Page 137 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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IIO
THE LANCASHIRE FtJSILlER ,
1914-1918
drove thick clouds of suffocating smoke into the British lines . A
number of men suffered badly from it; but it is some consolation to
be able to record that phosphorous bombs were thrown into the
enemy trenches by catapult batteries and that, according to the
battalion War Diary, the artillery bombardment met with some
success.
'1Tll BN.
On the night of 9th/10th December, a minor operation, planned
by the nth Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel ]. D. Crosbie) and
postponed from the previous night because of bad weather, took
place but met with no success through sheer bad luck.
It
was
intended to enter the German trenches close to the \Varneton
railway to the north of Le Touquet (where the 2nd Battalion spent
so many very wet months in the winter of I914-I915), in order to
destroy a suspected sap or mine-shaft, obtain prisoners for identifica–
tion and generally damage the morale of the defenders. Very careful
reconnaissances by Second-Lieutenants A. M. Stephens and
R.
F.
MacKinnon and detailed preparations, including provision for
artillery support, had been made for the operation, which was
entrusted to Captain M. A. Ward, these two officers and thirty
selected men. A place of entry was chosen which gave the best
possibilities of effecting surprise. Unfortunately, rain poured down
for eighteen hours before the expedition set forth; and when
Lance-Corporals W. Keating and ]. Beddows, who were detailed to
cut a way through the German wire for the raiding party, reached the
point chosen, they found such a large lodgment of water that wire–
cutting in silence would have been impossible. Showing praise–
worthy initiative, they forthwith reconnoitred the wire on each
side and finally chose a spot in the bend of the German trenches
about ten yards away. Here they set to work on a belt of wire about
ten feet deep, consisting of apron wire mixed with trip wire about a
foot high and fixed to a jumble of "knife rests" about three yards
deep. The wire was hard and very brittle and cutting was laborious
and slow, although Keating was by trade a wire drawer. However,
eventually an alley about four feet wide was cleared through
one row of "knife rests" and work was begun on the second. Passing
through the leg of a "knife rest" was found a
thin,
plain, steel wire
which was taut, evidently under a strain. With great difficulty
Keating cut it while Beddows gripped it. But no sooner was it
severed than it slipped through Beddows's fingers, now almost numb
as the result of over two hours' work in cold and wet.
It
must have
been attached to some alarm device in the trench, barely twelve
feet away; for much bustle and chatter were at once heard, heads
popped up, and rifle and machine-gun fire was opened. Beddows
and Keating could only lie quiet. After about twenty minutes they
began work again, but almost immediately they became aware of a
German patrol of about ten men working towards them. A party of
three grenadiers lying in a crater in No Man's Land, ready to cover
the advance of the raiding party into the German trench, saw this
patrol; but as they were outnumbered and feared that fighting at