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 One Family at War

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Individual Stories – WW1

Lionel McAdam, Mac,  was a member of the Creme de Menthe Tank that left
Lawrence Rowntree behind when the tank attacked at the Somme

Lionel McAdam’s description of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette

On the evening of 14 September, we started out from Albert up the Pozieres Road.  By ten o’clock at night we were quite near the [front] line and Fritz, no doubt hearing the distant hum of our engines, began to strafe us heavily.  The attack was to take place on a front from Courcelette to Combles. Number 1 Section had the place of honour on the left of the line, acting with the Canadians.

A short distance behind the line we stopped to take on a fresh supply of gasoline, oil and water.   Before starting up again, we were each given a cup of cocoa and some biscuits, a refreshment we were in need of as work had been very hard.  One of the crew was struck by a flying splinter just after we started and our tank, the Crème de Menthe, was forced to go into action with only six men and our crew commander.

We proceeded to a place just in front of our own line, where we had to wait for day break. Our guns were giving Fritsy a terrible gruelling and he, by this time knowing something was up, was devoting a large share of attention to the front line where we lay, all night long, the terrific cannonading went on . Crème de Menthe took two hits on the tail which blew half of it away. The explosion of each shell simply lifted the nearly thirty-five ton monster onto her nose and then let her drop again with a bang which shook the crew pretty thoroughly.

Zero hour for the Canadians was, if I remember correctly, 5.30 am of the Fifteenth.  Just before this time we started the engine and, when a lull in the firing gave us the signal, we started off. Dawn was just breaking and there was just a little ground list which slowly disappeared as the sun came up.  We moved along at the rate of about two or three miles an hour, pitching in an out of the shell-holes and overall sorts of obstacles.  In the mist we could make out the forms of our men following us up. Machine guns were pattering all over the side of our old bus and the infantry outside were catching it rather hard.

As soon as the mist cleared sufficiently for the Germans to see us, their fire died away appreciably.  Crème de Menthe and Cordon Rouge were running parallel courses about two hundred yards apart.  We reached Sugar Trench together and with our guns pointed at a mass of Germans in the trench. The infantry came up and took all these as prisoners.

As we went forward again from Sugar Trench we constantly had to drive away groups of German prisoners who were anxious to surrender.  An infantry officer bought us a message that the advance was being held up at the Sugar Factory.  We advanced to attack it from the front with our six pounders whilst Cordon Rouge worked around the left flank.  Infantry bombers were already in the place when we arrived and, when we breached the wall and started to come in, the resistance weakened and broke.

We had only fired a fraction of our ammunition, when we were ordered to turn to the right and patrol the new position.  After patrolling for about fifteen hundred yards we were again told to turn right and return to the rear.  All this time the German artillery had kept up very heavy fire on us and, on several occasions, were attacked by bombers on all sides.  The bullets and bombs had very little effect on the machine although a number of bullets came through the sighting apparatus

As we came away from the line, we unreeled an armoured cable from the new position to the old.  This was to establish communications and save the signals sections a troublesome and dangerous job.  The worst of our work was over but we were still in a bad zone.  As we moved back through the newly occupied ground I noticed a fine pair of German field boots lying in a shell hole and decided to annex them.  Unfortunately, as I examined them, I found the legs of their late owner still in them and decided to do without them.

During the action, a splinter from a large shell had struck the track of the tank, splitting it across.  The plates held together until we were out of the firing line and then broke.  The old bus had been working steadily for two days and we thought she was entitled to a rest.  We were pretty well all in ourselves having been in action for fourteen hours and had little to eat or drink.  A guard was bought up from our camp to look after our bus.  The crews of Crème de Menthe and Cordon Rouge returned to camp.