THE FIRST TANK CREWS

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


C Company tanks (pictured right) before the Battle of Flers-Courcelette

No 2 Section

The section was commanded by Capt Herbert Hiscocks; the names of the tank "skippers" are known but only one crewman and his tank is not identified: 

Gnr James MacDonald. Born in Jun 1889, James was a coal merchant.  Almost 6 feet tall, he enlisted in Glasgow on 16 Jan 16.  After C Bn was formed, in Nov 16, he was granted short leave in Glasgow and admitted sick to No 3 Gen Hospital, Stobhill in Glasgow on 12 Dec. He was not discharged on 23 Feb.  After the battle of Cambrai, on 6 Jan 18, he was transferred to 2nd Advanced Workshops which may indicate he had previously served in the Wksps Coy,  On 24 Jan, he married Marie Rank at St Peter’s Church, Shipley.  He was posted to the Tank Depot on 13 May 18. He again went sick again in June through Paralysis of 3rd Nerve in left eye,  He was evacuated to 2 General Southern Hospital at Bristol, then King George Hospital in London, then re-admitted on 3 Gen Hospl at Glasgow on 12 Jun 18. He was not released until after the Armistice.  He was demobilized on 19 Jan 19 at Clipstone and returned to Oak Wood at Nab Wood in Shipley, although his home address was given as 157 Pollockshaws Road Glasgow.  Within a month, his eyesight was considered to be permanently damaged and he was awarded a pension for his disability in May 1919

No 507 Female.  Known as D Tank in support of the Gds Div attack near Ginchy. One of three tanks (with Arnaud and Murphy) Tank reached RV but ditched before it could cross the start line.  Hiscocks later went forward on foot to ensure that Smith and Clark deployed in the correct direction

 Capt Herbert Hiscocks. Born in Bombay on 11 Nov 92, he worked as a tea-planter in Ceylon before the outbreak of war. Returning to England he was commissioned on 24 Jan 1915 into N Lancs Regt.  Promoted T/Lt on  5 Jul 15, he first deployed to France 22 Sep 15.  He was probably one of the "stiffeners" who joined the Heavy Section as section commanders as the new companies were training at Elveden. He commanded No 2 Sect at Flers-Courcelette and also commanded eight tanks in support of 2 Div on 27 Sep.  Remained with C Bn on its formation and commanded No 7 sect at 3rd Ypres. In Aug 17, he returned to Bovington and joined the newly forming K Bn.  Deployed back to France on Christmas Day 1917, as 2ic B Boy, on 11 Apr 18, he commanded 4 officers and 56 ORs as Lewis Gun team to stem German offensive near Le Bassee and held back enemy advance for 3 days.  Later awarded MC 3 Jun 19 for service with 11th Bn, After the war he lived at the Ekkeralle Estate. On 3 Apr 24, he married Mary Bradford at Nuwara Eliya; their daughter Rosemary was born in Aug 1925  Sadly Herbert died relatively young aged 46 in Bodmin on 3 July 40.

 

No 722 Male. Known as E tank; ditched en route to start point of attack by the Guards Div from Ginchy. The tank was used on 25 Sep, again commanded by 2Lt Arnaud, in the follow-up assault in the Morval, Quadrilateral and Bouleaux area again in support of the Guards Div.   On the route forward, the tank fuel was found to be contaminated with water; the petrol tanks were drained and replenished and the tank got to its starting point on time. .  

·        

2Lt Alec Arnaud was born on 9 Aug 92. His family came from Bromley in Kent where John worked for a building firm established by his father. He initially joined the 19th Bn Royal Fusiliers and served in France from Nov 15. Like many other of the Public Schools Battalions, Alec was soon  selected for officer training.   Commissioned HSMGC on 15 Apr 16, he deployed back to France on 16 Aug 16. After the first action, he commanded tank 706 under the command of Capt Hiscocks on 27 Sep. In early 1917, he was one of the officer selected to instruct the new battalions forming in France.  Later, he was awarded MC whilst on strength of Mechanical School, for commanding a detachment  of wire pulling tanks at the battle of Cambrai.  He married Winifred Pearce on 19 Sep 1918 at Bromley and they settled on Wimbledon Common.  In 1925 he was employed by French and Foxwell Ltd, Automobile Engineers at Walton on the Hill Surrey. He later lived in Horley and Reigate where he died aged 77.  

No 513 Female. Known as F tank and initially tasked to support the attack by the Guards Div near Ginchy. Tank broke down on night 14th Sep near Trones Wood. Steering gear removed (and fitted to C19). C9 was later deemed fit and retasked to support an attack (at 1330 hrs) by 6th Div in concert with Macpherson, towards the Quadrilateral and then onto Morval. Both tanks were hit by armour piercing rounds but little else in known of the action.

2Lt Thomas Murphy. Educated at East London College, he served as a private soldier in 18th Bn Royal Fusiliers from Nov 1915. Commissioned into HS MGC 15 Apr 16 and deployed to France on 24 Aug 16.  Commanded tank No 505, on 25 Sep, during attacks in the Morval, Quadrilateral and the Bouleaux wood area.  He commanded tank 524 under the command of Capt Hiscocks on 23 Oct 1916. He was posted to B Bn on its formation and commanded tank B44, in No 6 Coy, during the follow-on attack during the battle of Messines.  On 26 Jul, prior to the opening of the 3rd Ypres assault, he was tempororarily blinded by mustard gas used by the Germans  to disrupt preparations.  He was evacuated to hospital. He later with 14th Bn and was captured 9 Aug 18 and held as POW. Repatriated to England on 13 Dec 18.

No 714 Male. Known as G tank in support of the attack by the Guards Div from Ginchy. Crossed the start line and reached first objective. Ditched en route to 2nd objective in Pound Trench (within 14th Div area).

Leonard John Bates. Born  in 1893, he was educated at Birkenhead School. He  worked as an engineer in Peru from 1909 to 14. Returning to the UK, he joined 18th Bn Royal Fusiliers and served with Thomas Murphy. Commissioned into the HS MGC 15 Apr 16, he deployed back to France on 16 Aug 16.  After the first action, he commanded tank 710 under the command of Capt Hiscocks on 27 Sep.  He served with C Bn, on its formation and was promoted to A/Capt whilst comding No 1 Sect of  7th Coy at 3rd Ypres during the section attack on the area at Bremen Redoubt and Boston Farm.  Awarded MC For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During the Battle of Ypres on July 31, 17, as section commander, this officer led his tanks into action on his feet. On several occasions he guided them over difficult country, frequently under heavy machine-gun and shell fire.  He was nvested with MC by the King at Buckingham Palace 31 Oct 17 and then was posted to Ireland.  He  died of injuries received during railway accident 10 Nov 17;  his brother William was also killed (DoW) whilst serving with 25th Bn Canadian Infantry on 23 Mar 16 and is buried at Loker Churchyard Cemetery.

No 760 Male. Known as H tank in support of the attack by the Guards Div on Ginchy. Reached first objective (Flers line) then advanced with BATES towards the centre of grid square T2. Later returned to refuel. The tank was again used, on 25 Sep, during attacks in the Morval, Quadrilateral and the Bouleaux wood area, commanded by Lt Ambrose.

·         Lt Herbert Elliot was born in Bromley Kent on 28 Jan 1890, the third son of  Charles Herbert Elliot and Sarah Hicks. He  married Isabel Palmer at Blixworth Northampton in 1913. He was  commissioned on 4 Oct‘15 and was pictured driving a motorcycle combination at Bisley (Motor Cycle News 22 Jun 16).  First deployed to France 17 Aug 16. After the action on 15 September, he commanded tank 505 under the command of Capt Hiscocks on 27 Sep. He continued to serve with C Bn, after its formation, and commanded a section in No 8 Coy during the assault on the Harp Feature on 9 Apr ‘17. T/Capt 12 Apr ‘17 - for this action he was awarded the MC. Commanded No 8 Sect of 8th Coy at 3rd Ypres and later was selcetd to be an instructor.  Relinquished commission on end of service and retained rank of Capt 21 Sep 21  He worked in advertising and iIn Oct 1937 contributed to the 19th National Advertising Benevolent Society.  In 1940 he was living at 83 Yale Court, Honeybourne Rd in Hampstead.  In Sep 1945, at the time of the marriage of his only son Capt John H Elliot to Margaret Elizabeth Haynes (WAAF) , he was living in Wood Ride, Petts Wood with his wife. In the 1950s he was living in Hildenborough near Tonbridge Wells and in the 1960s in Ghyll Crest, Ghyll Rd, Crowborough Sussex.

No 554 Female;  Known as K tank - failed to reach start point due to steering tail and engine problems.

·         2Lt Charles Ambrose was born in Dulwich, Surrey.  He was the eldest son of Fruit and Flower Merchant and was educated at Dulwich College where he was a member of the OTC. Initially served with the Border Regt, he deployed to France on 24 Aug 16. Commanded Tank No 760, on 25 Sep, during attacks in the Morval, Quadrilateral and the Bouleaux wood area.  He commanded tank 522 under the command of Capt Hiscocks on 27 Sep. Continued to serve with C Bn and fought at the battle of Arras. During the assault at Monchy le Preux, during the Battle of Arras when he commanded tank no C30 during the initial assault when 4 of his men were killed and two wounded.  Although his tank was hit by artillery fire, and a sponson destroyed, his tank continued to support the infantry attack using a Lewis gun.  He was awarded the DSO.   Joined M Bn on 17 Oct at Bovington; was sent with Leonard Bates to Ireland as part of the Special Service Coy. Returned to the now renumbered 13th  Bn and served with it  through the rest of the war. Posted A/Instr at the Tank Driving and Maintenance School at Bovington from 28 Nov 18 to 14 Jan 19.  Married Gwendoline Jarratt and they had a daughter and two sons. The marriage later broke up due to the trauma created by his wartime experiences. He died in Huntingdon in1964. Family details provided by his grand-daughter Rosalind.