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Remembered Today:

Commanders of Tank Battalions, Cambrai


Chris Noble
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After following some great threads on the Forum as regards the actions of the Tank Corps at Cambrai, who actually is the man, Lieutenant-Colonel Burnett, Officer Commanding "E" Battalion?

Best wishes.

Chris.

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Chris,

I do not know if you are interested in WW1 Tank Commander's and their crews in general, just in case you are, here are some photographs of WW1 tank Commanders and their crews, Harry Drader ( left ), Francis Arnold ( top right ) and Edward Colle ( bottom right ), which I had in my photo file.

Regards,

LF

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Good evening Lancashire.

Fantastic photos and i very much appreciate you sharing them. Just 'dipping my toe' in the history of the Tank Corps at present, and to be honest, i should have done this a long time back. A bit of a precursor to a visit to the battlefields of Cambrai.

Best wishes.

Chris.

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Good evening Lancashire.

Fantastic photos and i very much appreciate you sharing them. Just 'dipping my toe' in the history of the Tank Corps at present, and to be honest, i should have done this a long time back. A bit of a precursor to a visit to the battlefields of Cambrai.

Best wishes.

Chris.

Chris,

Pleased they were of interest you, and enjoy your trip to Cambrai.

Any other such photographs I find, I shall post them here for you.

Regards,

LF

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Chris

E Battalion was commanded by Lt Col,John Charles Burnett DSO; a Regular officer of the West Riding Regiment, he assumed command of the Bn on 16 Jan 1917. ie as it was forming at Bovington. He had previously served with the Army Cyclist Corps and transferred to the Heavy Section of the MGC on 7 December 1916, .

Stephen Pope

The photos came from my website http://www.firsttankcrews.com/

There is more about the tank crews at Cambrai on the sister site.http://tanksatcambrai.webs.com/

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Stephen

I think the Tanks at Cambrai website needs a bit of a tinkering. I seem to be getting a picture of a large sailing ship that obscures the drop down list of the battalions on the left of the screen

Tanks3

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There is more about the tank crews at Cambrai on the sister site.http://tanksatcambrai.webs.com/

Stephen,

Many thanks for the reminder as to your website, I remember finding the photos a year or so ago when working on the Forum Thread for the ' Britannia ' tank, and probably did not use them at that time.

Great tank website.

Regards,

LF

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Thanks for the comments on the website - I will try to fix the "problems"

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I have a little more on hime here..

http://www.britishmedalforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=162&t=63399

Geoffrey

Chris

E Battalion was commanded by Lt Col,John Charles Burnett DSO; a Regular officer of the West Riding Regiment, he assumed command of the Bn on 16 Jan 1917. ie as it was forming at Bovington. He had previously served with the Army Cyclist Corps and transferred to the Heavy Section of the MGC on 7 December 1916, .

Stephen Pope

The photos came from my website http://www.firsttankcrews.com/

There is more about the tank crews at Cambrai on the sister site.http://tanksatcambrai.webs.com/

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Good evening Geoffrey.

Many thanks indeed for taking the time to post very much appreciated however it seems that i cannot access this Forum.

Best wishes.

Chris.

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  • 2 years later...

Brigadier General JC Burnett DSO
West Riding Regiment (2nd Battalion)
Tank Corps (2nd Battalion)
Commanding Officer 5th Battalion, Tank Corps


Distinguished Service Order (GV); 1914 Star, “5th August - 22nd November 1914" (Capt W.Riding Regt); 1914/18 British War Medal; Victory Medal MID (Lt Col); 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal; GV Jubilee Medal 1935.

CITATIONS

Distinguished Service Order - London Gazette 09/11/1914. (Captain 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellingtons (West Riding) Regiment)

"He trained and commanded the the 5th Divisional Cyclist Company, on the remarkable efficiency, disregard of risk in reconnaissance and vigilance of which the security of the 5th Division has often entirely depended" His decoration was gazetted in the first list published for the European War.

MIDs - London Gazette 08/10/1914

RESEARCH

General

John Curteirs Burnett; Born 5 March 1882; 2nd Lieut (Unattached) 08/01/1901; Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment 06/04/1904; Adjutant Territorial Force 15/08/1908; Captain 5th Divisional Cyclist Coy, Mons 1914, wounded 11th November 1914; ?? ; Capt acting Lt Col Commanding "E" Battalion MGC(HB) 18th January 1917 in UK, to BEF 24/06/1917, 3rd Ypres & Cambrai 1917, relinquishing command and returning to UK 20th February 1918; Major JC Burnett DSO (W.Rid.R) to be temp Lt Col whilst commanding a Grad Battalion 20th Sept 1918 (LG 22/10/1918); Commanding Officer (Duke of Wellingtons Regiment) 1929 to 23rd March 1933, then placed on Half Pay List. (LG 24/03/1933); Colonel JC Burnett DSO Commanded 147th (2nd West Riding) Infantry Brigade Territorial Army 1933 to 1st February 1936 (LG 31/01/1936) when he retired on pay; Served in the 1939-45 War as a Brigadier on the General Staff 1940 to 1941 and subsequently on retirement under the Home Office. He died on 3rd July 1968.

Appears in "War Memories 1917-1919" by Wilfred R Bion, as CO June to Dec 1917.
Appears in the Singapore "Straits Times", 19th May 1927 as Major JC Burnett DSO 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellingtons Regiment.

Just a fortnight later Burnett was in action, the first action of the Great War, and here he was to win a DSO in the very first list published for the First World War.

The Battle of Mons 22nd to 24th August 1914 (From The Long Long Trail)

The first battle fought by the British Army against the Germans came about simply because pre-war plans had placed the British Expeditionary Force in the way of the German advance towards Paris. This position had been agreed during pre-war discussions between the British and French Armies.

German troops entered Luxemburg on 2 August and moved into Belgium near Liege next day. The British Government declared war on 4 August 1914, and by 22 August the four infantry divisions and one cavalry division of the BEF had disembarked in France and taken up their positions just across the Belgian border, some miles south of Mons, on the extreme left of the Allied line.

By this time the German armies were moving en masse towards the west. Their plan had placed much strength on their right flank, which was by now streaming through Belgium with the First Army under von Kluck - the largest of their armies - moving on Ath and Mons. The British command quickly became convinced by cavalry reports, together with those by aerial observation, that German troops were closing in on Mons.

First clash: 22 August 1914

At dawn on Saturday 22 August 1914, C Squadron of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards, commanded by Major Tom Bridges, pushed out two patrols north from Mons towards Soignies and met the Germans for the first time. There is a memorial near the spot today. C Squadron commenced a reconnaissance along the road heading out from Maisières. Four enemy cavalrymen of the 2nd Kuirassiers emerged from the direction of Casteau. They were spotted by the British and turned around, whereupon they were pursued by the 1st Troop under Captain Hornby and the 4th Troop. Corporal E. Thomas of the 4th opened fire near the chateau of Ghislain, the first British soldier to do so in the Great War. He was uncertain whether he killed or wounded the German soldier that he hit. Meanwhile, Hornby led his men in hot pursuit and charged the Germans, killing several. He returned with his sword presented, revealing German blood. There were other cavalry encounters with the enemy in the areas of La Louvière and Binche.

From a Regimental History - "At Hautrage (approximately 9 miles west of Mons) on 22nd August 1914, when the divisional mounted troops, consisting of a squadron of 15th Hussars under Major Parsons and the 5th Divisional Cyclists Company under Captain JC Burnett, were engaged the whole day from dawn to dusk with German Uhlans, the object being to hold back the enemies advance parties and so preserve any reconnaissance of the position which was being entrenched by the 5th Division. About 5.30 in the evening, the 19th Hussars Squadron was forced by weight of numbers to retire through Pummeroeul behind the line of the canal, its retirement being covered by the Cyclists Company, which continued with the aid of a troop of Life Guards under 2nd Lt Smith to hold back ever increasing numbers of the enemy cavalry. At dusk the Cyclists were able to extricate themselves from the village and retired behind the line of the infantry, having inflicted considerable losses on the enemy in addition to capturing an Uhlan officer and serveral men."

During the day and in rear of the cavalry screen, the British infantry took up a thin line of roughly entrenched positions along the Mons-Conde canal, following it round the pronounced salient to the north of the town, with the I Corps to the east echeloned back and facing north-east. It was decided that, if pressure grew on the outposts along the canal, then the II Corps would evacuate Mons and take up a defensive position among the pit villages and slag heaps a little way to the south. The Germans were apparently unaware of the presence of the BEF in this area until the skirmishes on the 22nd, and even then they did not know the British strength.
The fight on the canal banks, morning 23 August 1914

At 5.30am, Sir John French met with Haig, Allenby and Smith-Dorrien at his advanced HQ at a chateau in Sars-la-Bruyère, where he ordered the outpost line on the canal to be strengthened and the bridges prepared for demolition. They recognised that the British position was not good, for the canal turn was very exposed on three sides.

The morning of Sunday, 23rd August broke in mist and rain, which cleared around 10am. There were some early exchanges between German cavalry and British infantry outposts around 6.30am, near Obourg, Nimy and Ville Pommeroeul. But there could be little doubt where the main blow would fall - it would concentrate on the units of II Corps, thinly spread along the canal.

Before 9am, German heavy guns were in a position on high ground north of the canal, and opened fire on the positions of the 4th Middlesex and 4th Royal Fusiliers. German infantry attacks - units of the IX Korps - began from across the canal and increased in strength all round the salient from Obourg to Nimy. It was the 84th Regiment, from Schleswig, who made the first attacks on the Nimy positions. The British infantry shot down the feldgrau in masses as they advanced towards the canal in dense lines.

From "The First Seven Divisions" by Lord Ernest Hamilton - "The moment the capture of Orly by the 8th Brigade was assured, Captain JC Burnett, with his 37 Cyclists of 5th Division, spurted forward along the road running north from St Ouen, and, turning sharp to the right at the cross roads a mile north of the river, cut off the retreat of those of the Prussian Guard who had succeeded in escaping the Royal Scots and the Middlesex. The Prussians, who were retiring in good order, thinking their retreat secure, were completely taken by surprise by the rapidity of this dash, and although they put up a good fight and significantly outnumbered the cyclists they were unable under the circumstances to escape and so threw down their arms and surrendered. The 150 prisoners and their 37 captors now became visible to the artillery who were supporting the advance of the 14th Brigade, and these, very naturally mistaking the confused mass of men for enemy troops, opened fire with disastrous accuracy. Many of the Prussians were killed, and many more, taking panic, slipped away in the confusion which followed, but 69 were safely escorted back by the remnant of the Cyclist Company. This brilliant little episode was very characteristic of the work of the Cyclist Corps generally throughout the retreat from Mons and the advance to the Aisne. There was attached to each division one company of these daring scouts, who acted as part of the divisional mounted troops. On account of their extreme mobility, it was usually the lot of the cyclists to be behind the cavalry in retreat and in front of it in advance. Whilst engaged in the latter work they ran ceaseless and quite blind risks. They were the first afoot and the last to turn in, and, insignificant though their numbers were, the protective value of their service to the Army generally during this period can hardly be over estimated."

The first Victoria Crosses of the war

The bridges at Nimy were defended by the 4th Royal Fusiliers, the forward Company under Captain Ashburner. Two machine guns were under Lieutenant Maurice Dease. As the German attacks increased, all men of his sections were killed or wounded and he took over a gun himself. He was wounded five times, and eventually taken to the dressing station, where he succumbed. Private Sidney Godley took over the gun, and kept it firing. He covered the withdrawal despite being wounded, and eventually dismantled and threw the gun into the canal as he was taken prisoner. Both men were awarded the Victoria Cross.

The battle intensifies and widens, morning 23 August 1914

The troops in the canal salient had orders for 'a stubborn resistance', and they held their original positions, although very hard pressed, until after 11am. A remarkable feat took place at Nimy, where a Private Niemayer jumped into the canal under fire and closed the swing bridge which enabled the first German troops to cross. The brave Niemayer was killed in the act.

The attack spread gradually westwards along the straight canal, as the III Korps came into action at Jemappes, 2 miles west of Mons. The forward post of the Royal Scots Fusiliers north of the canal was withdrawn, and gradually the Germans advanced to within 200 yards of the bridge at Lock 2, where they were brought to a standstill by the accuracy of the British fire. Still further west, the Brandenburg Grenadiers fought forward through Tertre and were only stopped by the maze of wire fences, boggy dikes and the crossfire of the West Kents and Scottish Borderers on the canal bank. Fighting was by noon continuous along the straight canal. Under continuous observed shelling and infantry attacks, the battalions to the west began to fall back in the early afternoon. Near Frameries, two of the three bridges escaped being blown by lack of exploders to fire the charges, and the Germans crossed hard on the heels of the Scots Fusiliers.

In the canal salient, the Germans shortly after noon succeeding in passing the canal west of Obourg, and reached the village railway station. Taught by recent hard experience they abandoned massed formation and deployed in extended order. The situation of the Middlesex and Royal Irish in this sector was now precarious, being under observation from the heights to the north of the canal, and with advanced German patrols pushing through Mons to their rear. By 3.15pm both battalions began to withdraw. A little earlier, the Royal Fusiliers withdrew from Nimy. Their losses did not greatly exceed 100, and after reforming in Mons they moved to Ciply.

Owing to the close proximity of the enemy, only one bridge was blown. An officer of the RE was taken prisoner at the Nimy bridge, and all the work of laying charges was done under fire of snipers. Some small parties, either not receiving orders to withdraw, or ordered to defend to the last man, were engulfed as the Germans swarmed across the salient, through Nimy and along the straight road into the city. In spite of the efforts of the Staff to co-ordinate the withdrawal to the planned defence line, there was no uniformity of movement from the outpost line on the canal, and parties of infantry began to get mixed up; command devolved onto Captains, subalterns, and senior NCOs.

The Germans did not exploit their success in the canal salient as dusk fell. Instead, their buglers were heard to sound the 'cease fire'. However, information arrived from the French 5th Army HQ during the night that Tournai had fallen, and long columns of the enemy had broken through. And a wide gap had opened up on the right between the BEF and Lanrezac's Army. Sir John French had little option but to order a general withdrawal, in the direction of Cambrai, and to try to re-establish contact with his allies. The men of the Old Contemptibles were mystified by the orders to withdraw - they fervently believed that they had fought the Germans to a standstill at Mons, and simply could not understand why they were marching away. Not one of them could have guessed just how much marching they would do over the next two weeks.

Tactical victory: strategic defeat

British fire-and-movement infantry tactics were essentially those taught in the pre-war years and followed the guidance of the Field Service Regulations. Intensive and accurate rifle fire and the effect of air-bursting shrapnel rounds on a massed and unprotected enemy were impressive. The British force engaged withdrew brilliantly in the face of overwhelming odds and without flank protection. The Germans suffered a serious blow. They now knew where the British were and that they could inflict damage and delay to the advance. However, with overwhelming strength and speed, that advance went on. The French line, extended on its left by the BEF, was in the process of being outflanked by the German First Army and retreat was inevitable.

Casualties

The total British casualties amounted to just over 1,600 of all ranks, killed, wounded and missing. Practically half of these were from just two battalions (400 of the 4th Middlesex and 300 of the 2nd Royal Irish, both of the 8th Brigade in the canal salient). German losses were in excess of 5,000.

Command of "E" Company, Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps

On the 17th November, 1916, "E" Company, Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps, was formed under Major N H Nutt, Royal Naval Air Service and then commanded by Lt Colonel E B Hulke, at Bovingdon Camp. In May became "E" Battalion, Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps, and having sent a detachment to Palestine, which fought at Gaza, the Battalion left for France on the 25th June 1917 under the command of Lt Colonel J C Burnett, DSO..The Battalion arrived in time for the Third Battle of Ypres, though only two companies took part, the remainder were in Corps Reserve. In November however, "E" Battalion worked with the 29th and 51st Divisions and, all the other units of the Tank Corps throughout the Battle of Cambrai, only being withdrawn two days before Christmas 1917. It was renamed the 5th Battalion in January 1918. Shortly after the beginning of the German offensive in March, all tanks had become casualties, and the Battalion fought the rest of the Second Battle of the Somme as Lewis Gun Detachments. After re-equipping in May, it fought at Amiens, Baupaume and Arras in support of 3rd Canadian Division, at Epehy with 23rd Division, and at St-Quentin and the Hindenburg Line with the 32nd, 46th and 115th (French) Divisions. In March 1919 the Fifth was reduced to Cadre strength and returned to Bovingdon to be disbanded in June. It was reformed on the 3rd September 1919 and in March 1920 "B" company was detached to Germany, returning in November 1923. Meanwhile the Battalion moved, in April 1922 from Bovingdon to Perham Down, its station until 1939, and where, in May 1938 it provided the cadre on which the Eighth Battalion was reformed. (History resume from "The Black Beret")



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Hi, thanks for this very comprehensive background. Could you tell me the source of the photo please - and where the full version might be found?

Many thanks, John

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Geoffrey

Presumably, given the large number of MGC capbadges worn by the SNCOs, the second picture was taken in 1917

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Stephen, yes they are both dated cJune 1917.

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These are fascinating photos - could I ask whether they came from the Tank Museum?

John

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There is no indication on them, but they are a reprint rather than an period photo. I have had them about 25 years, I think when I bought the group.

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I've never seen them before, but would be very interested in seeing a higher resolution version of the officers one to see if I can pick out any faces. The officer in the front row second from left is very recognisable - I'm sure it's Alexander Gatehouse who went on to have a distinguished career in the Second World War: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Gatehouse

I can send a PM if there's any chance!

Fingers crossed, John

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Had not seen Gatehouse's wiki before.

He commanded 4 RTR when it deployed to France in 1939.

One of his company commanders was Bruce Holford-Walker, who served with C Company in 1916.

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Sure PM me your email address.

I've never seen them before, but would be very interested in seeing a higher resolution version of the officers one to see if I can pick out any faces. The officer in the front row second from left is very recognisable - I'm sure it's Alexander Gatehouse who went on to have a distinguished career in the Second World War: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Gatehouse

I can send a PM if there's any chance!

Fingers crossed, John

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Many thanks - fascinating!

John

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  • 1 month later...

Just one more snippet of information. According to the 9th Battalion Tank Corps War History, "Early in the New year Major Burnett, who was in command of 27th Company, was given command of the 5th Battalion and Capt F Vandervell, who was 2nd in command of the 25th Company, took over from him."

David

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