THE FIRST TANK CREWS

The life stories of those who crewed the first tanks in September 1916


Page under "constriction"

Sadly, there is little information available about the members of  A Company. Please let me know if you can assist in telling others about their story by contacting me on "firsttankcrews@outlook.com" 

A Company was formed at Bisley in May 1916; the Company moved to Elveden the following month where it learnt to operate as crews on the specially developed training area on Lord Iveagh's estate. The company was the third to deploy to France, leaving Southampton on 14 September and moving to the Somme where the crewmen reinforced C and D Companies during the Battle of the Ancre. 

The company commander was a regular Infantry officer, Maj Cecil Tippetts of the South Wales Borderers (SWB).  The son of a solicitor, Cecil was born on 10 June 1883 in Stoke Newington in London.  He attended Oxford University and was commissioned in February 1905 into 1st (Oxford University) Volunteer Bn of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry.  Later that year, he was commissioned into the SWB as a University Candidate.  At the outbreak of the war he was with the 2nd Bn SWB on garrison duties at Tientsin in northern China. In 23 September 1914, the Bn at Lao Shan Bay where it joined the Japanese Forces in an operation against the Herman garrison at Tsingtao. The Bn invested the garrison which fell on 7 November with the loss of only 14 men who were killed in action or of disease.  
Returning to the United Kingdom with the Bn, he probably then served with 29th Div at Gallipoli.  When most of the Division were evacuated to Egypt,  to recover from the losses inflicted at the Dardenelles and then to Marseiiles to fight in France, he returned to England where he was appointed to command A Company which he commanded throughout its deployment in France.  When it was expanded to form A Bn in December 1916, he was its first commanding officer.   During 1917 and 1817, he commanded the Tank Corps Reinforcement Depot and then it s Gunnery School. As the war ended, he was transferred to the MGC (Infantry) and was Chief Instructor and commander of its Depot. 
When the British Army deployed a Brigade to Archangel, to aid the White Russians against the Bolsheviks.  Cecil was again serving with the MGC and was awarded the honorific rank of Brevet Major in the post Operation Honours list,  He retired in 1934 but lived at Wilton during the Second World War which could mean he had been recalled to active service and was employed at the Southern Command Headquarters.  In 1944, he moved to the Wirrall where he lived until 1958 when he and his wife Lillian settled in the village of Pontfadogg near Chick.  Lillian died in 1966, whilst Cecil lived until his death in 1972. 

Currently I know few of the names of A Company tank crews.   Sadly one crew was detailed after their tank was lost in action on 13 November 1916.

Tank crew A13 took the female tank "We're all in it" was one of three which were tasked to support an attack by 39th Div towards St Pierre Divion on the high ground above the river Ancre to the north of Thiepval. It was one of the last major attacks of the battle of the Somme; undertaken in awful conditions over ground which had been soaked by almost non-stop rain in October.  Of the other tanks, one failed to leave the start point and the second  broken down there.  Cecil Tippetts described the action in a post-action report in this manner.
 "At five minutes before zero hour the engine was started and at zero hour Car No. 544 advanced and was directed on its course by L Hitchcock till about 7 a.m. when it reached the German front line and was temporarily unable to proceed as the tracks would not grip owing to the condition of the ground. This had already occurred once in no-man's land. Up till now none of our own troops had been seen and the car was surrounded by the enemy. About this time Lt Hitchcock was wounded in the head and gave orders to abandon the car, and then handed over command to Cpl Taffs. Three men and Lt Hitchcock got out of the car; Lt Hitchcock was seen to fall at once, but no more was seen of two of the three men who had evacuated the tank. The third man was pulled back into the tank after he had been wounded in the forearm and, as the enemy was shooting through the open door it was immediately closed. Fire was at once opened on the enemy who retired to cover and opened on the tank with machine guns and rifles. Cpl Taffs decided not to abandon the tank but decided, with the help of the driver L/Cpl. Bevan who had been previously wounded about the face by splinters from his prism, to carry on and try to get the tank forward to its objective. They managed to extricate the tank by using the reverse and then drove forward as far as the German second line where the tank crushed into a dugout and was hopelessly engulfed and lying at an angle of about 45 degrees, thereby causing the two guns on the lower side to be useless and the two guns on the upper side only capable of firing at a high angle. The tank was now attacked by the Germans with machine guns and also bombed from the sides, front and underneath. At about 8 a.m., as none of our troops had yet been seen, probably owing to the thick mist which had prevailed during the whole action, Cpl. Taffs sent a message by a carrier pigeon asking for help. The message was received by II Corps who passed it on to the 118 Infantry Brigade who gave orders to the Black Watch to render all assistance possible. At about 9 a.m. the tank was relieved by a party of the Notts & Derby Regiment who were soon followed by the Black Watch. Cpl. Taffs and the remainder of the crew left the tank when our line was established well in front of it and was safe from capture by the enemy.

The bodies of Lt. Hitchcock and Gunner Mills were found and identified today. Gunner Stanley was seen being conveyed to hospital after the action. The guns have been removed from the tank by a salvage party and brought back to camp. Cpl. Taffs and the men who remained in the tank with him undoubtedly did splendid work by remaining at their posts. I would specially bring to notice the name of Cpl. Taffs and Lance Cpl. Bevan (ASC driver). 

Signed Major C.M. Tippets, commanding A Company, HSMGC, 14/11/16 “

    

The crewmen were as follows:

Lt Herbert Hitchcock, the tank's skipper, was born on 12 November 1894 in Upper Teddington, between Hampton and Richmond in Surrey.   His father, William, was a clerk at the War Office.  Herbert entered Balliol College in 1913 but did not graduate, having volunteered to join the Army on the outbreak of war. He was initially commissioned into the Norfolk Regt but was attached to the MMGS on 27 August 1915,    He served in France in 1915 and later was sent back to Great Britain to join the Heavy Section of the MGC. He was killed in action, aged 22 years, on 13 Nov 16 and was subsequently buried at the Mill Road cemetery near Thiepval,  

His second in command was Cpl Alfred Taffs who initially served in the SWB.  He first deployed to  the Middle East, arriving in the theatre on 29 March 1915 on the same day that 2nd SWB arrived  -  so he may have served alongside Cecil Tippetts. Th Bn took part in the initial assault landing at Gallipoli, the whole unit less one company landiing at "S" beach at Morto Bay on 25 April  - unlike many of the landings, resistance was light and the Bn came ashore with few casualties. Alfred probably served with the Machine Gun platoon as he later transferred to the MGC.   He would deployed back to France with A Company on 14 September 1916, for his bravery two months later he was awarded the Military Medal.  He was subsequently promoted to Sergeant and was appointed a Company Quartermaster Sergeant. He was later recommended for a commission and, after officer training, was commissioned into the KSLI on 14 April 1918.   He served on until 2 Jun 1919 when he retired; his first contact address was Forrester's Farm at Dunkirk near Faversham but he soon moved to Pagitt Street In Chatham, After that he diasppears.

Sadly we know nothing about Gnrs Sydney A Moss and Albert Tolley.  

We know not much more about about Gnr William Miles who was killed in action at St Pierre Divion on 13 November and is also buried at Mill Road cemetery. He was born in Birmingham in 1886; one of five brothers and two sisters, the family moved to Smethwick in 1892 and then to Coventry in 1911 where he became a window cleaner. He married Mary Gertrude Troop in 1914 and they had a daughter named Doris. They were living at 190 Clay Lane when William volunteered to join the MMGS.  He was a member of the Barras Road working men's club, in the centre of the city,where he is remembered. Sadly May and Willliam did not have children. Family information provided by his great nephew Martin Miles who is a member of this site.

Gnr William Stanley who was removed from the battlefield, sadly died four days later. William, who was born in 1893 in Ashby de la Zouch, the eldest son of a self employed cycle maker who ran his business in Market Street.  William junior was living at 15 Belgrave Street in Burnley when he enlisted into the MGC.   There is little known about his service except about his fatal injury but a photograph was published in the local Burnley newspapers, after his death, which  you can find in the website photo albums.

Gnr Fred Ainley, who was awarded the Military Medal for his actions, was also badly injured by a gunshot wound to the right wrist.  Born on 17 Feb 1897, at Parkgate near Rawmarsh in Yorkshire, he was a piano builder when he enlisted at Coventry into the MGC (Motors) in Jan 1916 and deployed to France on 15 Sep 1916.  After his injury, he was evacuated to the 2nd Western General Hospital at Manchester where he was admitted on 5 December.  the bullet also fractured his wrist but he was sufficiently well to be discharged on 20 Jan 17.  He was then posted to G Battalion but was soon transferred to the Northern Command Depot owing to his wrist injury made him wholly unfit for further service. He was discharged on 2 Feb 1918 and granted the Silver War badge and a pension.  

The final member of the crew was the driver, LCpl Reginald Bevan.  He suffered injures to his face from splinters; sadly a common wound for drivers and commanders in the early tanks.  He was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery on 13 November 1916.  He stayed with the tanks and transferred to the MGC; his regimental number shows this might have been later than most of the ASC who transferred in early 1917.  He was promoted to Sergeant and was Mentioned in Despatches in December 1917; this probably was a result of his service at the Battle of Cambrai.  He was subsequently selected for officer training and commissioned into the Tank Corps; being appointed an Equipment Officer on 6 December 1918.  When he retired, he was living at Kew Palace.          

Other A Company commanders and crewmen