‘We crawled to the German lines and brought back barbed wire cuttings’

Above: The Ancre River Cemetery between Beaumont Hamel and Thiepval. This was 'No Man's Land' in 1915 with the 12th Rifles manning trenches just off the left side of this tranquil picture.
Above: The Ancre River Cemetery between Beaumont Hamel and Thiepval. This was 'No Man's Land' in 1915 with the 12th Rifles manning trenches just off the left side of this tranquil picture.

The perils of patrolling no-man’s land were taken very seriously by the men of the 12th Royal Irish Rifles as they ended the month of March 1916.

Any sound could bring down a hail of gunfire and at any moment British and German silent patrols could clash in the wilderness between the trench lines.

We continue our ongoing feature based on the war diaries of the ‘Central Antrim Volunteers’ in which men from all over north and east Antrim served, with more accounts of this dangerous art.

March 26 1916: Lance Sergeant A. Steele/L.corporal J. Hamilton:- The patrol went out at 8.30pm from our own wires. After patrolling the coy’s front thoroughly we found nothing of any importance, only a very large shell hole which the patrol, 7 strong, was able to take cover from machine gun fire from the enemy lines and also our own lines.

We crept cautiously up to the German wires over crackling rushes and 15 yards of ploughed ground. We made a thorough examination of the wire and found that it was mostly put up in tight conertina fashion, each concertina being about eight feet in length and at each end was cross sticks for trestles. The depth of the wire from where we were was about 25 yards.

We cut a piece of the wire and brought it with us and after lots of difficulty in getting through our own wires the patrol returned safely at 11. 30pm.

The following message was received from Gen. Griffiths GoC 1018th Inf. Bde.: Please congratulate patrols on the good work done last night.

March 27 Left sector Situation normal all day. Some shells fells in our lines but 12 out of 16 were duds. Patrols went out at night. Reports below:-

2nd Lt. A. Hall: My patrol left our trenches at 10.30pm and returned to same place at 1.15am.

The wire cutters I had with me would not cut the wire. On the left pocket the wire was thin for about 15 yards and the pickets about three paces apart. Their wire was string tightly to pickets in ‘zig zag’ fashion and not in concertina fashion as to the front and right. The height was three feet and depth 20 to 25 yards, The patrol heard no sound in German trenches and saw no sign of the German patrol seen by A coy. (see report below). The enemy put up six lights close to us when were out.

Sergt. W. A. Magill: The patrol consisting of myself and three men went out at end of Sandy Row (trench name) at 7.30pm. We went forward half left towards enemy wire. About half way across we crossed a small drain and to the right of this we found a track leading out to some shell holes.

We were troubled by dried weeds which cracked. On coming close to enemy’s wire, I left the remainder of the patrol behind and went forward to examine wire.

The wire was very close and the posts very close together. The posts were wooden with the exception of one screw post. The wire was looped and entangled. I found great difficulty in cutting it with my wire cutters. I then went 30 yards to my left and examined wire again. It was similar to the first place.

I cut a piece off here also and while doing so, I heard some shovelling in the enemy’s trench and also a sentry fired occasional shots and then stamped on boards.

A large number of lights were going up from enemy’s trench. On coming back one of the patrol reported an enemy patrol 50 yards to our right.

This patrol opened fire on us after we got past. They appeared to be nine or ten strong. We returned safely to our own trench at 9.30pm. The patrol was working on sector Q 10/10.

Sergt. William Grant I have the honour to report that on the night of the 27th inst I patrolled a portion of ‘no man’s land’ and found a sniper’s post which was not occupied by the enemy. I heard a working party in the enemy’s wire. The ground covered by the patrol was in some places covered by a thick grass standing 18 inches high. The enety frequently put up lights (flares to illuminate the area).

March 28th Very quiet day. Cold with rain in the afternoon. Preparations for relief occupied us during the evening. Relieved by 10th E Yorks. Relief completed by 9.45pm. March to billets at Englebemer. One officer wounded during this tour: Lt. Furness.

March 29 Fine morning and now in the afternoon. Marched to billets at Forecville. HQs A and B coys into Varennes.

March 30 Very quiet day. Situation unchanged.Route march to Acheux and drill in the park. Draft of two officers and 130 men arrived from base. German aeroplane dropped two bombs without doing any damage.

Lt. Col. S. W. Bull

OC 12th R. Ir Rifles.