Based on the text of the book The First Tank Crews by Stephen Pope
In May 1916, the first six tank companies were formed at Siberia Camp near Bisley in Surrey. The majority of the soldiers who fought in the tanks were from the Motor Machine Gun Service (MMGS) and the Machine Gun Corps (MGC). After initial weapon training at Bullhousen Farm, Bisley, which is just north of HMP Coldingley, and tuition on the 6lb gun by the Royal Navy, in May 1916, the companies moved to Elveden in Suffolk where a secret training location had been established. Over the next eight weeks, the crew members learned to drive and “fight” their vehicles on a specially built mock battle area.
From mid August the tanks and their crews of C and D companies were deployed to France and, after final training across old trench lines near Yvrench, went into action on the morning of 15 September 1916. 49 tanks were tasked to support an attack designed to capture German strong points between Courcelette and Combles as part of the Somme offensive that had begun on 1 July.
Three members of the crew of tank C1 “Champagne” were from Woking: the driver Private Horace Brotherwood, Sergeant Fred Saker and Gunner George Lloyd.
Horace Brotherwood was born on 20 May 1898 and is recorded in the 1901 Census as living at 7 Whitburn Cottages, Kingfield, Woking *. He enlisted at Guildford at the age of 16 and trained at Grove Park Mechanical Transport Depot in south-east London before serving with the Army Service Corps in France from 26 September 1915. After undertaking tank training at Elveden he returned to France in late August 1916. Aged 18, he was the driver of tank C1 (Champagne), one of three tanks tasked to support the 2nd Canadian Division attack on Courcelette village on 15 September 1916.
The tank lost its steering wheels, due to artillery fire, whilst moving up to its start point and therefore crossed the start line after the infantry. The tank pressed on and crossed the German front line. At approx 7.00 am, the tank became ditched (at map reference R25a3.9) whilst following a German communications trench.
The crew attempted to dig out C1 for 4 hours, during which time they were the target of enemy artillery fire. The Tank Commander, Lieutenant A J C Wheeler, was just about to order that the tank be abandoned when Private Brotherwood was killed, a fragment of a German shell severing his jugular vein. The remainder of the crew returned safely to their own lines and later recovered his body. He is buried at Pozieres British Cemetery.
In common with most soldiers who died in France and Flanders, Horace Brotherwood’s death attracted little attention. On 6 October 1916, the Woking News and Mail recorded “Mr and Mrs Brotherwood of 1 Elm View Villas, Goldsworth Road, Woking, have received news of the death, in action in France, of their son Pte H Brotherwood of the Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps. It is understood that Pte Brotherwood has been engaged with the famous tanks”. What they did not know was that Horace Brotherwood was the first tank driver to be killed in action.
Unlike most of the tanks which broke down or became ditched, Champagne was never recovered from the battlefield. Her picture subsequently was taken by Captain Frank Hurley of the Australian Army: Hulk of Tank C1, 1917
Sergeant Frederick John Saker was born on 3 September 1890. He was the youngest son of an agricultural labourer, Henry Saker. Fred later lived in Aldershot whilst working as a grocer’s assistant. In 1915 he enlisted at Bisley, stating his occupation as shop assistant and address as New Lodge, Claremont Park, Esher. He deployed to France, with the C Company advance party, on 16 August 1916 and he remained with C Battalion on its formation. He fought at the Battle of Arras as a member of No. 8 Company. On 9 April 1817, he was a member of the crew of tank C26; the male tank ditching before it reached the British front line. Fred was awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. “During the capture of Monchy-le-Preux, on April 11, 17, this NCO served his gun with the greatest coolness and effect. When his tank broke down under a very severe artillery barrage, he remained with it, using every effort to get it moving again. When the tank had to be abandoned, he showed great courage and resource in consolidating a trench under heavy fire.” He fought at the battle of Cambrai after which he was granted UK leave and married Lizzie Edwards at Woking Parish Church on 11 December 1917. Returning to his unit, he was admitted to hospital on March 18 1918, suffering from what was to become known as Spanish flu; he therefore missed the “Kaiserslacht” (the major German offensive of Spring 1918), but was sent back to C Battalion on 27 April where he served with B Company. He was not promoted Sergeant again until 24 September, when he was appointed Company Quartermaster Sergeant of B Company. He was granted UK leave soon after the Armistice and demobilised in February 1919, settling at his wife’s home at 115 High Street, Old Woking. Their only daughter, Myrtle, was born on 5 May 1920. Fred worked as a buyer for 14 Co-op grocery shops around Woking, He died, aged 88, on 5 November 1978 whilst staying with his daughter near Nottingham (family information provided by Les Crow and Keith Wickham).
Gunner George Lloyd was born on 20 October 1896 in Woking; the third son of domestic gardener John and Anna Lloyd. The 1911 Census shows him living at 12 Kingfield Terrace, Woking. As a 19-year-old motor mechanic, employed at Mount Hermon Garage, he enlisted into the Motor Machine Gun Service on 16 November 1915. He deployed to France on 16 August 1916 and, after the first action, was admitted to 4 Canadian Hospital suffering from diarrhoea. He returned to duty on 24 September and joined C Battalion on its formation. On 5 April 1917, he was admitted to hospital again, this time with a dental abscess; he thereby missed the battle of Arras. He rejoined C Battalion on 12 June. On 12 September he was posted back to the Reinforcement Depot for service with the infantry. He stayed with them until 21 February 1918 (the first day of the great German advance known as the Kaiserslacht) when he was returned to C Battalion. Transferred to the smaller “Whippet” tanks, during the final British advance he was wounded on 8 October 1918 near Cambrai. He received gunshot wounds to the upper right arm and right leg and was evacuated to St Luke’s War Hospital in Halifax. Discharged from hospital and demobilised on 20 March 1919, he returned to the family home at 12 Kingfield, Woking, where he was still living in 1925. He died on 10 June 1953 at the Victoria Hospital, Woking.
* Learn more about Whitburn Cottages on the Exploring Surrey’s Past website:-