“The Body Snatchers”: Trench Raid at Roclincourt

Ogilby, Lt. Col. R.J.L., Map, [27 September 1916]

Canadians were credited with the invention of the “Trench Raid” during the First World War; the tactic was first used in 1915.

The intention was to capture enemy soldiers for interrogation and intelligence gathering purposes. This led to the use of the colourful term “Body Snatchers” for those in the raiding parties. Raids occupied the men and kept their morale up during the long, boring intervals between major engagements. They caused damage to the enemy’s trenches, weaponry and equipment while keeping him in a state of confusion and apprehension. Fear instilled by raiding parties could even prevent the enemy from venturing into no-man’s land to repair wire and other defences. Initially, the raids were very successful and few casualties were suffered. As time progressed, however, all combatants became more adept at defending against trench raids as well as initiating raids of their own. Success rates went down while casualty rates went up. For these reasons raids were eventually discontinued as they were deemed no longer worth the cost in men and material.

00001502.jpg Click below to view an animation, with audio, of a real trench raid from September 1916. The original archival documentation, which includes a trench map of the area, provides details of every element of the raid and assigns roles to all the participants. Selections from the archival material can be seen below the animation.

Further resources

Berton, Pierre. Vimy (Toronto: Penguin Books Canada Ltd., 1987)
Dunn, J.C. The war the infantry knew, 1914-1919 : a chronicle of service in France and Belgium with the Second Battalion, His Majesty's Twenty-third Foot, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, founded on personal records, recollections and reflections (Cardinal [Ont.] : Sphere Books, 1989)
Todd, Frederick P. “The Knife and Club in Trench Warfare, 1914-1918”, The Journal of the American Military History Foundation 2, no. 3 (1938): 139-153.

Archival descriptions

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