THE FIRST TANK CREWS

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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Jack Letts' medals in safe hands

Posted by firsttankcrews on January 19, 2017 at 4:25 AM Comments comments (0)

On Monday, I was fortunate to meet the family of Gnr John Frank "Jack" Letts who was the only one of the First Tank Crews to be awarded the Military Medal on two occasions.   The MM is awarded to those who demonstrated exceptional bravery

Jack was a member of the D2 crew who later served with B Coy of 4th Bn Tank Corps.  He was from Plymouth and, during WW2, was a sergeant in the local police force.  He was awarded the first MM during the German spring advance in 1918 and the second medal (which is represented by a bar on the medal ribbon) for his actions on the first day of the battle of Amiens when he was badly wounded. 

Jack's medals are in the safe hands of the Letts family who also have a large research file with details of his service.  This includes reports which indicate that he served with No 11 Coy of D Bn during the disastrous action at Bullecourt.  Eight of the eleven tanks were destroyed on that day and Jack was probably serving with Lt Puttocks' crew.

I met Andrew, Thule and Lydia Letts at the funeral of Jack's only son who served as a RAF wireless operator during WW2,   They are planning to place Frank's ashes in the Letts family plot at Western Hill in Plymouth.

Jack is not forgotten

    

Gnr Robert Gibson was known as Roy

Posted by firsttankcrews on January 12, 2017 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (0)

According to his grandson  Chris, C5 crewman Robert Gibson was known as Roy.  He fought with Creme de Menthe on 15 September 1916 at Courcelette and probably at Thiepval eleven days later.  He continued to serve with C Battalion and then on Whippets in 3rd Light Battalion until July 1918 when he returned to England amd started flying training.  Chris also says Roy served as a observer / gunner in a Bristol Fighter. He was discharged in March 1919 and returned to his home in Bootle. 

 


40003 Gnr Albert Martin of C Company

Posted by firsttankcrews on January 10, 2017 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Bob Mac tells me that Albert came from Lichfield.  Hope to find out more soon

Gnr Ernest Bax MM became a colonel in WW2

Posted by firsttankcrews on January 2, 2017 at 9:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Following up on Gnr Ernest Bax who served in C1 Champagne at Courcelette ,and won a MM in 1916,  I have just discovered that he reached the the rank of colonel in 1946. He was serving as  Deputy Director of Ordnance Services at HQ Quartermaster General in which department he was awarded the MBE in 1942.

Now all I need to do is find out what he did in civilian life between the wars. Can you help me in my search?



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Tank QM wins MC in New Year's Honours list 1917

Posted by firsttankcrews on December 31, 2016 at 6:20 AM Comments comments (0)

The New Year's Honours List, published today, acknowleges the sustained hard-work and determination of sailors, soldiers and airmen often in vital support roles. One hundred years ago, Capt Charles Weaver Price, who was the first ever Tank QM, was awarded the MC for his work in France.  

Born in Brecon on 1876, Charles served as an Junior NCO in the South West Borderers terriitorial battalion before the way.  He joined the MMGS shortly after the outbreak of war and deployed to France in July, as a Battery Sergeant Major, He was commissioned in December 1915 and went back to France as QM for C and D Companies Heavy Section MGC with the advance parties in August 1916.  As well as looking after the units' equipments, he also made sure that the soldiers morale remained high when the tanks moved north of the Ancre in October. He wrote to the editors of three South Wales newspapers askingr readers to donate books for his soldiers as they were deployed too far forward to get to recreation rooms.  

When 1st Tank Brigade was formed in early 1917, Charles became the Equipment Officer . Later that year, he joined HQ Tank Corps as Staff Captain Q in which role he planned and managed the deployment of tanks for the Battle of Cambrai.  On 20 and 21 November, he led a convoy of vehicles carrying spares and key parts well foward of the Hindenberg Line to carry out  forward replenishment of  the tank battalions.

In 1918, he was appointed Chief Equipment Officer  at HQ Tank Corps in France and, after being awarded the OBE In July 1919, was the first Lieutenant Colonel QM.  Relinguising his commission in January 1920, he returned to Brecon and his job as a coal merchant. Sadly his first wife Rhianedd died  in November 1920 and his only son David was killed in action, as an RAF Pilot on 23 July 1940. Charles, who remarried in 1925,  died on 27 July 1943 and is buried near his home at  Llanspyddid.  

He is not forgotten

    

Wedding details of 2Lt Robert John Aitken found

Posted by firsttankcrews on December 29, 2016 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Robert Aitken was a tank commander with C Company.  Although not in action on 15 Sep  16, he was wounded on 26 Sep when his tank was hit probably at Thiepval. He returned to England and was treated at Guy's Hospital in London.

Although he recovered physically, he was mentally unfit to return to active service.  He was discharged from service in April 1918 and settled at Overmoigne, which is only 5 miles from the Tank Training Centre at Bovington.

I have just discovered that, on 5 May 1921, Robert married a local girl named Gladys Mary Hewitt and they had two children, John in early 1922 and Ann in late 1923 . After some time living in Australia, the couple settled at Beech Avenue at Taverham in Norfolk where Robert ran a poultry farm.  During the early days of the Second World, he served with the ARP organisation.  Gladys and Robert lived at Beechlands in Taverham from 1941 to 1971 when he died aged 77.  I have no firm information about Gladys but I think she lived until her 99th year and also died in Norfolk.

If you can add anything to their story, please let me know. 


Stephen 

 


  

Woods' correspondance book reveals new crewmen

Posted by firsttankcrews on December 15, 2016 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

The D Company correspondance book, kindly loaned by the grandson of WO2 Paddy Walsh Geoff  Donaldson, has allowed me to add more information to the tank crew lists.

For example, we now know that Cpl Walden, the tank NCO in the D2 crew, was a teacher who lived at Erith, he married Florence Hall from Lichfield and that he died in 1945.

I am therefore updating the D Company crewlists to reflect this, and other details. You can identify the updated pages as I have used with Aniel font. 

 

 

Let's Not Forget all those died in the Great War

Posted by firsttankcrews on November 2, 2016 at 7:55 AM Comments comments (0)

As the British Legion poppies appear across the United Kingdom, Let's Not Forget that tank crewmen did not just die as a result of enemy action.  

One hundred year ago today (2 November 1916), Gnr Meurig Jones died at 24 General Hospital at Etaples. Meurig, who had contracted dysenttery whilst serving with D Company, was the first of non battle tafalities.

The thirty year old unmarried hotel worker, from the Cann Office Inn at  Llangadfan, in Montgomeryshire, had joined the MGC (Motors) at Coventry in the last week of April 1916. He deployed with D Company but is not listed amongst the crews who fought at the battle of Flers-Courcelette.  He died at 24 General Hospital and is one of the 11,400 Commonwealth and German soldiers buried in the Etaples Miliitary Cemetery which is the largest CWGC cemetery in France.

To ensure that Meurig and all those crewmen who died as a result of the Great War, I have published the complete list of fatalities from 1916 to 1920.  They are listed on the Lest We Forget page.http://www.firsttankcrews.com/lestweforget.htm

We will remember them

 


    

New information about Chartreuse's skipper Stanley Clarke

Posted by firsttankcrews on October 16, 2016 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Carol Haddow has provided more infomation about her father, Stanley Clarke who commanded the male tank Chartreuse on 15 September 1916 near Courcelette.  She tells me that Stanley married Gladys Eade, who was from St Albans, on 28 August 1928 at Bournemouth.  Her mother, who was widowed in 1954, died in 1989 and not, as I had previously publised shortly after Stanley's death 

Gladys was 22 when she married Stanley who was approaching his fortieth birthday; they had four children, three sons and Carol who was the youngest.

I'm really pleased that Carol made contact through my publishers, Helion and Co, but you can email me directly using the side bar to the left of the page. 

.Stephen  


Local hero's picture published in Cambrian Times

Posted by firsttankcrews on October 12, 2016 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (0)

In October 1916, the whole of Britain was keen to learn more about tanks and the men who crewed them. National newpapers published overblown tales of derring do but it was local papers who revealed the truth,  Arthur Caffrey, who was a 21 year old machine gunner from  Machynlleth, was pictured in the Cambrian Times on 13 October.

Arthur was in Casa's crew; this female tank was in action near Ginchy supoprting the Guards Division on 15 September.  The Cambrian Times later reported that Arthur was wounded and indeed burned when his tank caught fire.  He was evacuated to the United Kingdom for treatment and then granted home leave in November 1916. Arthur later returned to France after some local leave as reported by The Cambrian Times in May 1917,  

Arthur was killed in action, aged 24, on 2 September 21918 whilst 7th Bn was in support of the New Zealander Division attacking Beugny between Bapaume and Cambrai.  His was the only tank to be out our of action; the only other fataility was a tank skipper, a fellow Welshman called George Adney from Cardiff. . 

On 20 September 1918, Cambrian Times reported "sad news reached Mr and Mrs George Caffrey, Old Maengwyn, of the death in action of their eldest son, Arthur, aged 23 years, a gunner in the Tank Corps. He had been on active service for many months. Some time ago his tank caught fire and he was badly burnt. After treatment in this country he was again sent out, but was home on leave about six weeks ago. His quiet and unassuming manner won him a host of friends. His loss will also be keenly felt at the Presbyterian Chapel, where he was a member. Much sympathy is felt with Mr and Mrs Caffrey, the brothers (one of whom is on active service), and the sisters, and Miss Katie Jones, his fiance."

Through the mud and the blood to the Green Fields beyond


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