Raid on Celtic Wood (World War 1, 9 October 1917 to 9 October 1917)

About This Campaign

Raid on Celtic Wood - 9 October 1917

This action is included on this site because of the controversy which surrounded it for nearly 100 years.  The fate of the raiders, most of whom allegedly 'disappeared' and were 'not properly accounted' for became 'one of the great mysteries of the AIF'.  Inference and speculation has led to conspiracy theories of murder by the Germans, incompetence by the CO and others.  This happened largely because of a 'one liner' by C.E.W. Bean which has been misinterpreted and then that error compounded by failure of successive authors (in a 'Chinese Whispers' effect) to check the primary source documents held in abundance by the Australian War Memorial.  That research has been completed by VWMA senior researcher Robert Kearney over more than 10 years, initially in collaboration with Chris Henschke, and published in his book 'Raid on Celtic Wood' released on the centenary of the raid. All 88 raiders including Lieutenant James, a raid officer, and many others who returned to Australia after the war have been accounted for.

- Steve Larkins


The Raid

The 3rd Brigade moved into the front line on Broodseinde Ridge along with the rest of the 1st Division on the 6th/7th October 1917, following its spectacular capture by the 2nd and 5th Divisions at the Battle (/explore/campaigns/18) of the same name on 4th October.

In line with orders from HQ 1st Division, the Brigade was directed to conduct a series of raids into the area defined by a farm (Celtic Farm) and a nearby wood, known as Celtic Wood, in which German field defences and strongpoints were known to exist.

Following a smaller raid by a composite party drawn from the 11/12th Battalions, the CO of the 10th Battalion Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Wilder-Nelligan, (/explore/people/654720) was tasked to conduct a raid of company strength in order to synchronise with the opening of the Battle of Poelcapelle (/explore/campaigns/27) (aka Passchendaele) on the morning of the 9th October, in order to draw German artillery and flanking fire away from the main attack further to the north.

Wilder-Nelligan was not at all enamored of the concept of what was effectively directed to be a daylight raid on a position that had already been attacked by the 10th's sister battalions only a few days earlier.  Further he was concerned that he did not have the strength in numbers to conduct the raid without reinforcements.

8 October 1917

Owing to the bitterly cold wet conditions and a violent howling wind, control of the troops during the move up to their assembly areas for the main attack was very difficult. The artillery supporting II ANZAC reported that although 10 hours was allotted for the troops to cover the 3700 metres to the assembly areas there were units who were unable to make it in time to advance. [1] 

‘The night was inky, the track led over ground covered with innumerable shell-holes full of mud and water. This march, which would normally take about 1 to 1½ hours to complete, occupied 11½ hours, with the result that the battalion arrived in the front line 20 minutes late.’[2]

While the 10th Battalion (/explore/units/1) reinforcements were moving up to meet their guides on Broodseinde Ridge, the units who were to take place in the main attack were also moving up to their assembly point.

Raids were always a dangerous enterprise and the adage used throughout the AIF, ‘one pip, one stunt’, gives one some idea of how the officers who came up during the night with the reinforcements, Albert Rae, (/explore/people/220514) Leonard Laurie (/explore/people/187956) and Charles Fenn, (/explore/people/62204) were feeling, given they had only just gained their first pip.

Over that week, the battalion had lost a number of experienced men, but there were still highly experienced NCOs and men within the nucleus.

Among the 42 men who came up with Second Lieutenant Fenn during the night were some who had been wounded in earlier battles as well as some solid NCOs who had been instructors at the 3rd Training Battalion.

There were also men like Private Albert Rowney (/explore/people/197295) who was returning to the battalion after recovering from wounds to both legs at Bullecourt in May and men who had served at Gallipoli such as Privates Harold Barrow (/explore/people/196792) and Hawthorn Pyper. (/explore/people/169104) Private Roy Kneale (/explore/people/311524) who had been with the battalion since September 1916, and had been slightly wounded earlier, was also on his way up to rejoin his platoon.

After being relieved by the 7th Battalion (/explore/units/65) that night, the 11th moved back independently as companies to Anzac Ridge. Major John Newman, (/explore/people/312413) who took temporary command of the Battalion after Major Steele (/explore/people/325315) was killed, described the move back as a ‘severe trial’ for men who were already fatigued.

The 11th Battalion’s (/explore/units/30) narrative operations for this period vividly describe the conditions under which they moved back to Anzac Ridge. Being the same night, these conditions of course were the same for Lieutenant Fenn and the 10th Battalion reinforcement moving up and although they were ‘fresh,’ they had a lot further to move.

‘The country crossed was pitted with shell-craters full of water and mud, forming an impassable bog. The night was pitch dark, tracks almost obliterated and impossible to find ...’[3]

The conditions, confusion, and tension experienced by the reinforcement during their move up would have been enough to test anyone but, in spite of all they endured, they reached battalion headquarters sometime after midnight. There they were told their trial was not yet over for they had yet to move a considerable distance forward before being allocated to a platoon or company.

Those who made it were met by a guide who led them on up to C Company where the acting CSM, Sergeant William ‘King’ Cole, (/explore/people/140516) a twice-wounded ‘original’, would have checked to ensure each man had ammunition and bombs before arranging for them to be taken to their platoons to meet their section commanders. With time now critical, Second Lieutenants Rae and Laurie would have joined Second Lieutenant Wilsdon (/explore/people/321396) and Lieutenant James (/explore/people/251269) at Lieutenant Scott’s (/explore/people/76171) HQ for detailed raid orders. 

Meanwhile, in the dark, the NCOs would not have been trying to determine by name who the reinforcements wer - they would have only been concerned about how many had made it.

If the following sentence originally written by Captain Joseph Maxwell VC, MC & Bar, DCM (/explore/people/240932) was the case, then there was no nominal roll. 

‘All traces of identity we discarded, and each member of the raid was given a number, which, on re- turning to our trench was to be checked by an N C O detailed to ascertain the casualties.’ ...[4]

To the Jumping Off Point

With some of the men who were to take part in the raid having been wounded or killed during the night or in the early hours of the morning, there was a critical shortage of men. The original plan, delivered by a runner at 6 p.m., called for the raid to be conducted by four parties each consisting of ‘2 Officers and 25 Other Ranks’ as well as six men from the trench mortar battery. This now had to be modified.

Realising he did not have the numbers for a company-sized raid, Scott must have arranged the men provided by D Company to be shuffled among his own in C Company then allocated those reinforcements that made it up the track back to their usual platoons.

Now with only 80 men available for the raid he probably reorganised the men into four under strength-platoons each commanded by an officer with a sergeant or acting sergeant as the 2IC. Fenn was no longer required and instead of six trench mortar men, the three Scott had available, each carrying a sandbag containing two mortar bombs probably moved with him and Sergeant Cole in order to destroy pillboxes and or dugouts.

Due to rain falling throughout the night, no doubt the officers and NCOs would have warned the men to expect difficult going, to be wary, and not to bunch up, especially when moving around deep, flooded, shell craters.

In a newspaper article published in 1937, Captain George Dean Mitchell MC, DCM, (/explore/people/204333) an original member of the 10th Battalion, mentions his experience with mud on the battlefield. According to him, it ‘stank and wrought exhaustion until newcomers wept. Many men stuck in it died of that cause.[5]

With the real aim of the raid being to draw artillery away from the main attack towards Poelcappelle, in order to survive the raiders needed to strike swiftly, create as much chaos as possible in 30 minutes, and get out. During their mad half hour in daylight, the raiders would have to move fast but this (as they knew from their experience with the Somme and more recently, the Flanders mud) would not be easy.

With the main attack and raid set to commence before dawn, there would have been little or no sleep for anyone on Broodseinde Ridge that night.

In the early hours of the morning, Scott moved C Company up to the front line to relieve D Company, leaving their Lewis gun teams in position to provide fire support; the raiders were then on the jumping off line. 

There, in his own dark pit of fear, each hollow-eyed, unshaven, man would have made a final check to ensure nothing he was carrying would rattle, and after whispered messages of good luck and a final mud coated handshake would have stared across no man’s land into the darkness as he endured the silent agony of waiting to move.       

Shortly before Zero, Scott and his raiders, taking full advantage of the darkness, slowly moved forward out of the trench to the FUP and as they did, D Company moved up to re-occupy the front line trench.

If all went well, Scott and his men would return through D Company and back to their original trench in support.

‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies will be prepared to support party giving covering Machine gun fire on country on right of CELTIC WOOD if necessary. ‘D’ Company will be prepared to give covering fire on ground on left if necessary.’ [6]

By this time, the feet and hands of each raider would have been wrinkled and sensitive from being wet and, with the cold wind blowing across their backs in the dark, they would have been trembling uncontrollably; perhaps for some this masked their intense fear of what awaited them in the eerie broken Wood.   

If successful, thirty minutes after Zero the raid would be over. And why shouldn’t it succeed - the earlier composite 11th /12th Battalion raid had? Perhaps some were wishing that, like the raiders of the 11th/12th Battalion, they too could have taken advantage of the cloak of darkness.

Knowing the survival rate for raids was dependent upon surprise, Scott and Wilder-Neligan must have discussed the futility of conducting the raid here and now, as the plan would have them still in the Wood after dawn. They had their orders and nothing they talked about could change them. All they could hope for was that the raiders could strike into the Wood, hit the enemy hard, and find cover from which to fight until withdrawing.    

‘X Day’ - 9 October

During the early part of the night, it rained heavily and the ground was now so muddy all movement, even on tracks, was so difficult the vital work of message carrying by the runners was slow and exhausting.

The 6th Brigade, 2nd Division (then on the far right flank of the attack and to the left of the 1st Division) recorded the light at 5.20 was good for a distance of 120 yards +. [7] This meant that with sunrise at 6.00 a.m., once the troops in the main attack and the raiders advanced they would not get far before being visible to the enemy.

Zero hour

‘Our barrage was put down at 5.20 a.m. in conformance to program of attack, special fire being allotted to CELTIC WOOD and in support of 1st. Australian Division minor operations.’ [8]

With a mighty roar, the barrage all along the ridge commenced on time at 5.20 a.m., but it fell so weak in Celtic Wood that the surviving raiders later agreed if their watches had not been synchronised, they would not have known the expected barrage had commenced. With about 150 metres of open ground to cross, the raiders struggled across the sucking mud, each man gasping for air as he desperately tried to keep up and stay in formation. They were slowed considerably by the energy sapping mud and wherever they encountered one of the dreaded mud-filled craters, it proved almost impossible to avoid closing up as everyone took care not to slip and fall into a crater.

At 5.24 a.m., the thin artillery barrage was lifted about 90 metres into the middle of the west wing of the Wood and remained there until 5.30 a.m.

The 3rd Light Trench Mortar Battery (/explore/units/363) commenced firing their barrage along the road that lay through the middle of the objective in the west wing, and with four mortars each firing 15 rounds per minute fired a total of 245 rounds by the time they finished at 5.28 a.m.

The battery’s concentrated fire covered the raiders as they entered the northwestern corner of the Wood. The Germans, who would have stood to arms as soon as the main barrage commenced, met the raiders with a wall of heavy machine gun fire from both flanks and the east wing of the Wood. The clattering orchestra of close machine gun fire would have been deafening and must have overwhelmed to some degree even the sound of artillery firing. The noise would have been such that no man could distinguish one sound from another and cries of help, screamed orders and warnings would have been lost on ears incapable of listening.

In addition to the terrifying rattle of the machine gun fire, there was heavy sporadic rifle fire from a trench across the spur in the west wing as well as from a short length of trench (running east to south-west) at the southern end of the west wing. With the flash of machine gun muzzles emanating from all across the skeletal Wood, immediate death by bullet would have made the possibility of drowning in the mud a mere distraction.

Scott and his men were unaware there was a German strong point to the east of Celtic Wood with machine guns sited to cover the entrenched troops in both wings of the Wood and provide mutual support to the machine guns on both flanks of it. From this undetected strong point, the German machine gunners were able to fire up through the middle of the re-entrant as well as across the ground sloping up out of both sides of the Wood. In addition to frontal fire, strong points to the left and right also caught the raiders in enfilade fire.

As they pushed deeper into the Wood Scott and his men used rifle, bayonet, bombs, and rifle grenades but were suffering too many casualties.

At 5.30 a.m., when the artillery lifted to the 10 -16 line along the western edge of the east wing, the raiders suffered further casualties as they hauled themselves through the mud to keep up with the barrage.

Lieutenant Scott, seeing his forward elements unable to move, led a party around to the right with the intention of dealing with the enemy in the trench on the southern end of the west wing. In an attempt to get behind them he moved around and up on to the higher ground where he was even more exposed to the machine guns in the strong point in the eastern wing of the Wood.

At 5.36 a.m., the artillery lifted their barrage to the 16-on line and, with the standing barrage then in the middle of the east wing of the Wood, it wasn’t even close to the machine guns inflicting so much damage from the German strong point.

Lieutenant Scott and his party, although outnumbered 2 to 1, somehow managed to get around behind the enemy trench and when fired upon from the rear, the Germans began to retreat.

During the fight, Corporal John Lanchester (/explore/people/295975) suffered a small wound to his shoulder but when Corporal Le Messurier (/explore/people/51494) offered to dress it, he declined saying he could make his own way back. Unfortunately, Lanchester, like so many others, never made it back.

At 5.40 a.m., the Germans responded with a small barrage of 7.7 cm field artillery fire (their SOS) which cut the raiders off, trapping them between their entrenched troops and the shrapnel raining down in no man’s land. German machine guns near Flinte Farm strengthened the SOS by firing very heavily across the greater part of the 10th Battalion’s front line; artillery of all calibres also fired upon their rear area.

With Scott and his men then completely cut off, a brave German officer managed to rally his men and the fight was renewed. At about this time a fresh party of German troops came around the northern end of the west wing and after fighting their way across the top of the re-entrant concentrated their efforts on Scott’s party. Both sides suffered heavily and it was here that one of the survivors, Private Simpson, (/explore/people/221364) reported seeing Lieutenant Scott killed.

With the raid commander dead, Sergeant Cole fired the signal flare to return but according to Private Rhodes (/explore/people/61902) who was near him at the time, Cole was shot immediately after firing the flare.

At about the same time as Cole was hit, Rhodes, who was then standing only a few metres away from Private Whitford, saw him hit by a shell; his leg was blown off and he died within minutes.

After collecting Whitford’s paybook and wallet, Rhodes started back towards the ridge and along the way encountered two wounded men in need of urgent attention. After bandaging their wounds he carried them back under heavy enemy machine-gun and sniper fire.

Lieutenant Wilsdon’s platoon was almost surrounded by the time Sergeant Cole fired the signal to return and Wilsdon was missing. When he saw the flare, Wilsdon’s acting platoon sergeant, Corporal Rigney, (/explore/people/204560) ordered the survivors to fight their way back. Rigney and his men brought in all their wounded but found no trace of ‘Harry’ Wilsdon.     

Sergeant Milton (/explore/people/276257) attempted to carry Lieutenant Scott back in but, when heavy machine gun fire made it impossible, he was forced to leave his dead officer behind. Even after seeing the signal to retire, Private Green (/explore/people/321688) remained behind with his wounded platoon sergeant and then under heavy artillery and machine gun fire carried him back to safety.

Those that could get back did so before the sun had fully risen but there were still wounded raiders who lay with the dead among the splintered trees and bog of Celtic Wood.

After sunrise Sergeant Milton, who had managed to make his way back to the front line, sighted a wounded comrade in no man’s land some 150 metres in front of the line. Ignoring the immediate threat of machine gun fire, Milton leapt out of the trench, made his way down the slope to the wounded man, and under continuous sniper fire, carried him to safety.

Private Vigar, (/explore/people/138036) who almost made it back in, was seen to drop not far from the relative safety of the front line. When Lance Corporal Easther (/explore/people/184696) saw Vigar lying wounded about 50 metres forward of the line he rushed forward to fetch him in a selfless act that inspired everyone watching from the trench. They watched admiringly as Easther, under heavy sniper fire, carried Vigar up toward the line. To those looking on it appeared Easther would succeed but hope turned instantly to despair when just metres from the trench Vigar was shot again and killed.

The survivors who had managed to crawl into shell holes on the western edge of the Wood could do little but lay up until sundown and, although some did make it back under the cover of darkness, others never climbed out of their crater. It was impossible to move for even the slightest movement caught the attention of the vigilant German snipers and if they were unsuccessful, retribution in the form of artillery was relatively swift.

At 10.12 a.m., ‘B’ Group Artillery informed their headquarters by telephone that the raid had failed and that casualties were ‘11 killed, 20 wounded owing to machine gun fire.’[9]

Meanwhile, in accordance with the original artillery plan, ‘B’ Group continued with the standing barrage firing along a line astride the east wing of the Wood. Only minutes after 10.54 a.m., at which time the scheduled barrage was completed, ‘B’ Group fired 100 rounds of 4.5” howitzer onto the eastern portion of Celtic Wood.[10]

About 11 a.m., a telephone message from 7th British Division Artillery reported some ‘big stuff falling’ (21 cm shells) on to the area covering 10th Battalion’s position and no man’s land. [11]

The men sheltering in shell holes when they felt the tremendous shockwave transmitted through the churned ground as the massive high explosive shells detonated must have thought the next shell would be the one that would tear them asunder. With already shattered nerves, it would have taken a great deal of courage and strength of mind not to panic, break cover, and be shot down like a scared animal during a desperate dash across no man’s land. 

At 11.12 a.m., ‘B’ Group targeted an area just north of the Wood with one battery of 18-pounders. There is little doubt that these specific targets were some of the locations of the most troublesome enemy fire that had devastated the raiding party.

At 12.45 p.m., that day ‘B’ Group received a request to ‘please fire on CELTIC WOOD, bursts at frequent intervals.’[12]

That afternoon, at 5.37 p.m., just as last light was failing ‘B’ Group fired an SOS barrage. [13]

Batteries normally fired side by side upon an allocated length of the SOS line. Due to the late modification to the fire plan to support the raid and the re-entrant through Celtic Wood being a likely enemy approach, the 54th was tasked to superimpose its fire over that of 53rd Battery. This was done to increase the density of fire directly over the raid objective; the SOS line was almost on the centre line for the start of that morning’s barrage.[14]

In addition to the planned six-minute bombardments of the area at 9.30 p.m., and 9.41 p.m.,  ‘B’ Group was tasked to fire 350 rounds of 18-pounder and 120 rounds of 4.5” howitzer on the eastern slopes of Broodseinde Ridge.[15]

For the men on Broodseinde Ridge anxiously awaiting news of their mates, the day must have dragged, but for the survivors, still in the edge of the Wood and more especially for the wounded, the long wait for nightfall must have been an agonisingly long ordeal.

Only 19 of the raiders had escaped injury, many were killed in the first maelstrom of fire; others lay horribly wounded, for hours watching the mud turn crimson as they pleaded for the peace of death. 

After dark, every effort to retrieve the wounded was made but when stretcher-bearers with white flags were sent out, they were shot.  Because of largely untrue propaganda that white flags and Red Cross flags were being misused around this time, there were instances of stretcher-bearers on both sides being shot, or at least, as reported in the 2nd Division war diary, shot at.   

‘At 1100h a party of 30 men near a pill-box at D.23.d.10.75 were fired on by our Lewis guns, and three casualties inflicted; party disappeared. A few minutes later about 10 of them re-appeared carrying a Red Cross flag. Our Lewis guns fired on them, and they disappeared.’ [16]

With severe wounds to his buttock and left leg, Second Lieutenant Laurie would most certainly have died or been killed were it not for Corporal Wood (/explore/people/145257) leading a carrying party back into the Wood to find him. After finding Laurie as well as Private Buck, (/explore/people/271338) Wood and the party carried them back to the battalion but sadly, Buck died on the way in. Other men also attempted to locate the wounded and wherever possible tried to bring them back in to safety. Corporal Williams (/explore/people/155946) bandaged two wounded men and remained in a shell hole with them throughout the day before then crawling back to the front line after dark. Williams then, accompanied by Private Claude Toll, (/explore/people/141562) led a carrying party forward about 150 metres and there, under heavy artillery and sniper fire, they recovered the men and brought them back to the line.

Inexplicably after entering the killing ground in the western wing of the Wood, 14 unwounded men managed to extract themselves and at least seven of their mates from the horror of Celtic Wood.    

During the day, the officers received Battalion Order No. 48, which dealt with detailed timings and instructions for the relief by the 32nd Battalion that night.

The relief

Due to the 32nd Battalion being late, D Company was not relieved until 2.45 a.m., on 10 October, the battalion then moved to an area just south of Ypres where they rested before moving off to comfortable huts at Dominion Camp.

Although Wilder-Neligan signed his after action report on 10 October 1917, he would have commenced writing it soon after the survivors returned on 9 October. The artillery could not have been told over the telephone at 10.12 a.m., on 9 October, that the raid had failed and that 11 of the raiders had been killed and 20 wounded unless the CO had completed debriefing the unwounded men. [17]

With the wounded officers unavailable, Wilder-Neligan had to have debriefed the unwounded NCOs and men to gather the facts before he could write his detailed report and make recommendations for a number of bravery awards.

‘Report of minor operation carried out by 10th Australian Infantry Battalion at 5.20 a.m., October 9th 1917, against CELTIC WOOD ...’ [18]

The first paragraph of the CO’s report informs the brigade commander that ‘due to the weakness of the battalion and casualties during the day and night preceding the attack’ the original party of 9 officers and 100 men was reduced to 5 officers and 80 men.

When Wilder-Neligan met Charles Bean, on his move up to relieve Major Rumball the day before the raid, he told him he had been ordered to make an attack and made it clear, his battalion was ‘in no fit condition to make an attack.’[19] 

According to Bean, Wilder-Neligan said he told the 'authorities the raid could not possibly succeed; but that for its success the one thing necessary was a good Artillery barrage.’ [20]

Considering his statements to Bean, perhaps, the "Wily" Wilder’s choice of the words ‘the weakness of the battalion’ here were meant to draw attention to the battalion’s casualties even before the reinforcements came up. His words the ‘casualties during the day and night preceding the attack’ are an obvious reference to the casualties suffered by the reinforcements who moved up during that day and night.

He described the artillery barrage as being ‘so weak’ that except for the fact, the raiders had synchronised their watches and knew it was Zero hour, there was nothing in the ‘very thin artillery fire to indicate that anything in the nature of a barrage was intended. The plus 4 to 10 line seems to have been extraordinarily light.’[21]  

Wilder-Neligan told Bean he was told he would be supported by nine batteries of artillery, but later believed his party had only been supported by about seven field guns.

In this note written in his diary however, Bean is cautious about Wilder-Neligan’s statement and hints the CO might have been chastised for something he did or said during the raid.

‘These statements of course have to be carefully tested as undoubtedly Neligan’s conduct on the raid was called into question.’ [22]

Wilder-Neligan did not go on the raid, nor is there any available evidence to show his conduct in connection with it was ever was called into question. That said, there were no bounds to Wilder-Neligan’s language when angered and no better example of this than during an incident that occurred three months later at Messines. When an AIF artillery battery accidently shelled the forward trenches of the 10th Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Wilder-Neligan immediately telephoned the commander of the offending battery and roared, ‘you murderer! You hound of hell fire let loose! Man alive, your shells are dropping in my trenches and killing my men. If you don’t increase your range, by the powers of Hades I’ll come over and fix the damn lot of you.’ [23]

Immediately following his criticism of the artillery barrage, in the next paragraph the CO praised the work of the 3rd Australian Light Mortar Battery. He reported it was ‘everything that could be desired’ and largely responsible for the successful entry into Celtic Wood.

In paragraph five the CO described the actions of the raiders just as the unwounded men would have described them during their debrief. This included the enemy’s location, defences strength, weapons, actions, tactics, topography, and the condition of the Wood.

For the CO to report Lieutenant Scott and Second Lieutenant Rae ‘were killed,’ as he did in paragraph five, he had to have been certain of the facts, and could not have been so without hearing from one or more reliable eyewitnesses during the debrief. Because there was no one present at the debrief who saw Second Lieutenant Wilsdon killed or captured the CO reported him as ‘missing.’ In the same paragraph, he reported Lieutenant James and Second Lieutenant Laurie as wounded and that the greater part of the Other Ranks were either killed or ‘wounded.’

‘A few wounded have passed through dressing stations’ wrote Wilder-Neligan, yet it is only the following words of the same sentence ‘up to present I am only able to account for 14 unwounded members of the party’ that have been so often quoted.

When referring to the wounded in paragraphs seven and eight Wilder-Neligan, always an optimist, thought it was ‘quite possible’ that a certain number of his missing men may have been ‘wounded and prisoners of war, and others may yet come in or be accounted for definitely.’[24]

His use of ‘others may yet come in...’ indicates he was writing his report in the afternoon or evening of 9 October.  

Anyone who has ever read the CO’s report and particularly paragraphs seven and eight would know there were wounded, and a lot of them. In paragraph eight, the CO states ‘Some of the wounded crawled back into shell holes on the western edge of the wood’ and every effort was made to get them until the stretcher–bearers were shot. He concludes this paragraph with the statement that after dark (9 October) ‘those that could be found were brought in', which highlights the fact that he could definitely account for more than 14 men, but only ‘14 unwounded’ men.

Under ‘Results’ in the ninth paragraph, the CO writes he has no doubt the enemy suffered heavy casualties and for the first time, mentions the men from the Trench Mortar Battery. The original plan included 6 men from the 3rd Australian Light Trench Mortar Battery and yet whereas at the beginning of this report the CO made it clear the raid numbers were reduced to 5 officers and 80 men, he did not mention the Trench Mortar men.

Because he described how they ‘successfully threw Stokes Mortar bombs into two or three dugouts’ this means there were definitely Trench Mortar men on the raid. The question is did he include them in his figure of 80 Other Ranks?

The CO concluded paragraph nine on a positive note by stating the constant barrage on the raiders proved the Germans believed the raid was part of the main attack. The raid had achieved the commander’s intent of ‘drawing heavy enemy artillery and machine gun fire into the Divisional Sector’, which he could otherwise have employed against the units in the main attack.

His frustration with the supporting artillery is raised again where in the second to last paragraph, he states the raid would have produced ‘extremely good results and probably many prisoners,’ with less casualties, ‘had our artillery preparations even been moderately good.’

‘The episode in no way lowered the morale of our men, but has, if anything brightened it’, wrote the CO in his concluding remarks.

In yet another dig at the artillery, he states the lift in the raider’s morale occurred because it was the first hand-to-hand struggle against great odds ‘with no great artillery preparations in which they had taken part.’

Wilder-Neligan was not referring to his men being inexperienced as that certainly was not the case. Rather, what he appears to be reinforcing is his total dissatisfaction with the artillery barrage. As for the morale of the unwounded raiders, of course, it was high, just as their adrenaline would have been; they had been into the inferno, fought their way out, and had experienced the exhilaration of battle. They were the heroes whom the remainder of the battalion ‘as lookers on’ saw during the early stage of the fight.

At the time he wrote his report, Wilder-Neligan knew two of the raid officers were dead and another was missing just as he knew the 14 ‘unwounded men’ were not the only survivors. Ending his report on a positive note the CO appears to point out in his last sentence, that what at first seemed like a task from which few would return, courage and good leadership at all levels ensured this was not the case.

 ‘Also the remainder of the battalion were able to see, as lookers on during the early stage of the fight, what pluck and good leadership can do.

                                                        (Signed)                              Lieut-Colonel.


10/10/17’ [25] 


The battalion was about to leave this frightful place, and for a time, albeit only a short time, their ordeal was over.


The fate of all raiders (




[1] Headquarters, 3rd Australian  Divisional Artillery  War Diary Order 9 October 1917, AWM4 4 13/12/18.
[2] Bean CEW,  Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, Volume IV, Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1933, p..887
[3] 11th Infantry Battalion War Diary, Narrative of operations from 30/9/17 to 9/10/17, AWM4 23/28/32
[4] Maxwell J,  VC, MC & Bar, DCM, The Sydney Morning Herald  13 March 1931, p 8
[5] Cutlack FM, newspaper article A.I.F. Memories, “Backs to the wall”  Captain Mitchell’s Story, Sydney Morning Herald (NSW) 26 April 1937, p. 8
[6] 10th Infantry Battalion War Diary, Narrative of Operations, Appendix 1, October 1917, AWM4 23/27/24.
[7] 6th Infantry Brigade War Diary, Operations 9/10/17, Appendix XV, AWM4 23/16/26,  P. 60.
[8] 5th Australian Divisional Artillery War Diary, Intelligence Summary 9 October 1917 , Appendix 9, AWM4 13/14/21 part 1.
[9] ibid, Summary of Operations conducted on the telephone, 9 October 1917, Appendix 9, AWM4 13/14/21 part 1.
[10] ibid, Appendix 9 , AWM4 13/14/21 part 1.
[12] ibid
[13] ibid
[14] ibid, B’ Group Artillery, Order No. 8, dated 8 October 1917, AWM4 13/40/20.
[15] ibid, Summary of Operations conducted on the telephone 9 October 1917, Appendix 9, AWM4 13/14/21 Part 1.
[16] General Staff, Headquarters 2nd Australian  Division War Diary, Intelligence Summary No. 10, 6 am 6 October to 6 am 7 October 1917.
[17] 5th Australian Divisional Artillery War Diary, Summary of Operations conducted on the telephone, 9 October 1917, Appendix 9, AWM4 13/14/21 part 1.
[18] 10th Infantry Battalion War Diary, Report of minor operation, Appendix 1, 10 October 1917, AWM4 23/27/24.
[19] Bean CEW, Diaries and notes of CEW Bean concerning the War of 1914-1918, - Australian War Memorial, AWM 3DRL606, Item 254, 3rd Ypres Folder 1917-1933, p. 66 
[20] ibid
[21] 10th Infantry Battalion War Diary, Report of minor operation, Appendix 1, 10 October 1917, AWM4 23/27/24.
[22]Bean CEW, Diaries and notes of CEW Bean concerning the War of 1914-1918, - Australian War Memorial, AWM 3DRL606, Item 254, 3rd Ypres Folder 1917-1933, p. 66 
[23]  Lock CBL, The Fighting 10th - A South Australian Centenary Souvenir of the 10th Battalion, AIF 1914-19, Webb & Son, Adelaide, 1936, p. 248
[24] 10th Infantry Battalion War Diary, Report of minor operation, Appendix 1, 10 October 1917, AWM4 23/27/24.
[25] ibid



Showing 8 people of interest from campaign

WOOD, Francis Aquilla Thomas

Service number S218
Born 28 Jun 1895

WHITFORD, Roy Victor

Service number 3449
10th Infantry Battalion
Born Jan 1885


Service number V4875
Reception / Reinforcements / Personnel Depots
Australian Military Forces (Army WW2)
Born 18 Jun 1879

LE MESSURIER, Cyril St Clair

Service number 1767
10th Infantry Battalion
Born 19 Jun 1890

RAE, Albert Norman

Service number COMMI...
Second Lieutenant
10th Infantry Battalion
Born 7 Mar 1896

RIGNEY, Sydney Earl

Service number 6128A
10th Infantry Battalion
Born 1884

PAGE, Norman Livingstone

Service number 949
10th Infantry Battalion
Born 8 Dec 1888

ROWNEY, Albert Ross

Service number 2778B
10th Infantry Battalion
Born 25 Nov 1893