On 25 January 1917, at the same time as Sherriff’s neuralgia and ‘nervy feeling’ had taken him off to hospital, the kind of sang-froid in the face of imminent danger which he so envied was being displayed by his colleagues who were still in the front line, and in particular by two of the younger men whom he so admired: Thomas and Lindsay. They, along with second lieutenant Davies (who commanded the raid), and 50 other ranks and 6 sappers from the Royal Engineers had taken part in a daring daylight raid on the enemy trenches.
The objectives were three-fold: to obtain identifications; to inflict losses on the enemy; and to secure a sample of ration bread. The men were divided into six squads, each led by an officer or NCO. The first two were fighting squads, led by Thomas and Sergeant Walter Summers (an ‘outstandingly brave fellow’, who was as keen as Thomas to tangle with the Germans); squads 3 &4 (each accompanied by sappers) were mopping-up squads; and squads 5 & 6 were detailed as ‘blocking and connecting squads’. The raid took place just after noon (since it was felt that the Germans would be more relaxed then than they would at night), when the men moved through gaps in the wire which had been cut by shelling in the previous few days. The raiders succeeded in killing a number of the enemy (the account in the Battalion Diary suggests about 20) and taking three prisoners, while securing the desired ration bread sample, and a gas helmet.
There were, of course, British casualties: three killed and four wounded. Lindsay commanded the withdrawal with great bravery, and was last to leave the German trenches. On the way back he attempted to aid three of the wounded men, and, having been forced to leave one in No Man’s Land, had to be restrained, when he returned to the trench, from going back out again in broad daylight. The final wounded man was brought back under cover of darkness. Both Thomas and Lindsay would receive MCs for their day’s work, while the Military Medal was awarded to Sergeant Summers (who, after the war, would go on to an illustrious, if relatively short, career as a successful film-maker).
Sherriff presumably heard tell of the raid when he eventually returned to the battalion, and file it away to be used when he wrote Journey’s End some ten years later.