The evolving nature of trench warfare led to new patterns of fighting. The area between the trench lines, known as 'no man’s land', was the key ground, especially at night, for fierce combat between opposing front line troops, as patrols were sent out to gather information about their enemy’s defences.
Trench raids aimed at forcing temporary entry into the enemy’s line in order to kill defenders, destroy fortifications and weapons, gain intelligence by the capture of maps and documents, and return with prisoners. Attackers carried specialised weapons - knives, knuckledusters and improvised clubs proved useful in close-confined trench-fighting. Camouflaged uniforms were often worn.
Raids took place on all fighting fronts where entrenched enemies confronted each other. The first (small-scale) British raids on the Western Front included local attacks by the Indian Corps in November 1914. As the war progressed, raids became larger operations, sometimes involving covering parties, supporting artillery barrages and even the discharge of poison gas.
Morning after a night raid
A raiding party of the 1/8th (Irish) King's Liverpool Regiment, 55th Division, at Wailly, France. Photograph taken the morning after a night raid durnig the 17/18th April 1916.
The practice of raiding, encouraged by some elite units and much refined by the Canadians and Australians, was viewed by British military authorities as a means of reinforcing the 'offensive spirit' of front-line troops. But the ordinary soldier had no great love for such attacks. As well as the dangers of taking part in them, there was the risk of almost certain enemy retaliation afterwards. The phenomenon of the raid attracted the attention of war writers and notable accounts are found in the post-war writings of Herbert Read and Siegfried Sassoon.