THE FIRST TANK CREWS

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


Maj Frank Summers (pictured right in 1918) was born in the Autumn 1872 in Redhill, the son of Henry R Summers who owned a draper and hosiery business and was 11th Mayor of Redhill serving from 1886 to 1888.  At the age of 20, he went to Africa and served in Rhodes Chartered Coy Police during the expedition to reduce the rebellion in Matabeland in 1893.  In 1894 he was a Reuters Correspondent in Rhodesia and then spent some time prospecting for mines and editing a newspaper in Bulawayo. He married Marjorie Pryor and their son Cyril was born on 18 Apr 99 at Leighton Buzzard. Frank was commissioned on 2 Feb 1900 and served as Lt in 14th (East Kent) Bn of the Imperial Yeomanry during which time he was Mentioned in Despatches.  Resigning his commission, he lived in Holland Park Avenue in 1901 and was secretary to the Imperial Service Club on its foundation 30 Sep 01 until its failure in 1905. He then became secretary of the Cosmopolitan Club in London and later the Empress Club. He was commissioned into the RMLI and deployed to France 21 September 1914 (possibly one of the 50 gentlemen who placed themselves at the disposal of the Royal Naval Division. He was appointed Adjt on 21 Sep at Dunkirk; he served with Tpt Coy and in support of army units during the Antwerp action and then during the First Battle of Ypres, Aubers Ridge and Festaubert. Promoted from T/Lt to T/Capt 23 Mar 15.  Awarded DSC “for services with the RND Motor Transport Coy in France and MID whilst serving with the Royal Marine Artillery. Between 4 Sep 15 and 27 Mar 16 served with RNAS.   He served as a staff officer with No 3 Wing RNAS at Dardanelles in December 1915 and was present at Wembley when Swinton sought volunteers from Squadron 20 on 9 Mar 16. He relinquished RM commission, at the request of the War Office and transferred to MGC as Capt with seniority 23 Mar 16.  Presented with DSC, by HM the King at Buckingham Palace on 19 Apr 16, he was appointed T/Maj on 4 May on the formation of D Coy. His son Cyril, who was Dartmouth trained, was KIA on HMS Indefatigable at the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 16. Frank Summers deployed to France with D Coy arriving on 29 August 1916; he attended various briefings of Corps HQ staff, he established his HQ at the Green Dump on 13 Sep and remained there until 29 Sep. He briefed his "skippers", prior to their deployment, on the afternoon of 14 Sep and, in the early hrs of 16 Sep, moved forward to Flers to brief the tank commanders who were to attack Gueudecourt.  Being told that the infantry attack had been postponed, he directed the tanks to advance and they were therefore ready to assist the New Zealand units which did go forward. He remained in command of D Coy, during the follow-up actions, until 18 Nov 6 when it was formed into D Bn.  He then returned to the UK and was awarded the DSO in the New Years Honours 1917. He was promoted A/Lt Col on 11 Jan 17 to command F Bn at Bovington; he then deployed the Bn on 20 May to France where it established its base to Auchy-Les-Hesdin.  Summers commanded F Bn during the Third Battle of Ypres and at Cambrai where it fought with great success.  He was transferred back to the UK in 14 December to assist training of further tank units.  Appointed T/Lt Col Dec 17, as CO of the newly formed 15 Bn, On 14 Jan 18 he was appointed to the British Military Mission in Washington.  He briefed on tank tactics at US War College, and at the US Tank School Camp Colt Pennsylvania where he met the future President Eisenhower, then a tank officer. He then served in the Air Ministry until 24 Feb 20, when was appointed  Deputy Controller Appointments Department, Ministry of Labour and Director for London District seeking to obtain employment for 14,000 officers still in unemployment.  He retired April 22 and a complimentary dinner given in his honour at Prince's Restaurant Piccadilly. He then was involved in a variety of charitable causes and was Honorary Secretary of the RAC Club in Grosvenor Sq, London. He died 14 Jan 48 aged 75 years; his obituary by Ernest Swinton appeared in the London Times one week later.

Capt Graham Woods - Adjutant.  Born in July 1886 in Ware, Hertfordshire; he was the son of a clergyman. Commissioned 11 Bn Yorks & Lancs Regt 14 Dec 14, he was appointed Temp Capt MGC on 29 Mar with seniority 8 Jan 15 and married Evelyn (Evie) Day of Harrogate on 15 Mar 1915  Reporting for duty to MMGS on 29 Mar 1915, he served at the MMGS Depot / MGC Training Centre at Bisley until Spring 16.  On 10 April deployed to Lincoln for two weeks to see the tank manufacturing process. On 5 May 16 counter-signed an attestation form as Adjt 1st Bn Heavy Sect MGC.  On 9 June, he assumed post on Adjt D Coy and moved to Norfolk on 22 Jun.  Deployed to France 1 Sep 6 and maintained a firm grip on the Coy’s records. Whilst with the Forward Base at Green Dump, he slept between the horns of a tank, rather than in the Coy HQ tents. On 11 Nov 16, he was sent with a small party to establish the Coy's winter base at Blangy. Appointed Adjt of D Bn on its formation, he was MID in Jan 1917.  Later appointed Staff Capt on formation of 2 Tk Bde and awarded MC whilst serving with 2 Tk Bde on 1 Jun 17; he then held several staff posts which resulted in his being awarded DSO whilst serving with 1 Tank Gp on 31 Dec 18. Relinquished appointment of DAA &QMG 1 Tk Gp – 14 Oct 1919 and then DAAG at Tank Corps HQ at Bermicourt. Presented with DSO and MC at investiture at Buckingham Palace on 20 Feb 20. On 23 Mar 20, he wrote to the editor of the Tank Journal stating he planned to go overseas to the West Indies but his doctor would not permit it.  He therefore returned to work as General Manager with Messrs Grimshaw, Lather and Co Ltd, Auto engineers and Body builders at Sunderland. He later settled in Lea Field Disley in Cheshire, where he started the Manchester and District Tank Corps OCA and was later its president. In 1940 was commissioned into Aux Mil Pnr Corps as Lt (9 Jul) and then served with ADME-METS undertaking experiments on waterproofing vehicles for wading.  Promoted War Sub Maj in REME on 26 Jul 43 and, on 12 Jul 1946, he relinquished his commission, on account of disability, and was granted hon rank of Lt Col.  As a civilian he worked as a sub area secretary with the NW Electricity Bd; at 65 (1951) he continued as civil defence advisor to NW Electricity Board. He was a member of the local RBL branch, was a Rural District Councilor, Lay reader, churchwarden, editor of the Parish Magazine and Sec of the PCC, he was last listed in phone book at Disley 1958. Died in West Sussex aged 77 in 1964, 

Lt Jefferson Wakley was born 21 Sep 93 in West London. Was educated at St Pauls School and served a 4 year apprenticeship with The Northern iron works in Southampton from 1908 to 1912, and subsequently attended Kings College University of London.On the outbreak of war he was resident in Birmingham and joined the 15 (S) Bn Royal Warwickshire Regt on 14 Sep 14 as a Private.  Commissioned on 10 March 1915 into 6 Worcs Regt (Spec Res) as 2Lt on probation, he was attached to HB MGC on 17 April 16. Initially a tank park officer, he departed Thetford on 25 Aug, with the first 13 tanks through Avonmouth.  On arrival at Yvrench, he was tasked to deploy with ten men, on 5 Sep, to Le Havre to take over eight spare tanks; these he brought to the Loop railhead on 11 Sep.  On 26 Sep, tasked to command a tank but was not deployed.  On 1 Oct he commanded tank D16 during the attack on Eaucourt l'Abbaye. He was wounded by a shell fragment which lodged 4 inches above the left knee-a compound fracture of the leg was also sustained. Wakley was taken initially to Bicourt field hospital where the shell fragments were removed and he was evacuated to England on 17 Oct. He was taken to Princess Henry of Battenberg’s hospital in London where his septic leg continued to give concern. The leg was eventually amputated at the hip in Jan 17 and in May 1917 he was fitted with an artificial leg.  He was promoted substantive Lt on 1 Jul 17 and was later employed at the War Office.  Placed on the retired list on account of ill health caused by wounds 14 Feb 19 and was awarded Silver War Badge on 30 Apr 21. After the war he was the proprietor of the Drewry Railcar Coy. He married Evelyn La Touche in Nov 21.  Between 1926 to 1958 he was living at Molewood House near Hertford.  Wakley died on 22 Jun 78, survived by his wife who was listed as living in St Peter Port Guernsey.

Lt Bill Brannon was born on 25 Aug 90 poss in West Ham.  Worked as Farmer in South Africa and initially served with South Africa Forces as Sgt (8303) serving in German SW Africa from 9 Sep 14. He was later commissioned and promoted to Captain. He returned to UK from Cape Town  on 17 Nov 15. he was  commissioned into the ASC on 29 May 16 as T/2Lt and served with 711 MT Coy. He deployed to France and arrived on 4 Sep at Yvrench, with the majority of Coy HQ MT package.  He then commanded the move of the entire MT to the Loop railhead and then served with the Coy HQ.  He was commissioned temp 2Lt Middx Regt and then appointed Asst Instr and acting Capt on 20 Aug 17.  He continued to serve as instructor at Bovington until 13 Dec 20 and then appointed Asst Instr at Tank D&M School as a regular officer.  He then served with the Indian Army and then served again at Bovington, as an instructor and then Adjt at the Tank Gunnery Sch until he retired in 1935. He married Gertrude Laird in 1938 but sadly she died the following year.  At the start of the second world war he was appointed Brevet major RTR on 6 Sep 39 and was later promoted Lt Col.  He later lived at Bay Farm, Tarrant Monktonnear Blandford Forum from 1951 and died on 1 Jan 81.

CSM Thomas “Paddy” Walsh initially served as Regular cavalry soldier from 1899 to 1912 and saw action during the 2nd Anglo Boer war. On the outbreak of war he rejoined 5th Dragoon Guards and deployed to France 21 Sep 15.  Having been successful as the CSM of D Coy, he was promoted appointed RSM of D Bn on its formation and MID in Jan 1917. He served with D Battalion Dec 17, returning to Bovington and served with 15 Bn as RSM, initially with Frank Summers. He was badly gassed on 21 Aug 18 at Ayette as his battaliion was forcing the German over the Arras - Albert railway. Blinded for 10 days and badly burned, he required ten days in hospital followed by convalescence. He returned to duty with 15th Bn and when the war finished, sought work in Newcastle, He then rejoined the Army and served with the 201 Bn MGC part of the North Russian Relief Force. In the 1920s, using his previous experience as an officer's servant, he found employment as a butler and later emigrated to the USA where he worked for a breakfast cereal magnate. He brought his wife and three children across to America in the 1930s but disappeared in the 1940s. Family information provided by his grandson Geoff Donaldson. .  

QMS Ernest EV Williams possibly born Dalston London 87, the son of a bootmaker Ernest Jones and Lydia both from Jersey. Living at 4 Field View Dalston Hackney, married Ethel H Newman Jun to Sep ‘15 at Edmonton. later WO2 Tank Corps. Died Jan to Mar 1962 in Colchester.

Sgt Edwin Levey born Feb 93 in Charlton (Named Levy in birth cert). Enlisted Haddington on 25 Jan 16, address 20 Church Lane Charlton SE London, aged 23 year old 10 months and a Government inspector of woollens.  Joined at Bisley on 20 Mar 1916. Demobilised from Rhine Army (unit shown as HQ Tank Corps – 2nd Tank Carrier Coy) as a z type reservist (as a CQMS) on 10 Oct 19. Went through Crystal Palace Demob Centre on 16 Sep 19. 

Armr Sgt Frederick Howe. Possibly born 90 in Charlton the son of fifth child (fourth son) of commercial clerk Walter and Francis Howe living at 4 Maryon Grove Charlton in 1891. Later A/Staff Sgt Royal Army Ordnance Corps.  Married Oct to Dec 1935 to Elizabeth C Tinker in Greenwich.  A daughter Frances E O was born in Greenwich in Oct – Dec 1936. Possible daughter – Patricia A born Apr to Jun 1948 in GreenwichDied at Greenwich in early 1955.