Rare photographs from the First World War are now on show at Durham County Record Office. 

The photographs show a British raid on a German trench and are believed to be the only photos in the world that depict a trench raid in progress. 

The photos, taken by a Royal Flying Corps warplane, captured a September 1917 raid near Cherisy, northern France.

Such raids, though rarely photographed, were common on the Western Front. Their objectives could be to acquire intelligence, take prisoners or simply kill as many enemy soldiers as possible. 

Enlarged copies of the pictures of the Cherisy raid can now be seen in an exhibition at Durham County Record Office, entitled ‘All of a Sudden, Hell Broke Loose – the Trench Raid at Cherisy, 15 September 1917’. 

Most trench raids in the First World War took place at night and involved only a few men. The raid at Cherisy, however, involved a larger number of troops, most of them members of the 9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI). 

Steve Shannon, a military researcher and curator of the exhibition, said, “The raid is largely forgotten today, submerged beneath the horrors of the Somme and Passchendale, but it is unique, not only because of the number of soldiers involved, but because the photographs showing it in progress are so rare.” 

“The raid also had an important outcome as it is believed that Lt Col Roland Bradford, from Witton Park, in County Durham, received a promotion to become the youngest general in the British army as a result of his involvement.” 

Col Bradford spent a fortnight training his men for the operation. They even practised attacks on a full-scale model of the German trench until each soldier was clear about exactly what he had to do. 

Less than one month after the raid, 25-year-old Bradford was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. Shortly after this, on 30 November 1917, he was killed by a German shell.

The exhibition will be on at Durham County Record Office, County Hall, until mid-2018. As well as the photos of the trench raid, it will include maps, documents and photographs from the Durham Light Infantry archive, which is looked after by Durham County Record Office on behalf of the Trustees of the DLI Collection.

Entry to ‘All of a Sudden, Hell Broke Loose – the Trench Raid at Cherisy, 15 September 1917’ is free. The exhibition will be open from Monday to Friday between 9.00 am and 4.00 pm.

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