THE FIRST TANK CREWS

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


C Company HQ 

Photo (right) a C Company tank on the Somme 1916

OC  T/Maj Allen Holford-Walker; the only Sandhurst trained officer in either his own or in D Coy.    Born on 3 Jan 90 at Oakleigh House, Southend on Sea, Allen was the eldest son of an Indian-born Gunner officer - Edgar Holford Walker and his second wife Maria Cumming.  Allen was educated in Cheltenham and  followed his father into the Army, being commissioned into the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (A&SH) on 6 Nov 1909. Served with 2nd Bn in Malta in 11 (at the same time as Arthur Inglis – see C5 Crème de Menthe) based at Intarfa Bks then moved to India on 29 Nov 12.  Returned to England on 17 Nov 14 and on 14 Dec 14, married Joan Moody at Tilford quietly due to the war”.  Allen deployed to France, as a Coy officer, with 10th (Svc) Bn A&SH who were part of the 9th Scottish Div on 10th May 15 – one of his future Sect Comds, Sir John Dashwood serving in the same Bn. Allen was badly wounded at the Battle of Festubert on 1 Jul 15 and evacuated to England. Joan and Allen’s elder daughter was born in early 16; her sister Jean was born within a year.  Allen was attached to the MMGS as a T/Maj on 3 May 16. He returned to France on 16 Aug 16 with his HQ and on the morning of 15 Sep, whilst it was still dark. He drove his Sunbeam staff car forward, carrying petrol cans to replenish tanks, thereby allowing them to deploy. He continued in C Bn as OC No 7 Coy until 14 Dec 16; his wife Joan sent former members of C Coy tobacco, cigarettes, cake and chocolatesAwarded MC Dec 16, he was the first commander of 20 Coy of G Bn. He deployed back to France on 24 May but left the post on 6 Aug 17, owing to sickness. He served with the Tank Corps for the rest of the war. He was appointed Adjt 10th Bn Kings Liverpool Regt on 24 Aug 20, then Adjt 9th Bn A&SH from 15 Mar 21 to 5th Mar 24. His son Allen was born in 5 Feb 22.  In 1924, he retired from the Army on 1924 and settled at  the Killean Estates at Nanyuki in Kenya. Recalled to active Service as Staff Capt 19 Sep 39, he was employed in organising ground-based air-defence in Scotland.  He and Joan returned to Kenya where he died at Killean on 22 Apr 49

 

Adjt: Capt Richard Earl Williams. Born New Brighton in the summer of 1889. Eldest son (fifth child) of shipowner’s freight clerk Richard Williams and his wife Ann Francis.  A commercial, with previous Territorial Force (TF) service, he was commissioned into MMGS on 22 Sep 15.  He deployed to France on 16 Aug 16 and was appointed Adjt C Bn on its formation.  MID in Jan 17, he married Lillian Wallis on 26 Sep 17 at Wallasey with William Stockdale being a witness. Awarded MC for service with 3rd Tank Bn in Jun 18. He later transferred to the General List as Captain. After the war, he settled in Manchester. He rejoined the TF with serving in the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry and was awarded TF War Medal in 1927 and TA Efficiency Medal in 1928.  In 1931, his marriage ended in divorce and Richard died in 1953, aged 65, at Chester.


ASC officer – Capt Richard Ewart Trevithick.  Born 7 Oct 1891 in Carlisle, the great- grandson of Richard Trevithick the engineer. Educated at Bilton grange school near Rugby then at Cheltenham College until 1909.  He worked as an apprentice engineer at Crewe for five years after which he went to America to study Mechanical Engineering practice.  He then worked as a manager with Dewrance in London, where he gained expertise on high pressure valves and associated equipment. Commissioned 2Lt ASC on 12 Oct 14, he deployed to France two weeks later with a MT company responsible for 120 vehicles.  When 711 MT Coy was established, he instructed in tank driving and maintenance.  He joined C Coy HS Machine Gun Corps (MGC) and at Elveden was placed in command of No 3 section.  He moved with the first group of tanks to Le Havre where he managed the offloading whilst commanding 25 men. He then moved to the training area at Yvrench when he badly injured his knee.  He later transferred to the MGC and then to the Tank Corps as it formed in July 17.  He was employed with the Ministry of Munitions by Dec 17, working at Bristol and later in Whitehall. On 19 Jun 19, he married Marie Frederica Miller at St Margaret’s Church in Westminster.  Their daughter Noel Claire Trevithick was born in 1926 whilst living in Chislehurst.  Now a chartered Civil Engineer, he travelled overseas both before and after the Second World War. In the 1950s, he settled at Cheddington and died in Beaminster on 10 Apr 73.

Technical Officer – 2Lt Theodore Lateriner Wenger. Born 21 Feb 90 in Newcastle under Lyne, Staffs, the fourth son of an manufacturer of chemicals and ceramic colours.  Educated at Newcastle High School then at Birmingham University where he studied Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. From 1913 until 1915 he worked for the Edison Coy in New York returning to Staffordshire in Aug 15 “to assist with the manufacturing of munitions” Enlisted as a Private soldier in 28th Bn London Regt Artists Rifles Offr Cadet Bn at Romford, he was commissioned into ASC as temp 2Lt on 15 May 16, He initially served at Grove Park MT Depot and then posted to 711 MT Coy at Elveden on 29 Jun 16 and deployed to France on 16 Aug 16 with C Coy.  Throughout the first actions he was constantly on call to repair individual tanks –indeed he was mentioned in one of the first message for help (signal from Victor Smith commanding Casa). He was transferred as temp 2/Lt in MGC (HS) on 18 Nov to C Bn , as the new Bn formed, with seniority 15 May 16 and promoted T/Lt 1 Dec 16.  He then moved to the B Bn Wksps Coy and was awarded MC for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in repairing a badly damaged tank under heavy shell fire and in full view of the enemy and driving it back to safety. He has consistently displayed a very high standard of determined courage and ability when engaged in salvage work, and has set a very fine example to all ranks.  He joined No 2 Field Coy on 23 Jul 17 and was appointed 2IC on 26 Jul  undertaking salvage work. He  was appointed A/Maj while comding the Coy 21 Jan to 9 Feb 18 and then served as the Mech Engr at HQ Tank Field Bn from 26 Oct 18.  Appointed A/Lt Col while comdg a 2nd Fd Bn from 23 Mar to 19 Oct 19, he supervised the removal or destruction of tank hulks from the battlefields.  He visited the South Russia Tank Training Team arrived in Dec 19 and Jan 20.  He relinquished commission on completion of service, 3 Jun ‘20, and granted the rank of Lt-Col.  He played a major part in the erection of the Tank Memorial at Pozieres.  He returned to Newcastle Under Lyne and became a director of the family firm.   On 2 Sep 1938, departed London for Brisbane and having caught bacterial encarditus, he died aged 49 yrs on 1 May 39 at Mount St Evins Hosp Melbourne and is buried at The Melbourne General Cemetery in Carlton.

Quartermaster - Lt Charles Weaver-Price.  Born at Brecon in 1876, his father was a railway station manager who later became a coal merchant. Educated at Christ’s College Brecon, Charles joined the South West Borderers as a TF soldier.  Married Rhianedd Mary Gwendoline Jones in 1906; by 1911 they were living at Ashgrove at Llansypiddid near Brecon  and their only son  David was born 27 Jul 13.  On the outbreak of war, Charles re-enlisted in the SWB then transferred to the MMGS and served as a Battery Sgt Major. He initially deployed to France on 12 Jul 15 and was commissioned into MGC 9 Dec 15.  Awarded MC on 1 Jan 17 for his service during the first tank actions, he was appointed Eqpt Offr with C Bn then HQ 1st Tank Bde in early 17.  He was Staff Capt Q at HQ Tank Corps during preparations for Battle of Cambrai - he planned and supervised the loading of 400 tanks at the Le Plateau siding, prior to battle, and led a packet of vehicles forward with replenishment stocks on 20 and 21 Nov. Appointed Chief Eqpt Offr and A/Maj from 16 Apr 18, he was appointed a Lt Col in the Eqpt Branch he was awarded OBE in 1919. Relinquishing his commission and granted rank of Lt Col on  17 Feb 20, he returned to Ashgrove where his wife Rhianedd died (aged 39) in early Nov 20.  An acknowledged expert on bee-keeping, Charles broadcast radio programmes on bees from Cardiff in Nov 23 and Jun 24. In 1925, Charles married Eva Barley in Bath in 1925.  He stayed in contact with his comrades and attended 1936 RTR Dinner.  His son was KIA on 23 Jul 1940 whilst serving with the RAF.  Died aged 67 on 27 Aug  43

2Lt Robert John Aitken. Born 1 Sep 94 at Guildford, the son of a colliery agent. Educated at Brighton, in 1911,  he was working as an articled clerk to an auctioneer and estate agent at Southwick on Sussex.  He enlisted aged 20 on 5 Sep 14 whilst engaged in poultry farming.   Height 6’ 2”, wt 10st 10 lbs. Served as a Pte then LCpl in 19th Bn Royal Fusiliers. Applied for commission on 9 Mar 16 in France, returned to UK on 20 Mar 16 and posted to No 4 Offr Cadet Bn on 25 Mar 16. Commissioned into the HS MGC 14 April 16 and deployed to France on 16 Aug 16. Was in the Reserve Section in C Coy.  Wounded on 26 Sep when his tank was hit. he went sick on 8 Oct suffering from headaches, sickness and rigors. Checked by RAMC doctor on 26 Mar 17 and found general health to be good; Aitken complains of attacks of vertigo.  To be Lt 25 Oct 17. Suffered from neuralgia for rest of service; did not return to duty.  Relinquished his commission on account of ill-health contracted on active service, and granted the hon rank of Lt on 25 Aug 18. On 7 Dec 18, he was living at the Ranch at Owermoigne near Bovington.  On 5 May 21, he married a local girl called Gladys Hewitt and had a son and a daughter,  After a short period living in Australia, the couple settled in Norfolk where Robert ran a poultry farm. From 1941 to 1971 he lived at Beechlands at Taverham and died, aged 77, in 1971

CSM Joseph Hackett.  Deployed with C Coy advance party to France on 16 Aug 16. Later RSM of C Bn, he was commissioned on 15 Mar 17 into the Northumberland Fusiliers.  Promoted Lt on 19 Sep 18; then appointed A/Capt on 27 Sep 18 as a section commander.  His Medal Index Card (MIC) shows his retirement address as 24 Gertrude Rd in West Bridgford.  He was a member of the Nottingham Branch of the Tank Old Comrades Association in the 1950s. 

CQMS Gordon Ferguson Bainbridge.  Born in Edinburgh  in 1883, Gordon worked overseas as a trader. He returned from Sekundi (Western Ghana) in Jun 15 to join the MMGS. He deployed to France on 24 Aug 16 and was commissioned on 17 Sep 17 as an Eqpt Offr. He served with HQ Tank Corps during the Battle of Cambrai and bought forward a packet of trucks carrying machine guns and others spares parts.  After the war, he returned to Africa and settled in Kenya. He died on 16 Aug 27 and is buried at Forest Road Cemetery in Nairobi.

SQMS Harry Wolfe Jacobs.  Born in Bristol, he was the son of a Polish boot factor, An accountant, Harry joined the Bristol University OTC then the MMGS. Deployed to France on 16 Aug 16.  Commissioned as an Eqpt Offr, he was given exceptional permission not to return to England for officer training.  He served at the Central Stores and then the Workshops.  On two occasions he was tasked at short notice to serve as a battalion equipment officer, firstly during the Battle of Cambrai and then in September 1918 when he served with 4th Bn whilst it was in action .  After the war, he became an importer of goods from South America and settled for a while in Argentina.

Sgt James David Smith Anderson. Born in Musselborough in 1881, he was the son of a sergeant in 7th Dragoon Gds. He became an engineer and moved to Rangoon, returning on 17 May 1915 to England. He later transferred to the Royal Engineers possibly serving with Tank Signals unit. He returned to Burma and in 1925 was working with the Oriental Telegraph Co at Rangoon. He was a long time member of the locally raised artillery militia unit, with whom he fought to delay the Japanese Army's advance through Burma in 1942. He died as the unit reached safety at Imphal in India.

Sgt Albert William Bedford was commissioned as 2Lt in Tank Corps 29 Mar 18. In 1925, he lived at 13 High Street at Lee in SE London.  

Sgt Robert Hillhouse.   Born on 10 Oct 1886, at Denny, Robert was a carting contractor who married Janet Dunn on 27 Dec 12. They had two daughters.  Just before C Company went into action, on 11 Sep 16, he was injured whilst rescuing a crewman on 11 Sep, from inside a tank which caught fire at the Loop; Gnr Callaghan was also injured in this incident. For his bravery he was Mentioned In Despatches.  Robert was later  Killed in Action aged 31 on 11 April 17 during the battle of Arras.  His body was not recovered but he is remembered on the Arras Memorial to the Missing and in his home town on Denny in their roll of honour.    

Sgt Alfred Edward Howard was born Manchester in April 1882 and worked as a commercial Traveller. He married Elizabeth Mills on 24 Mar 19 02 in Ardwick.  He was mobilised on 12 Dec 15 and joined the HS MGC on 4 May 1916. Wounded during action on 15 Sep 16 as a result of a gunshot wounds to the head. Evacuated to 2 Western Gen Hosp in Manchester.   His head wound healed on 21 Nov but he later developed influenza. Not sufficiently fit to return to active service, he was posted to Bovington on 20 Feb 17 and employed as an instructor on all tank weapons. He was released from active duty on 26 Mar 19.

Sgt James Macgregor born was born in 1896 at Fetteresso. He enlisted at Aberdeen on 13 Aug 1915 and was promoted paid LCpl on 15 May; paid Cpl on 27 Jun and ASgt on 16 Aug, the date he deployed to France. He was wounded on 20 Nov 17, during the opening actions of the battle of Cambrai but served with his unit until Oct 1918, when he returned to England and was posted to 22  Lt Bn as Sgt. When his service ended on 20 Apr 1919, he claimed and was awarded 20% disability pension for one year. He returned to Aberdeen.

Sgt James (Jimmy) Noel  later served with C Bn at Arras and took part in 51st Highland Div attack on the Chemical works at Roeux. Awarded DCM for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During the Battle of Arras, on April 23, 17, this NCO took command of his tank after his officer had been wounded. He fought his tank with great gallantry and skill, putting out of action many machine-guns and killing numbers of the enemy, besides taking fifty prisoners. His action enabled the infantry to gain possession of the chemical works. He then brought his tank safely back to its starting-point. His skill and gallantry were beyond praise. He was continually in action for nine hrs on this occasion.  After the war, he transferred to the Regular Army and served with 3rd Light Bn in Egypt. He reached the rank of RQMS before being commissioned as Lt (QM) 1st Apr 1934. Promoted Capt on 1 Apr 40 and Major on 1 Apr 1946, he was placed on retired pay on 28 June 1948.  Later an active member of the Tanks Old Comrades Association.

Sgt Edgar Parry Williams. Born c 11 Apr 1889 in Cardiff, Father Thomas was a railway clerk and mother Eliza Williams both from Pontypridd. Youngest of nine children (seven survived).  Pre-war worked as a clerk for William Prior a Cardiff coal merchant. Attested 11 Aug 15.married Eveline May Little on 31 Jul 15. Later RQMS in 3 Lt Bn. Provided with work by William Prior on discharge 1919. In 1925 living in Fairfield, Allensbank Rd, Heath in Cardiff.  Possibly died in Hay on Wye. Wife died in Pontypridd in 1950 aged 70.