THE FIRST TANK CREWS

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


Tank numbers C13 to C18

Pictured (right) is the skipper of C14 - 2Lt Francis Arnold

C13 (No 716 (male) led two other tanks (C14 and C16) in support of 56th (London) Div in area of Leuze Wood. The tank's track broke near Angle Wood en route to start line.  

Her skipper was  Lt Sir John Lindsay Dashwood Bt. Educated at Wellington and Magdalene College Oxford, he succeeded as Premier Baronet of Great Britain in 1908.  He served with 10 Bn Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders with Allen Holford-Walker and was instrumental in getting two machine guns forward to provide defence around Fosse 8 during the battle of Loos in Sep 15. He was "obtained" by Holford-Walker as a section commander to provide battle experience amongst his tank commanders. On the death of George MacPherson, Sir John commanded his crew (C20) during the follow-on attacks towards Morval on 25 Sep.  He was one of the officer instructors selected to teach the newly forming battalions in France from Jan to Mar 17 and then commanded a section during the battle of Arras.  He then took over as Adjutant of F Battalion in Jul 1917 and served with them until  Oct 18, when he returned to 3rd Lt Bn and took command of a company.  After the war, he joined the diplomatic service where he served until 1927.  In 1938, he joined the Balloon command of the RAF but was soon recalled to the Diplomatic service in 1942.   He died in 1976.  

 

C14 (No 509 female). 

Attacked German positions in area of Bouleaux Wood in support of 167 Bde. Crossed start line on time and reached German front line (Beef trench) well ahead of infantry; used machine guns to good effect but moved on before infantry could reach objective. Realizing tank was well ahead, returned twice to Beef Trench; the final time approaching stern first (perhaps to give covering fire as it moved off again) when it ditched in a shell hole and could not be extracted. Cpl Pattinson with Gnrs Bernard, Winter and Williams attempted to dig it out. They were attacked by Germans troops using grenades; Pattinson was killed whilst throwing grenades back. Winter also wounded in the eye by grenades and later shot in shoulder by rifle fire. Williams used revolver to beat off German attack and killed one German in the process. 2Lt Arnold returned to own lines to get a recovery party. Whilst he was away Ritchie and Williams manned the MG and attempted to keep the Germans clear; this resulted in the tank becoming a target for German artillery fire. At 1600 hrs, the crew decided to abandon the tank and made their way (under fire) 40 metres back to own lines. Bernard, Giles, Sleath, Ritchie and Winter got back safely. On arriving 2Lt Arnold instructed the crew to return and put the MG out of use to avoid them being used to break up any future British attack. Bernard and Williams did so, bringing the locks with them. Giles was killed whilst trying to get back to the British support line with Winter and probably Sleath. On 10 Oct 16, Bernard and Williams awarded MM for putting the Tank MG out of use.  Pattinson was recommended for the VC by his company commander but, because of a lack of "independant" witnesses, this was not taken forward. Arthur Ritchie died of his wounds (DoW) two months later. 


2Lt Francis Arnold. Born in London, and the son of a schoolteacher, rank Arnold worked as a clerk on a training ship moored off Grays prior to joining the Army. Initially enlisted in 19th Bn Royal Fusiliers, served as a lance corporal from 12 Nov 15 at the same time as Alec Arnaud. Commissioned into MGC 15 Apr 16 and deployed to France on 24 Aug 16. To quote Holford-Walker "this officer had never seen a shot fired in wrath in his life. Awarded MC for conspicuous gallantry in action. "He commanded his Tank with great courage and determination. Later, the Tank being held up, he and his crew continued to fight with their revolvers". He served with C Bn and was appointed Temp Lt 15 Oct 17. He commanded a section from 1 Sep to 19 Oct 18 but did not relinquish his commission until 1 Sep 21. He initially lived at 55 Sunray Rd, Bromley but in 1925 his address was the Tuxpam Bar in Ver Mexico. Commissioned in the rank of Capt in the Royal Armoured Corps on 2 Sep 1939, he later settled at Bleadon Hill and died on 19 Apr 57 near Weston Super Mare. He is buried at St Nochlas Church in Uphill. 


Cpl Gerald Pattinson  Born Sunderland in 1885, his father was a ropewalker's traveller. Enlisted into the MMGS at Coventry in Aug 15 and deployed to France on 24 Aug 16. KIA aged 31 years on 15 Sep 16 whilst throwing back German grenades. Initially buried in the northern edge of Leuze Wood, his body was later reinterred at Combles Communal Cemetery Extension. After his death, his younger sister Gladys sent cigarettes to Denton Winter.


Gnr Tom Bernard born 27 Apr 95 at Harwich in Essex. Served from 4 Sep 14 as a canteen manager on HMS Hogue, which was one of three warships sunk by a German submarine E-9 on 22 September. Although 374 were killed, Tom was in the water for only 35 minutes before being rescued by HMS Lowestoft and returned to Harwich. After 24 hours at home, he went north to Invergordon to work again as a canteen manager. He lived in rented accommodation for some six months and had a “glorious time”; he spend the weekends at Fortrose where he probably met Elizabeth MacKenzie whom he later married. Whilst he was in Invergordon,  his elder brother Charlie joined the MMGS. Awarded MM for action on 15 Sep 16. He later returned to the tank in early Oct (around 7 Oct) and found it had been rifled by the Germans, removing his diary. Survived and wrote record of the action which is in the Museum with other papers which reveals he served as a section commander’s orderly, undertaking recces ahead of attacks and was probably at the battle of Hamel on 4 Jul 18. After the war, he took over the family business and was also appointed a Land Tax Commissioner for Essex.  By 1933, he was living at Dovercourt where he was living during WW2. His company was the biggest naval outfitters during WW2. An alderman, he was awarded MBE on 29 Dec 1944, for Air Raid Precautions Sub-Controller, Deputy Co-ordinating Officer and Member of Emergency Committee, Harwich. Later appointed a JP, he died on 29 Jan 71. 


Gnr Bertie Giles Born Barking c 98 Bertie, who was known to his crewmates as BAG, enlisted in Coventry and deployed to France on 24 Aug 16.  KIA, whilst returning to own lines, aged 18 yrs on 15 Sep 16. Commemorated on Thiepval memorial. Son of Emma Giles of 79 Bourne Rd, Colchester, Essex, and the late Thomas Giles who had previously been Regular soldier/ 


Gnr Arthur Ritchie. Born 28 Oct 95 at West Derby Liverpool; the only son of a Scottish doctor.  He enlisted at Halifax in the MGC and deployed to France on 24 Aug 16. He received Gunshot wounds to the back on 15 Sep and DofW aged 21 on 4 Nov 16. His mother (Alice Ritchie) and step-sister Elsie were present at his death; buried at Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension. Commemorated on the Norland war memorial in Calderdale.


Gnr Billy Williams deployed to France on 24 Aug 16. He initially was recorded as being missing in action but later was located in a hospital suffering from shell-shock. Later awarded MM for returning to tank to make machine unusable. 


Gnr Denton Winter Born Leeds 90.  Just over 6 feet tall, he was a dental mechanic.  He enlisted into MMGS and deployed to France on 24 Aug 16. Wounded in eye and shoulder on 15 Sep, he was evacuated to No 13 Stationary Hosp at Boulogne from where he wrote a letter to Bernard on 2 Oct 16 and also on 21 Feb 17 from MGC Base Depot where he was still suffering from the eye injury.  Remained, as a Pte, with the Tank Corps, he later served with D Bn and suffered multiple injuries,including the loss of an eye, when he tried to get back from his tank which had been hit as it attacked at Flesquieres. Evacuated to the UK, he never returned to full fitness and served at the Tank Corps depot until demobilisation in Feb 1919. Denton married Gladys Howes on 29 Apr 22; her father owned a number of off-licences and Denton managed several stores.  The couple had two children and lived at Moorland Wines Stores, 3 Harrogate Rd, Leeds 7 from 1945 until his death in 1960.


Pte Owen Sleath ASC made his own way back to own line at about 1600 hrs and reached safety. He was taken back to Caterpillar Valley (with Bernard) by 2Lt Arnold but suffered shell-shock. He was born in Warwick in 1892 and married  Eveline Gumbley just before he deployed to France.  He later transferred to the Tank Corps and reached the rank of Staff Sergeant.  Eveline and Owen, who had two children settled in Stratford upon Avon where Owen worked as a hospital theatre attendant.  Eveline died in 1963 and Owen Sleath died the following year  

C15 (No 741 - Male). 

Known as A tank in support of Guards Div attack on Ginchy, C15 reached start point but its steering gear became wrecked whilst traversing no man lands. The tank was again used, on 25 Sep, during attacks in the Morval, Quadrilateral and the Bouleaux wood area, again commanded by Lt Tull. The tank stopped due to problems with the electrics (platinum has come off the contact breaker) but this was repaired by the crew by 0700 hrs.  The tank got up to the Quadrilateral Ridge where it .was ditched when a trench caved in.  The tank (with others) was eventually withdrawn as it had been  bracketed by artillery. 

Jethro Tull. Born 17 Dec 86 at Streatham, he was educated at Westminster School and then worked in Ceylon as a planter.  Enlisted in 18th Bn Royal Fusiliers on 15 Sept 1914.Commissioned T/2Lt MMGS 26 Aug 15 and deployed to France on 16 Aug 16.  Appointed A/Capt 12 April 17, during the battle of Arras, he commanded No 2 Sect (supply tanks) of 7th Coy during 3rd Battle of Ypres.  Lost his eye after being wounded at battle of St Quentin canal on 29 Sep 18. Later returned to Ceylon as a planter, he married a Chicago born girl called Katherine. Returned to settle in England in 1945 and died in Bentley Hampshire in 1953


C16 (female). 

Attacked German positions in support of attack by 56th Div on the right flank near Bouleaux Wood as part of the assault on Combles. Moved on time to junction of German Loop and Combles trenches (arriving ahead of infantry) and neutralised enemy MG fire even when his right hand tank track was hit by 18lb shell. The crew fought on for 5 hrs; the tank being attacked by Germans at very close range, until reached by 2 LONDONS. Eventually the tank ran out of ammo and was abandoned having been set on fire in accordance with orders.

2Lt Eric Purdy MGC was born on 5 Sep 94 in Newtown, to the southwest of Sydney.  Educated at Sydney Grammar School and then at Ardingly College in Sussex where he served in the OTC.  Eric enlisted in 23rd Bn London Regt  on 8 Sep 14 and deployed to France in 14 Mar 15. He was commissioned, in the field, into the Northants Regt twelve days later.  Eric was in action at Givenchy before he returned to the UK on 3 May 15.  He returned to France on 5 Sep 15 and fought at the Battle of Loos; he was severely wounded whilst serving with 1st Northants on 13 Oct 15 at Hulloch.  He was invalided back to Southampton on 16 Oct 15 and after treatment, joined 8th Bn Northants at Colchester on 22 Jan. He was transferred to the MGC two months later.  He deployed to France on 16 Aug and was awarded MC for conspicuous gallantry in action on 15 Sep.  Promoted T/Lt 1 Oct 16, Eric was a popular officer and made frequent appearances in performances by the “The Willies”, the concert party of C Bn, often playing a curate. He fought at the battle of Arras and commanded 12 Sect of 9th Coy at 3rd Ypres. On 20 Nov, his section attacked and captured Le Pave Farm. On 23 Nov Eric commanded the section during an assault on Fontaine Notre Dame which resulted in severe losses to the tanks.  Granted UK leave from 2 to 16 Dec 17, Eric commanded 12 Sect of C Coy who successfully helped defend Colincamps on 25 Mar 18.  Granted UK leave from 18 Jul to 1 Aug 1918, Eric commanded 12 Sect on first day of battle of Amiens and may have commanded whippet “Cayenne”.  On 25 Aug, he was wounded in the left thigh and arm; he was invalided to the UK on 1 Sep where he was treated at 5th London Hospital. He was released from service on 7 Jan 1919 and returned to the hotel business.  Eric married Acile Wainwright at Maidenhead in 1920 and they had three children. In 1926, he was commissioned into the RAF (V) reserve as a General Duties Flying Officer. He resigned his RAF commission in 1936 but, on the outbreak of war, was again granted an RAFVR commission for the duration of hostilities, serving as a  Flying Officer, After the war, he again became a hotel proprietor and later ran a string of hotels.  Sadly his wife pre-deceased him in 1956 and Eric returned to Sydney.  He took up sailing and host trips included a tour of the Great Barrier Reef.  He died in 1984. 

Although the other crew members are not listed in official records, it is likely that Pte William Piper was on board.  William lived at 67 Woodstock Rd, Oxford, when he volunteered for service with the MMGS.  He was called forward for test on 21 March 1915 at Coventry. His scrap book shows his tank was tasked to assault Leuze Wood so he probably fought in Corunna.  He says that he continued to serve with Eric Purdy as his driver in May 17 and then he was tasked to crew with Capt Hiscock with Cpl Alsopp.  Later transferred to the Tank Corps, he was injured during the 3rd Battle of Ypres and evacuated to the UK, eventually being treated at Norwich.  He was discharged around 24 Sep 17 and returned on leave to his home.  He was subsequently discharged from the Army on 15 April 18 - his scrapbook is held at the Tank Museum.

C17 Campania (No 746 Male) 

Known as B tank, in support of Gds Div attack on Ginchy. Reached first objective (Low Rd) then returned to refuel.  Viner reports that the tank was badly scarred by shrapnel and bullets and the prisms were damaged.  The crew was not hurt and bought back two wounded infantrymen.  


Lt John Peard "Jack" Clarke. Born near Taunton in 1897, the son of a local solicitor whose firm is still active. Commissioned into Somerset Light Infantry on 6 Apr 15 and was attached to the MMGS on 10 Oct 1915.   Injured during the first tank action as his post action report was written at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.  John later commanded a section of tanks in 12 Bn.  During the third battle of the Somme, on 23 Aug 18, as the British troops were again forcing the German troops back to the east, he was commanding a tank as well as his section.  To quote the citation for his MCDuring the early hours of the attack there was a good deal of mist, and Captain Clarke realised that there was a great danger of his tanks losing direction. He therefore led them on foot, walking in the open under machine-gun and shell fire. In doing this he was twice wounded, once in the arm and once in the leg, but he refused to leave his section and guided them safely to the starting-point. He then entered his tank and led his section into action, advancing through the village of Hamelincourt and clearing it of enemy machine guns, thus enabling the infantry to advance with few casualties. Throughout the action he showed a complete disregard of personal safety and was a splendid example to all ranks in his section.”  After the war, he trained as a engineer and moved to Kenya in 1934.  By 1936 he had established himself as a farmer at Endebess nd he lived there until he died on 30 Apr 44.  


Pte Leonard Viner who was the tank's driver, was born on 5 Nov 79 in Battersea.  Before he enlisted, he worked as a chauffeu. He joined the ASC in 1915 as a motor transport driver and was later posted to 711 (MT) Company at Elveden.  There he met Denton Winter and Gerald Pattinson of C14 – he states he shared a tent at New Farm Camp with Pattinson.  After the first action, Leonard wrote the 3 page letter to his wife on 18 Sep which is now at the Imperial War Museum. He writes that he fired a 6lb quick firing gun during the action, which seems most unusual for an ASC driver. He also reports that two infantrymen were bought back in the tank –one of whom was shot in the jaw. Leonard was injured during the actions on the Ancre which took place in September to November 1916.  His medal index card confirms he stayed with the ASC.  Afrer the war he settled in Coventry and was employed as a test driver. He moved to India in 1940, where he died in Calcutta the following year.  Family information provided by his grandson Mark Viner.     


C18 - Casa (No 508 Female). 


Tasked to support of the attack by the Guards Div on Ginchy, then move towards Morval. Left start point on time, crossed German Front Line then supported attack by Leicesters on Morval and then withdrew as his bearings were starting to seize due to lack of lubrication. Returned to Guillement Station and collocated with Cole and Tull – sent pigeon message to HQ for Wenger’s assistance.

2Lt Victor Smith. Born 15 Dec 90 at Reading; the tank was named after the family home which was designed by his architect father. Commissioned Heavy Sect MGC 15 Apr 16, he also commanded Tank 740, on 25 Sep, in support of the attack by 5th Div – the tank became ditched in a dug out as it deployed forward the start point but the crew got it out.  He got forward to the valley facing Morval but found that the objective had been taken; he was then tasked to the starting point by Capt Holford-Walker Awarded MC for action whilst commanding tank C7 during the attack on the Chemical Works at Roeux on 23 April 17, in support of 51(H) Div during Battle of Arras For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. "When in command of a Tank he rendered most valuable service by putting several enemy machine guns out of action. Later, he gave great assistance to the infantry by driving the enemy out of their houses and doing great execution with his machine guns". He was OC 2 Sect in No 7 Coy at the battle of Cambrai; his section attacking the Hindenburg line to the east of La Vacquerie. He served as a section commander until Jul 18, when he was appointed to command the Officers Company at the Training and Reinforcement Depot at Mers-Les-Bains, Later he was appointed Commandant of the Depot until 27 Jun 19.  On 28 Apr 21 at St Luke’s Church Reading Victor married Barbara Abram and they had four children. He was employed by Huntley, Boorne and Stevens the biscuit tin manufacturers from 1935 becoming managing director to 1960 and served as deputy Chairman until 23 Dec 63. Elected to Reading Town Council in 1928 and raised to Alderman in 1948; he was awarded MBE for political and public services in Berkshire in Jun 1953. He appeared on the BBC panel show "What's the Link" with Victor Huffam in 1956 which brought the attention of the public to the first tank crews.  Victor died, aged 87,on 21 Dec 77. (His grandmother's cousin, Michael Stevens, is a member of the site)

Cpl Douglas Gardiner was born in Cardiff on 14 Nov 94. An Insurance Clerk, he volunteered for the MMGS. Posted to C Coy on 25 May 16; appointed a/LCpl on 27 Jun then paid Cpl on 7 Aug. Transferred to C Bn on its formation 18 Nov 16 then posted to MGC Base Depot at Camiers on 24 Jan 17 and reverted to rank of Gnr.  On 22 Jun he was posted to the Infantry Branch MGC and served with them for the rest of the war. Posted to HQ 39 Div for instructional duties with the American Forces from 9 to 29 May; posted to 66 Div on instructional duties 3 to 6 Jun then returned to depot. Appointed Sgt on 9 Nov to 18 Jan, he was demobilised on 28 Jan 19. Married Helen Tobin in Cardiff in summer 24  and they had three children. Douglas died in Cowes, on the IofW, one day before his 95th birthday  

Gnr Arthur Caffrey. Born Machynlleth early 95, he enlisted into the MMGS at Coventry in Aug 15. and deployed to France on 24 Aug 16. Wounded and probably burned  in Sep 16, he was evacuated to the UK. Joined G Bn once fit for duty and deployed back to France, having had home leave in early May.  KIA/DoW whilst serving with 7th Bn, aged 24, on 2 Sep 18; buried at Vaux Hill Cemetery near BapaumeOldest son of George and Minnie Caffrey of Old Maengwyn near Machynlleth.


Gnr Harry Greenberg, Gnr in MMGS RA then MGC. and deployed to France on 24 Aug 16.


Gnr William Scott  born 11 Feb 97; he was attested at Bisley on 23 May 16.  Deployed to France on 24 Aug 16.  He remained with C Bn on its formation and later served with 8 Coy and then B Coy of  3 Bn operating Whippets.  He was eventually returned to the UK to 22 Bn at Bovington, then posted to 17 Bn in Ireland on anti-independence operations. He was discharged inDublin and returned to Horsham.   Brother to Pte James Scott who later joined his brother in C Bn and won a MM.


Gnr John Webby  born Honiton Devon in 87 was a school master. Deployed to France on 24 Aug 16, He was granted UK leave after the batttle of Cambrai and married Grace Pembroke in Croydon Registry Office on 7 Dec 17. He eventually reached the rank of ASgt.  He returned to Devon and became a teacher, first living at Axminster then Seaton, where he named his house Elvedon.  He died on 2 Dec 55.

 

Gnr John Witty was a commercial traveler; he married assistant teacher Effie Stanley on 1 Mar 13 at Holbrook in Leeds. One daughter Florence Mary born on 8 Feb 14 at Hunslet.  He served with C Bn and retained as a driver. He was awarded the MM for his service on 21 Aug 18 with 3rd Bn: "During the action near Achiet-le-Petit, on August 21, ‘18, this man as driver of his tank displayed the greatest skill and daring under extremely heavy artillery and machine-gun fire Owing to his skill in manoeuvring his tank he enabled his gunners to inflict heavy casualties on the enemy." He was promoted Cpl and then Sgt in Oct 18 which says much about the level of casualties being taken during the final advance. He died aged 79 in Whitley Bay.


Pte Stewart ASC