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Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

Trench Raid at Cherisy, 15 September 1917

New exhibition in the Record Office entrance corridor

"All of a sudden hell let loose." The trench raid at Chérisy, 15 September 1917

This exhibition focuses on a raid by Durham Light Infantry soldiers on a German trench in northern France one hundred years ago. 

Trench raids were commonplace on the Western Front during the First World War, undertaken to take prisoners and gather intelligence, but above all to kill as many enemy soldiers as could be found.

Aerial photo of trench positions around Cherisy, France, 16 June 1917

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, 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 will be the centrepiece of this 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 DLI'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 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 bulk 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, including practising attacks on a full-scale model of the target trench, until every raider knew what he had to do. 

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.

Location: Durham County Record Office, County Hall, Durham DH1 5UL

Opening times: Monday to Friday from 9am to 4pm, 15 September 2017 to mid 2018

Admission: Free



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