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

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Willie Shelton of tank crew D3 is pictured right.  Willie was awarded the Distinguished Combat Medal for “great coolness and skill in driving his tank in action on 17th October 1918. When his tank was ditched, he worked under heavy fire for three hours and subsequently drove his tank for 6 hours, showing excellent skills in manoeuiring, so that many machine gun nests holding up the infantry were destroyed. This photo was provided by his great grandson Tim Kelly who is a member of the website.

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Another tank crewman's family make contact

Posted by firsttankcrews on September 18, 2017 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Ian Bell, whose grandfather was Gnr Wilfred Vernon Giddins, has made contact and I hope to be able to learn more from Ian shortly

A previously unknown C Company tank identified

Posted by firsttankcrews on September 14, 2017 at 2:05 PM Comments comments (0)

On Monday, this picture of a "forgotten" British tank was placed on the internet.  The name of the tank is Crocodile.

The name of Crocodile is not new; a Mark 4 tank served with C Battalion in 1917 but this picture appears to be Mark I which can only have been taken in Autumn 1916.  There is no record of a male tank named Crocodile with C Company, therefore this may be a very important photo. 

The Archive staff at the Tank Museum at Bovington have been sent a copy of the image and I await their comments with great interest. 

Update on 18 Sep 17.

Several tank experts have determined that Crocodile is a Mark I and therefore we have a new name for a C Company tank. 

Now all we have to do is identify which crew took her into battle!

Battlefield tour - September 2017 - France

Posted by firsttankcrews on August 27, 2017 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Relatives and Friends of the First Tank Crewmen are visiting France on 16-17 September to see where the tankies fought in Autumn 1916 and Spring 1917.

f you are on the Somme or near Arras, and would like to join us for part of one or both days, the planned timings and RV locations are as follows:

Saturday 16 September 2017

10.00 a.m. Tank Replenishment - 14 Sep 1916 (Pozieres Memorial to the Missing)

10.30 a.m. Attack on Courcelette - 15 Sep 1916 (Rue de Courcelette includes a 2 km walk on tracks)

12.30 p.m. Tank Actions - 25 and 26 Sep 1916 (Le Ballon Crossroads between Courcelette and Martinpuich)

13.00 p.m. Capture of Martinpuich - 15 Sep 1916 (Martinpuich British Cemetery)

13.30 p.m The First Tank Action - 15 Sep 16 (Delville Wood near Longueval)

14.15 p.m. The Kiwis Attack - 15 Sep 1916 (New Zealand Memorial - Longueval)

15.30 p.m. Dinnaken's action - 15 Sep 1916 (Place des Britanniques in Flers)

15.50 p.m Die Hard and Dolly destroyed - 16 Sep 1916 (AIF Burial Ground near Flers)

16.30 p.m Brothers in Arms - 15 Sep 1916 (Ginchy to Morval Road)

17.30 p.m. Commemorations (Grove Town British Cemetery)

Sunday 17 September 2017

10.30 a.m. Tanks at Bullecourt - 11 Apr and 3 May 1917 (between Ecoust and Bullecourt)

12.30 p.m The capture of the Harp - 9 Apr 1917 (Tilloy British Cemetery)

13.30 p.m. The capture of Monchy - 11 Apr 1917 (Southern outskirts of Monchy)

There is no charge to join us but a donation to our commemoration costs would be appreciated

If you could like to take part, contact me on [email protected]

Darnley McCaig family details updated

Posted by firsttankcrews on August 16, 2017 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Australia based Talieh Williams, who is Darnley McCaig's great granddaughter, has made contact and let me know about his two children as well as other family information. She has also agreed to see if she can get some photos from her Scottish and New Zealand familes. 

I have updated his record which you can find in the C Coy H-M Crewman page.


Laurie Rowntree's death site confirmed

Posted by firsttankcrews on August 14, 2017 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Creme de Menthe crewman Laurie Rowtree was commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery in January 1917 and returned to the Western Front in the summer. He was killed on 25 November in the closing stages of the Battle for Passendaele, probably as a result of counter-battery fire.

An exhibition about his life is currently under way at the York Castle Museum.  As you would expect, a lot of research has been undertaken aboiut his life and, as part of this, the place of his death has been identfied.  His battery was operating northeast of Zonnebeke close to the location of Dochy Farm New British Cemetery, which was establised after the war.

Lawrie's body was however taken back to the British Rear Areas, probably on an artillery limber,   He is buried, together with 553 other soldiers of the Royal Field Artillery who lost their lives in the Ypres Salient at Vlamertinge New Military Cemetery,

He is not forgotten

Gnr John McKenzie - We Do Remember Him

Posted by firsttankcrews on August 5, 2017 at 6:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Gnr John McKenzie, from Birkenhead, was killed on 5 August 1917 and his body was buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery.

Born in Carlisle in 1890, John was the eldest son of Railway shunter Francis McKenzie and his wife Mary. By 1901 the family had moved to Tranmere in Birkenhead and were living in Peel Street. .

John probably enlisted at Coventry in early May 16; his home being recorded as Liverpool in Motor Cycle published on 4 May 1916. Posted to D Company, he fought in Dracula on 15 September 1916 at Flers and was also a member of the same D16 crew at the end of the month. He is likely therefore to have been in action at Eaucourt l'Abbaye on 1 October.

He was serving with No 10 Company when he was killed. he is therefore also likely to have been in action on 9 April 1917 at the Harp defensive position near Tilloy.  Sadly his death is not recorded in the D Battalion War Diary so the exact cause is unknown. It was probably as a result of artillery fire, possibly on the tankodrome at Oosthoek Wood. .

His parents published details of his death in the Liverpool Echo on 15 August.  This reveals that John was engaged to be married to Miss H Wood.  He is commemorated on the Birkenhead War Memorial - he is Not Forgotten

(Updated 6 August 2017)

Frank Bull may not have died on 28 Sep 16

Posted by firsttankcrews on July 16, 2017 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (0)

In preparation for our next trip to France, when we will visit graves of the First Tank Crewmen buried on the Somme including Frank Bull, I have been reviewing my notes. Coincidentally I have also been in contact with Greg Lewin who has been researching the War Memorial at Bridgnorth.

When FC Bull joined the MMGS in late March 1916, his home town is recorded as Bridgnorth, The local Bridgnorth records FC Bull as a lance corporal.  The burial record, recently added to the CWGC website, lists Frank as a lance corporal which confirms Greg;s information.  More importantly, the burial records gives Frank's date of  death as 27 September 1916 and not the following day as shown in the CWGC records.

I have sent an email to the CWGC asking them for their help in resolving the matter. 

New information about Gnr James Anderson of D22

Posted by firsttankcrews on July 6, 2017 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (2)

Just discovered that Gnr James Anderson DCM was born on 15 May 1893 at 35 Cambridge Gardens in South Leith,.  

His parents were Margaret Whitson and James Couper Anderson MA who had married in Edinburgh in 1890.  James' father was a school teacher who later became Headmaster of Albion Street School.  

James' father died on 27 July 1916 shortly before D Company deployed to France.,  James was recommended for a gallantry award following the capture of High Wood but this was not granted.

James would next see his mother in November 1917 when he returned to Bovington to join a new battalion. He retrained as a driver and returned to France in September 1918.  16th Battalion was in action within two weeks and fought hard for five weeks before they were withdrawn. 

Sadly I cannot find any record of James' mariage or death  If you have any more details, please contact me

B Company tank crews detailed

Posted by firsttankcrews on May 18, 2017 at 7:05 AM Comments comments (0)

On 30 September 1916, five tank crews from the B Company Advance Party were allocated to D Company and sent north to establish a new tankdorome at Acheux.  The names of the crewmen have been found in the D Company Adjutant's correspondance book and these are now available on the B Company element of this site, accessible on the side bar  

If, at first, you don't succeed..(Ernest Alfred White)

Posted by firsttankcrews on April 27, 2017 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)

According to D Company's records, 32441 Cpl Ernest Alfred White was the NCO in the D16 crew in early September 1916. However he is not listed amongst Dracula's crew, which fought at Flers on 15 September which is rather odd. Three weeks later, his OC sought to have him reduced to the ranks as being unlikely to become an efficient NCO.

This sort of event would normally be the death knell for most careers, However Ernest must have proved his leadership skills in the next six months as he was sent for officer training at Pirbright and commissioned on 26 June 1917. Ernest was then posted to Bovington for tank commander training and, in January 1918, deployed with 12th Battalion back to France.

He must have also proved his effectiveness as an officer for Ernest was promoted temporary captain in December 1918. Sadly his service record does not exist but a good friend of the First Tank Crews recently discovered a clue to his employment.

Alwyn Killingworth, who has been researching tank crews for many years, recently purchased a bracelet engraved with Ernest's details. The bracelet, made in sterling silver by TBros (probably Turnball Brothers, was assayed in Birmingham in 1917.

These bracelets were not pieces of jewellery but designed to ensure officers could be identified in the event of becoming seriously wounded or killed. That Ernest bought one indicates that he had a field role as a captain, probably as a section commander or perhaps a reconnaissance officer, and was not out of danger despite his promotion.

Ernest survived and returned to civilian employment after the war. He did not however turn his back on military life but remained in the Reserve of Army Officers until 18 April 1933 which was probably his 55th birthday

Sadly that is all we know about Ernest so, if you can add anything to the story, please make contact.