Friday, 15 September 2017

“All of a sudden hell let loose” The trench raid at Chérisy

This week, Steve Shannon tells us about events at Chérisy, and a new exhibition at Durham County Record Office.
First panel of the Chérisy exhibition
First panel of the Chérisy exhibition
One hundred years ago today, Durham soldiers raided a German trench in northern France. Trench raids were commonplace on the western front during the First World War, carried out to take prisoners and gather intelligence, but above all, to kill as many enemy soldiers as could be found.

Most raids took place under cover of night and involved few raiders but the raid on a German trench at Chérisy on 15 September 1917 was unique. This was not only because of the number of soldiers involved, but also because flying above the raiders was a Royal Flying Corps warplane taking the only known photographs of a trench raid in progress.

Enlarged copies of these unique - and fascinating - photographs form the centrepiece of a new exhibition, which opens in Durham County Record Office on Friday 15 September. Also on display will be copies of original maps, documents and photographs from the Durham Light Infantry’s archive, cared for by the Record Office on behalf of the Trustees of the DLI Collection, plus full explanatory labels telling the story of this unique raid.
The aerial photographs on display at Durham County Record Office
The aerial photographs on display at Durham County Record Office
This raid at Chérisy is largely forgotten today, submerged beneath the horrors of the Somme and Passchendaele but, at the time, it had an important outcome. The majority of the DLI’s raiders came from the 9th Battalion DLI, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford VC MC from Witton Park. For two weeks before the raid, Colonel Bradford trained his men hard until every raider knew what he had to do. This included practising attacks on a full-scale model of the target trench dug behind the lines with a farmer’s plough.

During one of these practice attacks, the raiders were watched by senior officers, including General Byng, commanding the British Third Army. Such a high-ranking audience for a raid was most unusual. Were they watching to see how Colonel Bradford commanded and trained his battalion? Was Roland Bradford, despite being only 25 years old, being tested for promotion?

The answer came after the successful conclusion of the raid. On 5 October, Roland Bradford was promoted to brigadier general and became the youngest general in the British Army. Sadly, just a few weeks later, on 30 November 1917, a German shell killed Brigadier General Bradford. He was still only 25 years old.

Exhibition location:
Along the corridor leading to Durham County Record Office at County Hall, Durham.

The exhibition can be viewed Monday to Friday between 9am and 4pm. Please note that the Record Office searchroom is closed to the public on Thursdays and Fridays.

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