Their first call to action was for two trench raids in advance of the full-scale attack planned for July 1. Trench raids were well planned and rehearsed dash-and-grabs into enemy lines to gather information on enemy preparedness. Fifty-seven men were handpicked and trained for weeks in mock trenches in the art of close-quarters combat with a variety of medieval-looking homemade weapons such as knives, knuckledusters, spiked maces and knob-berries. Defenders counteracted this throwback to medieval times by dressing their sentries in chain mail and armour. The Newfoundlanders’ trench raid mission was intended to assess the strength of the German line in the Y Ravine (a natural depression in the landscape) and bring back a prisoner, if possible.
Initially, there was to be only one raid, but the first, on the night of June 26-27, failed when the raiders’ positions were exposed as they approached the German lines in front of the Y Ravine. The officer in charge of the raid, Captain Bert Butler, ordered a withdrawal. They were ordered to make another attempt the next night.
This time they reached the German parapet after the discovery of a 14-metre gap in the German wire that led to the enemy’s trenches. As the main group of men approached the German line, a flare exposed them. The enemy fired and many of the party fell wounded. A few managed to enter the trench in the ensuing melee.
Private George Phillips entered a sap and could be heard clearing a wide swath, judging by the yelling and groaning that his comrades heard coming from the German trench. Captain Butler ordered another withdrawal in the face of overwhelming odds, gathering his men near today’s Danger Tree and sending out rescue parties to recover the wounded. Phillips, however, was unable to withdraw, but found a shell hole where he continued his assault on the line with rifle fire throughout the night. The next morning, his clothes in tatters and covered in blood, he reported to the regiment.
Though they failed to take a prisoner, the raiding party reported that the week-long bombardment of the lines in this sector had little impact on German preparedness and numbers. By this time, the massive war machine was in full swing on the British side, and in the overconfidence that was the hallmark of the colossal failure on July 1, there was no thought given to abandoning the attack.