can be attributed largely to the daring raids which have unnerved he “field grey.”

The patrol may creep out to our listening post, along an old trench these posts are never very far advanced, and so far the journey can be made by walking upright. Of course, care must be had to stand still not a muscle to move, sir, when a tremendous flare goes up. Whispered reetings are exchanged with the boys on listening post, then the ticklish part of the job. Each man fingers his revolver, sees that the bomb pins may be removed quickly, then creeps along on all fours.

Every tree trunk one would swear it moved is watched. It is dark, dark, and if one is new to he game it is sure to “get you.” You are sure that something is creeping up alongside, you are certain that Fritz is cutting at our wire. The patrol is lost to view and making for Fritz’s line.

A machine-gun opens up, the bullets swish through the long grass, and each man gets down, down until his face rubs into old Mother Earth. Then the line moves on, crawling in and out shell holes, alertness personified. Then a stop is made; the patrol is now approaching the German conglomeration of barbed wire. The noise of a maul is heard, faintly it is true. The Hun is cautious.

Some dark figures are noted on the sky-line. “Yes it is,” “No it isn’t.” “Yes, by it is a wiring party.” Signs are made, one does not know hardly what they mean, but the gang manages to do the right thing, intuition, isn’t it? The patrol creeps cautiously towards the busy little group. Bombs are made ready. A hoarse yell and fling, a scampering of terrified feet, a moan maybe. The “gang,” we love to call them, race back to our lines. Up and over the parapet and safe.

The next morning the following prosaic report goes into brigade: “Last night, at 11.15, a patrol, consisting of Sergeant, Lance-Corporal and Scouts surprised a German Wiring party. Casualties suspected, but not known. Sgd., CAREY, Scout Officer.”

From “Pen pictures from the trenches” by Rutledge, Stanley A. (Stanley Arthur), d. 1917

There are many of these out of copyright memoirs on the web – for all readers – let’s put them up to be read again – just transcribe the first chapter to whet the readers appetite. Send in to info@cobwfa.ca